Magnetic tiles are a great toy. They’re perfect for free play and encourage kids to use imagination, coordination to build with. Magnet tiles also make a great teaching tool. With a bit of creativity, there are many activities with magnetic tiles that are fun and engaging. We’ve compiled a list of our favorite magnetic tile activities your kids will love.
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What are magnet tiles?
Magnet tiles are a building and construction toy that come in a variety of flat shapes and colors. The edges of each shape contain magnets strong enough to snap together when pieces are lined up next to each other. You can stack them and arrange the tiles to build 2D or 3D structures. They’re sturdy and simple to build with, and offer a cool way to get kids creating, building, developing spatial awareness, and problem solving skills. Most of all, they’re fun!
Or, to sum up magnetic tiles in the words of our 3 year old, “They’re the best, Daddy!” You can’t argue with that.
Are all magnetic tiles compatible?
Most sets are designed so they’ll click together no matter which way they’re oriented, so you don’t have the issue of the magnetic poles repelling each other.
We have sets from a handful of different makes, and they all seem fairly comparable. There wasn’t a noticeable difference in quality from one set to another. The basic squares are the same 3×3 inch (7.5 cm) measurement across the sets we bought. We did notice some of the larger triangles are slightly larger/smaller, though we’ve found it’s not enough of a difference to hamper building while using these sets together.
You can see in the photo below where the tips of the triangles (ShapeMags and MagBlock) don’t quite line up. Again, we didn’t find small differences like this an issue – the kids still loved building.
The main difference between various makes is the variety of shapes and colors that come with each set. Our little guy loved the wheeled carts in his MagBlock set, and went over the moon for Glow In the Dark Magna Tiles.
Magformers are another style of magnetic tile blocks. They’re and bit smaller, not translucent, and have holes in the shapes. They lend themselves more to building complex structures. That said, they can be combined with other sets for some interesting effects.
This set from Discovery Kids has a similar style to Magformers:
How many magnetic tiles do children need?
Even the most basic sets will allow building some simple structures or designs, but there’s only so far you can go with a small number of pieces. With any construction set toy, the more pieces you have available, the bigger and more complex structures you can build. Some of the sets are huge, but may be the only one you’d need to buy.
We’d recommend getting a medium sized set with 60 pieces or so to see if your kid likes to play with these before going overboard. You’ll get enough pieces to be creative and build without breaking the bank. That said, we have no regrets going with a 120 piece set off the bat, and have added several additional sets.
The great thing about these sets is that you can mix and match brands and most set will work well together. It’s easy to add on to your collection over time (and buy sets when you can catch them on sale.) New sets can spark additional interest and add some inspiration to a favorite toy.
Teach Your Kid(s) About Magnetism using Magnetic Tiles
Being that the main feature of magnetic tiles is that they snap together using magnets, it’s a no-brainer to use them to teach some basic concepts about magnetism.
Teach Architecture and Engineering with Magnetic Tiles
Our kids love building, and that’s what magnet tiles are designed for. Sometimes it’s fun to build the tallest tower possible with the pieces available. Other times, go for more function, or try to mimic your own house or a building you know.
We like to stand the tiles on end and try to build the floor plan of our house. It’s a great way to get the kids thinking specially with an environment they’re familiar with.
Try this tip: Using a cookie sheet or bake pan as a build plate will provide a stronger foundation for your structures. The magnets will stick to the pan for added stability, and make a sturdier structure than simply building on a table or floor.
Teach Shapes and Colors with Magnetic Tiles
By nature of what they are, magnet tiles come in a variety of shapes. Squares, rectangles, and triangles are standard in even the smallest of beginner sets. In larger sets, you’ll find more variety in the sizes of these basic shapes, inclusion of equilateral and isosceles triangles, arches, etc. that will allow you to incorporate some basic shape recognition into play.
Our little one learned quickly that he’ll run out of squares if he’s building blocks or cubes, but two triangles put together can substitute for a square. You wouldn’t think that he’s developing basic math skills, though there’s some geometry at work.
You can also stack different colors on top of each other and see how the colors mix when the light shines through.
Symmetry with Magnetic Tiles
Since Magnetic tiles come in a variety of colors and shapes, it’s easy to set up a challenge to build structures with symmetry.
Whether building a 2D layout on a tabletop (or refrigerator), or a 3D structure, challenge your little one (or yourself) to use the same shapes and colors on both sides of your structure.
Patterns with Magnetic Tiles
If you’ve done any of the construction with symmetry, you’ve already started with using patterns. According to PBS, “Recognizing patterns is a skill that translates directly into algebraic thinking, so by exploring these ideas now, you will be setting the stage for bigger math ideas later.” -https://www.pbs.org/parents/learn-grow/age-4/math/patterns
The variety of shapes and colors of magnet tiles lend themselves to creating patterns. Try creating repeating patterns and see if your little one can predict what comes next and finish off the sequence. Use shapes, size, and colors in combination to create your patterns.
Creating simple shape puzzles like the sequence below couldn’t be easier. What shape comes next? Our little guy loves this and can’t wait for us to lay out another challenge.
Magnetic Tile Light Projections
Most sets are made of different colored translucent pieces. Simply building in front of a window can give a pretty stained glass effect.
By shining a light from behind your structure onto a wall, you can make some cool stained glass kind of effects. Change the angle of the light, and the design on the wall will change.
This works best when you’ve only got one layer that you’re shining the light through, with a bit of side support. (Take a look at the photos on the box or in online descriptions for some examples or inspiration; building like this allows you to make larger facade like structures without using as many pieces.)
Building Mazes with Magnetic Tiles
This is another one where using a baking sheet makes a great build plate. Stand the tiles on their edges, and let your kids make a maze. When they have something they’re happy with, try placing a superball or pingpong ball into the maze and have them tilt the baking sheet to direct the ball through the maze.
For a bigger challenge, try making a track for a Matchbox or Hot Wheels car and see if they can guide the car through the maze.
Creative Play and Free Play with Magna Tiles
It’s no secret our little guy loves his magnetic tiles. They’re his go to toy whether he’s at home or at daycare. He loves to dump them out and just build. Sometimes it’s a tower, sometimes a house, and sometimes a garage for toy cars. He loves to build structures and incorporate other toys into his play.
Sometimes, I find myself just watching him to see what scenarios he comes up with or acts out. He’ll realize he trapped a few cars inside before rigging up a garage door and some ramps. He’ll take off a solid piece and add a window piece instead, so one of the action figures can see outside.
Wrap Up – Fun Ideas and Activities with Magna Tiles
Our kids can’t get enough of their magnet tiles, and are often the first toy that comes out at play time.
It’s a toy you can grow with and add new sets to over time to keep playtime interesting and fresh. If you have a kid that enjoys building, magnet tiles are a great gift idea, and come in sets at a variety of sizes and price points.
There are so many ways to play and activities with magnetic tiles that you can keep your kids occupied for hours on end.