As a parent, I often marvel while I watch my own kids use their imagination. Be it playing a game in the basement, pretending to shrink down to the size of an ant, or scribbling with crayons and declaring it an underwater world full of sharks.
For that reason alone, I was beyond excited to test out Tenka Labs' new Circuit Cubes toy. Actually, I'm not sure I would call this a toy. I mean, it's a toy, sure, but it's just as much a learning tool as a toy, but we'll talk more about that in a minute.
Circuit Cubes consist of three different cubes, which you connect to one another either magnetically or using clip-on wires. Circuit Cubes don't use some sort of proprietary connectors, where you need more cubes to build bigger and better stuff. Instead, Circuit Cubes are designed to work with the Legos in your kid's bedroom. That's right: Plain old Legos. And every child on earth owns at least one Lego set.
What's in the box
There are three different cubes:
- A battery cube that recharges via a standard microUSB cable and provides power to other cubes.
- A motor cube that spins at 1,000 RPMs and works with Lego-inspired gears and wheels.
- An LED cube shines a really, really bright LED light bulb when powered.
Tenka Labs sells three slightly different kits. Each kit contains the same three cubes, but comes with different supplies. For example, the Whacky Wheels kit I received included everything I needed to make a self-powered car. There's also a Bright Lights kit that lends itself to making a light saber or flashlight, while another Smart Art kit includes markers to make a self-drawing gadget.
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But as we'll see, those ideas are just the starting point for each kit; kids are encouraged to make literally anything they can imagine.
Kits are available for reservation for $49.95 each. Tenka Labs plans on shipping reservations in late spring, after which the price of each kit will go up to $59.95.
And the best part is with a few extra supplies of your own, each kit is easy to replicate at home. You might start with Wacky Wheels, for example, but there's nothing stopping you from making Bright Lights projects with some Legos and imagination of your own.
Learning along the way
Once I received my Circuit Cubes, I sat down with my three children—ages 5, 6, and 9—to see what they thought about the tiny gadgets.
I purposely left out any instructions, explaining only the basic operation of each cube. It was fun to watch them work together, figuring out the wires connect to the metal posts, and with a slide of the power switch, the gears would move or the light with turn on.
They later learned the blocks can also transmit power when stacked, or when the metal contact points are placed next to one another (the blocks are magnetic, and will stick together to complete a circuit).
After they had a basic grasp of how everything worked, I tasked them with building a car. As their first project, I let them cheat by looking at a photo. A few minutes later, there was a small Lego car driving itself across our kitchen table.
When using Circuit Blocks, it was the first time any of them had to think about creating an electrical loop to ensure power flowed from the battery to the motor and light. Moments of frustration were common, with the LED light proving the most stubborn of the group.
Eventually, we moved on to creating a flashlight with a small cardboard tube, as well as our own drawing tool that spun in circles on a piece of paper as the motor turned a wheel that dragged the gadget around in crazy loops.
At the end of the first day, my five-year-old was able to explain to me why the LED light would or wouldn't light up based on how the wires were connected.
Hobbled by a short attention span
One game I came up with was to challenge my kids with build ideas and then give one of them 10 minutes to figure it out, and they loved playing along.
After that, I was sure all three of them would fight over who got to play with the Cubes after school. And they did, for the next few days. They were inspired, in part, by a list of build suggestions on the Tenka Labs website, complete with a parts lists and instructions based on difficulty level. All the projects are visually interesting and fun.
The kids took apart existing Lego sets in an attempt to incorporate the motor cube to spin around their Ender Dragon (and if that name means nothing to you, you should get up to speed on 20 things you should know about Minecraft).
Then after about four days of tinkering, something odd happened: They stopped using the blocks. It was as if we never received them.
I get it: Between their age and a million other toys to play with, kids have a short attention span. The newness of the cubes wore off and they moved onto the next latest and greatest thing. It's an issue for every toy or gadget a kid uses, and not specific to Circuit Cubes. I had hoped it wouldn't be the case this time, however, especially after seeing my kids' confidence grow when building.
Fun for the whole family
I'd be lying if I said I didn't have fun messing around with the Circuit Blocks on my own. Maybe it's part nostalgia to play with Legos again, part jealousy to play with something I could have only dreamed of having as a kid.
Would spend $50, or even $60, on a Circuit Cubes kit? Absolutely, yes. I'm even sure my kids will eventually ask if they can play with them again (unfortunately, probably after the review unit has been returned). At that point, I'll have to pony up and buy them a kit of their own.
And you know what? Seeing their excitement and the eagerness to learn about something so simple as where to connect wires in order for electricity to work is well worth it.
Watch Circuit Cubes on Facebook
Want to see more? We recently recorded a short Facebook Live video, in which we made a few cool toys light up and move. Check it out!