Considering sizes and shapes when choosing a children's wooden block set
Musings from experience with blocks
There are a TON of block shapes available when looking at sets of unit blocks. I don't want to sidetrack this post, but you can find a non-complete list here. With all the choices, it’ll make you head spin. But what most people want to know when they are choosing a block set is:
“What shapes would make the best set?”
To answer that question, we have to examine how block sets are put together. Some block sets are assembled for value, some for quality, and most are balanced somewhere in between. What does this really mean?
Kids tend to gravitate to different shapes and use them more often when they are building. Other shapes are used less often, or are just used as accents after the structure is built. It’s kind of the nature of blocks. So which shapes are the best ones, and which are the "not-so-great"?
The Kid approved, super cool Unit Blocks
There is a reason that unit blocks are called unit blocks. Everything is built off of the “unit” size. This is the first indicator that the unit is popular. The next thing that clues us in that the unit is great becomes pretty obvious when you try to build anything. Unit blocks are necessary. OK, what else? Kids love the bigger sized blocks. Double units are always in being used, as are the quad units. Round out the set with a few half units, triangles, flats and arches and you have a captivating set of kindergarten blocks.
Alright Unit Blocks
This group of blocks should be found in larger sets, lightly
represented in medium sets, and not really found too often in small
sets. These include such pieces as the column and the pillar. They are
great pieces and all, but a few can go a long way. Another block that
belongs in this group is the small triangle. Yes, I know it was named above
since it is a necessary block. However, sets that have too many of this piece
are pushing down quality in an attempt to reduce price and boost the number of blocks in the set.
Unit Blocks On My Black List
These nefarious characters are often added to sets to create large block counts to tantalize the unwary with sheer quantities of blocks. As a result, I don’t like them so much. They aren’t bad blocks, per se, but when they gang up you can tell they don’t come from the right neighborhood. These dastardly blocks include such useful pieces as the 1/2 pillar, the 1/2 column, the quarter circle, and the 1/2 roman arch. I’ve even saw one set that touted a reasonably high block count that packed in a piece they called a “cube”. 14 of them to be exact. This was a 1/4 pillar (a small cube about 1 3/8" per side). The only thing I could see to do with this was to stack 4 on top of each other to create a pillar. Now we’re talking. But it took 4 blocks to do it. That’s 4 of your 110 piece block set. All of a sudden you see that instead of being able to create that Taj Mahal you had in your mind, you will have to settle for the 1/4 Taj Mahal. Where’s the fun in that?
Having these blocks present in a set doesn’t immediately discount the set as a bad set. Sets that pad numbers with these pieces will be an apparent great value, but may leave one feeling a bit short on blocks.
A final note about unit block shapes
When choosing a set of unit blocks, please do not just look at the numbers. It is the easiest way to compare sets, but doesn’t tell the whole story. If you can’t find out which shapes are present in a set, ask. Most wooden toy stores can get that information for you. It is important.