When asked to review Kapla Blocks, I had a vague recollection that they were some sort of wooden building blocks, but other than that, I didn’t know what to expect. So, when I opened them up, and got a good look at them, I found myself concerned about their versatility…or lack thereof. I mean, they’re all the same shape (rectangular) and size (1 x 4 ½ x ¼”). My concerns were quickly dispelled by the enthusiasm of my eager helpers for this review (four of my children).
The sets that I reviewed are ‘The Barrel’ ($66.00) and one of the Multicolor Packs ($40.00). ‘The Barrel’ comes with an instruction booklet that contains basic building techniques, shown through a series of photographs. This makes it easy for even pre-readers to see the various structures that can be built, and gives you an overall feel for how the blocks work together. The Multicolor Packs are a set of 40 planks in two colors (20 of each), that come with a hardcover book, featuring, again, photographs of various finished projects. But where the booklet for ‘The Barrel’ has several, simple pictures with hands and the plain blocks against a black background, the accompanying guide for the Multicolor Packs is almost like a picture book; it’s hardcover, the images are enlarged so that each one generally takes up an entire page (some of the smaller ones share pages), and the paper has that nice, glossy finish.
Not only is the Multicolor Pack guide nice to look at, the projects included are a wonderful blend of simple and intricate, a nice touch for those of us with a large age span of children. My younger kids (four and five years old) seemed to be a little daunted by the scope of the larger projects contained in ‘The Barrel’ guide, but the little men, chairs, boats and tractors in the Multicolor Pack’s book are just right. The dimension the colored blocks bring to various geometric shapes and buildings also adds interest to the larger structures built by older kids, or those with more developed fine motor skills.
Aside from the enjoyment my kids got from them, I found several other things to like about Kapla blocks; educationally speaking, they’re good for honing fine motor skills, teaching spatial relationships, hand to eye coordination, gravity, and cognitive thinking development. And on the ‘Crunchy’, environmentally conscious side, I appreciated that Kapla blocks are made from renewable forests (European Pine).
In short, I’d recommend these, for a wide range of ages, but I believe that the open-endedness of ‘The Barrel’ set, with its numerous pieces and very basic instructions, was enjoyed more by the older children. I think that younger kids are certainly able to enjoy the simplicity of the plain blocks…but mine benefited from the picture book quality of the Multicolor Pack’s instruction guide, and the interest that the colors added. For someone wanting to just try out Kapla blocks, I believe that a Multicolor Pack would be a fun introduction, and would probably whet a child’s appetite for more, once they mastered some of the basic projects. If you blinked a little at the price tag, as I did, let me add here that I believe you’re getting a fair deal, considering the blocks’ quality, and potential for longevity as a source of creative play. All in all, a hit here at the Hardy house!
-Product review by Jill Hardy, The Old Schoolhouse Magazine, LLC, June, 2006