If you visit my home any day of the week you are certain to find four things: three imaginative boys and a very large collection of legos. Legos have been a constant presence since my oldest child could play with them without attempting to eat them. Any new toy received for Christmas or a birthday has a difficult time measuring up to the joy of building something new out of those tiny blocks.
That is, until Engino sets came into our home.
Engino's Mechanical Science and Engineering Model sets have become serious contenders for the status of "Favorite Toys."
Engino's Science sets are best described as a cross between erector sets and Legos. Or, one could describe an Engino Science set as a toy that teaches basic engineering and design principles to children.
We received two different Mechanical Science sets: "Levers" and "Cams & Cranks." Both sets came with the plastic pieces needed to complete the activities. The "Levers" set, for example, came with the pieces necessary to build a working see-saw, movable weight scale, a letter scale, a wheel barrow, and a lever crane.
Included in the kits were instruction booklets for building all the machines. Instructional booklets are simple enough for most children ages 6 and up to follow.
Also included in the kits are activity booklets that are designed for older children, perhaps 10 and older. The activity booklets are instructional, and include activities, history and information about the subject of the kit (levers, cranks, etc.), quizzes, and experiments that can be done with the kits. The activity booklet for the Levers set covers the history of levers, three classes of levers, a quiz, and solutions to the experiments.
Older children will get the most out of the activity booklets. My 15 year-old son completed a booklet, and enjoyed the experiments. My younger children read through the activity booklets, but weren't interested in using them. However, I could easily imagine a homeschool family using these sets and their accompanying activity booklets as part of their school day. The books are detailed enough to easily count as mechanical or physical science lessons.
The larger "30 Models Engineering Series" set comes with plastic pieces to make all the models, an instruction booklet, and a small 3-volt motor for adding movement to some of the models. The instruction booklet includes directions for building nine models. Downloadable directions for twenty-one more models are available at the Engino website. The site makes downloading directions quite easy, however it would have been easier for me to have them included in the instruction booklet.
Children can use the sets both independently or with a parent or older sibling. I turned my boys loose with the Engino sets. At first, the younger boys (ages 7 and 10) needed help learning to work the pieces. Lego bricks click together simply, whereas Engino pieces fit together by sort of pressing and twisting at the same time. This was a bit frustrating at first, but they got the hang of it very quickly. Once together, the Engino pieces hold firm while you build your structure - a huge plus!
At first, the boys built and rebuilt the machines according to the instructions. After a week or so, they branched out and began to combine machines and create their own inventions. They recruited their older brother to help them attach the motor from his set to a crane they built and used it to pick up small items from around the house.
Engino Mechanical Science sets are also extremely affordable. The smaller sets ("Levers," "Cams & Cranks," etc.) can be purchased for between $15 and $30. The larger sets (with enough pieces and motors for 30-80 different models) can sell for between $30 and $70.
The pieces are a bit difficult for younger children to get the hang of using. It took a bit of help for them to learn to fit the pieces together. The activity booklets, while wonderful for older children, are too much for many younger children to use independently. Engino suggests ages 9 and up, however most 9 year-olds would struggle to use the booklets without the help of someone older.
I enjoyed seeing the boys' creations and listening to them describe how each machine worked. But, most of all, I enjoyed watching my three sons of varying ages playing with these sets together.