Hands-on review: Geomag Mechanics Gravity – Loops and Turns
Image credit: Geomag
Searching for the STEM toy that will inspire your young engineers? The now established Geomag portfolio has been extended with the Mechanics Gravity range: does it have the same magnetic appeal?
Good STEM toys tick the boxes marked challenging, interesting, satisfying and inspiring - but they also need to be fun. A decision to play with something is always going to have more worth if it is the child’s choice rather than that of the parents. Will the latest offering from Geomag get that 'new toy thrill' thumbs up from children?
The kit under review is the 'Geomag Mechanics Gravity – Loops and Turns'. What’s in the box? There are around 120 small pieces of plastic (made of 74 per cent recycled plastic), ten-ball bearings and an instruction booklet. Straightaway, there is the first realisation that this is not the Geomag of old, where ball bearings and magnetised rods could be assembled in infinite combinations – the imagination was the limit, as they say.
This kit is aimed at those aged eight years and over, rather than the simpler Geomag toys that target five-year-olds and above – although when first introduced back in 1998, it was considered suitable for three-year-olds, but that was clearly in an era just before swallowing small plastic parts was endemic.
Being largely made of recycled materials should, for a toy of this nature, be of far less significance than for single-use plastics. Durability will be the key, as these parts will be reconfigured and played with for many years to come – won’t they? Maybe, but E&T felt maybe not if this was the only set bought. Perhaps the reason for this is that the key component is the instruction booklet. The way that the parts fit together is not instinctive: as the parts tumble out of the box, the reaction is more ‘What is this?’ rather than ‘What can I make?’
With instructions in hand, a neat little circuit can then be constructed. This is satisfying to build and the ball bearing runway produced is pleasingly sturdy. If the objective is to build a pre-determined engineering structure, then it passes the test.
Once built, the rather fiddly ‘cannons’ fire the ball bearings around a short track with such speed that arrival at the end of the track seems almost instantaneous. There are a few extra parts in the kit that will allow a minimal extension, but possibly not enough to make enough difference to make it worthwhile. Moreover, there are not really enough parts to build something new that is satisfactory. The secret comes in regarding this kit as part of the 'Combo System'.
This Combo System includes three other kits: Race Track, Vertical Motor and Elevator Circuit. When used in 'combo', these open up the possibilities. Admittedly, the instruction book demonstrates how the kits can be joined together having made the standard models, rather than encouraging the user to freestyle their way to create their own designs. Let’s hope that nascent engineering minds will make that leap themselves. Note that despite being styled in the same way, the Mechanics Gravity range is not compatible with the traditional Geomag toys.
The kit is good fun to build and will occupy an enthusiastic youngster for an hour or so. Perhaps with the addition of further kits, more ambitious designs could be created and the kit becomes more than a one-off 3D puzzle. What of the STEM factor? Geomag claims: “The motion is provided by the invisible forces of gravity and magnetism, without using electricity or batteries. The play experience is based on these fundamental principles of physics. Mechanics Gravity is a STEM product that can truly stimulate curiosity and inspire to learn more about science.”
E&T is not so sure. Gravity, as a force of nature, is instinctively learned by every toddler embarking on those first unsuccessful steps. Magnetism is more interesting for an enquiring mind, but - unlike the original Geomag - there is less to think about from a magnetic point of view, beyond how the cannons work, these being the only magnetic part in the kit. The cannons do, however, fire the ball bearing at impressive speeds, even if the ‘trigger’ ball is going very slowly.
Will the young engineer want to know how this works? Or just how it can be used? E&T feels it could have limited learning value for most, but maybe Mechanics Gravity could inspire the next hyperloop designer!
Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.