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- A high-quality STEM learning toy keeps youngsters engaged for hours on end, is fun to keep coming back to over and over again, and pushes for creativity and exploration.
- My sons and I enjoyed the Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! Machines in Motion Set, it has easy-to-follow instructions, nurtures open-ended play, and doesn’t require the use of electronics or screens.
- It’s appropriate for a broad age range (both my 5- and 16-year-old sons enjoy the set) and backed by a 365-day guarantee if anything breaks. Currently at $39.99 on Amazon, it’s also relatively affordable for a STEM learning toy.
STEM learning toys can provide hours of productive play while also nurturing youngsters’ problem-solving skills and creativity. This is great, but the toys are only good if your child likes playing with them. Thankfully, both my 16-year-old son Jerome and 5-year-old son Bucky enjoy playing with the Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! Machines in Motion Set.
Learning Resources produces a variety of toys that straddle the line of education and entertainment for toddlers, fifth graders, and every age in between. Its line of Gears! Gears! Gears! sets are among its most popular because you can mix all them all together, like the 150-piece Super Building Set or the 83-piece Gizmo Building Set, to make your own concoctions. Rrecently, my sons and I had a chance to test out the 116-piece Machines in Motion Set. Here are our experiences with it.
Most of the Learning Resources sets are geared toward children between four years and up, but there are options for even younger kids as well. The hands-on construction is meant to boost fine motor, design, reasoning, physics, and engineering skills.
Each set has an array of kid-friendly pieces that can be used to construct countless creations and comes with instructions for building structures that make optimal use of the set’s pieces. Obviously, your children can engage in open-ended play and make their own inventions.
Among the 116 pieces in the Machines in Motion set are 24 connectors, eight interlocking bases, four wheels with treads, two propellers, a wrecking ball, 14 gears, and several other pieces that I don’t quite know the names; you can see everything that is included in this user guide. The guide also gives step-by-step instructions on how to put together a couple of structures like cranes and a tank.
Preparing the toys for play didn’t take much planning at all. I removed the pieces from their plastic bags while Bucky crowded me in his excitement to try and start building as soon as possible. Once the pieces were free, Bucky went to town following the picture instructions that came with the set. There was basically no effort on my part to facilitate his self-directed play – which was great.
What makes the set stand out
When it comes to LEGOs, Bucky has fun building his own creations, but the directions are a bit much for him. Thankfully, this was not the case with the Gears set. I was surprised that, after leaving him alone with the set for about 15 minutes, he was already halfway done making the first machine in the user guide.
It was only after about a month of playing with the set that he was able to fully complete one of the guide’s machines, though he was able to create his own inventions and start building machines in the guide fairly quickly. He was absolutely beaming with pride after finishing his first tank.
Bucky played with the set every chance he got for the first three days. Jerome saw him having fun with it and would often join in and help with the parts his brother struggled with; it was heartwarming to see them engaged and playing together – a rarity with their 11-year age gap.
Since my wife and I work from home and often still have some hours to put in once Bucky is back from pre-kindergarten, any toy that can keep him occupied while we finished up work is a lifesaver. Of course, he would keep coming into my office to show me his latest creations, but that was a welcome interruption.
Cons to consider
Regardless of product or manufacturer, the number of pieces in any set is almost always misleading and this generalization held true with Learning Resources. Forty of the 116 pieces are individual chain links you need to connect for the tank’s tracks or for various gears in the machines. Since the links need to be used in a series, it seems misleading to refer to them as “separate pieces.” This is nitpicky, but it’s good for buyers to know since they’re expecting 116 individual pieces.
Bucky also had a hard time putting the chain links together since it took a little bit of muscle, but it was easy enough for me to help him in a few minutes. From there, he was able to build the tank by himself.
The crane attachment can also be semi-broken easily. It features a hook that you can raise and lower via a string, drum, and gear. I say that it can be semi-broken because if your child pulls hard enough, the string breaks free from the hook and it’s virtually impossible to tie the string back on. This was one of Bucky’s favorite pieces and he was kind of bummed when it broke. It would’ve been nice if the hook had an eye on the other end for tying the string back on when it loosens off. Other than the crane head, the pieces have proven to be quite durable and we haven’t had any other breaks.
Read more: The best STEM toys you can buy for kids
The bottom line
Overall, the Machines in Motion Set provides an excellent balance of education, fun, and affordability. I really like that Bucky can play with it on his own while I finish up my work. We’ve had it for over a month now, and he still enjoys going back to it and has only broken one piece (the crane attachment) so far. Fortunately, Learning Resources offers a 365-day satisfaction guarantee so we are having it replaced. All things considered, I strongly recommend this set if you have children between four and eight who like building and open-ended play.
Pros: Affordable, easy to learn, durable, comes with 365-day guarantee, provides hours of open-ended play, has several additional sets for enhanced play
Cons: The advertised “116 pieces” is slightly misleading, the string on the crane attachment can break off easily