The Magic of Magnetic Tiles

The Magic of Magnetic Tiles

The Magic of Magnetic Tiles

By Christina Cunningham

Since their creation, magnetic tiles have quickly become a popular, early learning toy, both at home and in classrooms. And, for good reason! The colorful, translucent pieces are eye-catching, and the possibilities for what kids can create with them are infinite. Whether you’re just beginning to incorporate these into your daily classroom routine or are looking for fresh ways to keep playtime engaging, we’ve got you covered. Let’s dive into the why and how of supporting play with magnetic tiles! 

  The theory of loose parts

When architect Simon Nicholson* coined the term loose parts in the 1970s, I’m fairly certain he could not have imagined all the toys of the future that would fit his definition. Loose parts are pieces that are inherently open-ended; they can produce endless combinations, designs and forms inspired by children’s imaginations. In the early education world, loose parts are essential. They provide children with numerous opportunities for play in its purest form: a child-led, natural process that arises when children are given the freedom to create. 

 Loose parts become symbols for the things children see in the bigger world. Kids piece together magnetic tiles to create castles and drawbridges, spaceships and Mars rovers. They explore concepts of measurement by challenging themselves to build the tallest towers and the longest race car tracks. Just by watching children at play with loose parts at their disposal, we get to peek into their inner worlds. We can catch a glimpse of their unique interests and the concepts they’re working to understand. 

 In loose parts play, our role as educators is not to interfere, but to observe, document evidence of learning, and note the natural ways that children are growing through free play. So, let’s explore how we can accomplish this with those engaging magnetic tiles. 

What can magnetic tiles teach children?

Magnetic tiles are a multifaceted learning tool. Anyone who has turned a room full of children loose with a set has witnessed how they immediately captivate students. And, if you’ve chosen to offer them as an option day after day, you’ve seen that no session of magnetic tile play is ever the same. Children might build the same structure again and again, but the process becomes more streamlined each day, or children tap into new communication skills to invite a classmate to help. If the structures are new, then you might go from one day of figuring out how to build a castle with a functioning moat to another building the “world’s longest road.” 

 Drawing upon that magic that magnetic tiles create in open-ended play, teachers can also use them for more academic tasks. They’re particularly useful in teaching children skills like matching, sorting and identifying shapes. Just add them into your center rotations with directions like, “Can you find all of the pieces that have four sides?” or “How many ways can you create a square by using triangular pieces?” Use them to encourage your students to explore connections between two-dimensional shapes and their 3D counterparts, like squares and cubes or triangles and pyramids. Challenge students to use the various shapes and colors to copy, extend or create patterns. Build understanding of measurement and size by asking questions about the length, width and height of their structures. Your young mathematicians will be practicing abstract concepts and early mathematics skills without even knowing it.

Weaving together STEAM concepts and literacy is also easy to accomplish through magnetic tile play. Pair construction challenges with stories, like using them to build a bridge for the Three Billy Goats Gruff or a new chair for Baby Bear after Goldilocks’ antics. Promote early writing by encouraging students to create labels for their magnetic tile zoo exhibits on sticky notes. You might even task them with building letters or high-frequency words with the tiles themselves!  

Finally, building little ones’ communication abilities is another key skill supported by magnetic tile play. At play, children naturally negotiate, share ideas, manage conflict and speak in detailed ways. They practice important skills like taking turns and asking for what they want, as well as managing feelings of frustration and disappointment when things come crashing down. These toys will provide you, as an educator, with plenty of opportunities to scaffold social-emotional learning in your classroom.

Why our tiles?

An added element of our tiles is the opportunity for building bilingual vocabulary and communication skills. Each tile in our sets features a two-sided illustration with the English term on one side and the Chinese/French/Spanish translation on the other. Children (and adults) can seamlessly weave these new terms  into play, building their bank of bilingual vocabulary! Our first set focuses on Safari Animals, while our next sets will expand to other animal groups and themes. 

Beyond the vocabulary on the tiles, Passionfruit Kids’ magnetic tiles have the potential to spur even more bilingual learning. As children create scenes and build worlds with the tiles, it opens up new opportunities to learn relevant words and phrases. As their guide, you can help them extend those ideas. As you build a zoo, maybe you discuss the natural features of the animals’ habitats, or you practice sharing and taking turns  by asking for a particular color or shape of tile. These conversational turns provide additional chances to build children’s communication abilities in their second language! 

Extending play with our magnetic tiles

Extending play with magnetic tiles is easy; just add unique elements to spark renewed interest in the toy. Providing other loose parts like fabric scraps, mini-erasers or nature items can inspire your students to create something new. Keep these extra design elements nearby in clear jars or open shelving to ensure that children can see that they are available to use. 

As children explore your building materials, observe and ask them open-ended questions like, “Tell me about what you are making” or “What’s another way you could … ?” Encourage writing by purposefully leaving out clipboards with blank or grid paper for preplanning structures or creating labels. Or, you might create a flipbook of famous landmarks, bridges and different types of homes and buildings for children to attempt to recreate. 

Magnetic tiles are truly the ultimate open-ended toy. Grab one of our sets at our website or on Amazon to add a little bit of bilingual learning magic to your students’ everyday play!

*To read more about Nicholson’s theory, check out his original article here: