We’ve always had a soft spot for the Osmo system at Tangible Play, and so we jumped at the chance to review the Genius Kit. We were curious at how much the sets may have changed from their initial kits and what gives this system such staying power in an ever-expanding market of “ed tech” toys. The Genius Kit is the entry level playset that is made up of a base unit and three sets of manipulatives – Words, Tangram, and Numbers. In addition, the games Newton and Masterpiece are available to play with the Genius Kit without additional purchases. Please visit playosmo.com for information on their entire suite of educational games. Osmo is a brand that keeps expanding and growing. The games cover spatial constructs, language, and mathematics in an easy-breezy way that keeps a child enthralled. And how do they do that you may ask? Well, with the emphasis on HANDLING manipulatives, everything is at their fingertips and learning comes alive. Children learn to know what the number “5” or the word “cat” feels like, and this gives them a kinetic availability of both spatial and temporal concepts. By grasping a three tile, children begin to form a mental construct and sequence of what it appears to be…1, 2, or 3. It’s magical to witness a child's recognition of that 1:1 correspondence and grasp the meaning of numbers. Let's take a peek inside this extraordinary educational system.
Inside the Genius Kit
When unpacking the set, it is impressive to see how sturdy the game set is made. This set can take a "licking and keep on ticking." Besides the base and mirror set for the iPad® (a base for an iPhone® can also be purchased ), each game comes with manipulatives in a handy container that is easy to store. Tangible Play offers replacement pieces if pieces should become lost, which is, in itself something that is rarely seen in the industry today. This company wants your child to play the games. Once the base is set up, all Tangible Play games can commence. I have to admit I was astonished by the ability of the set to "read" the manipulatives no matter how busy or cluttered the tabletop.
Words is one of the most adaptable games for early learners that I have come across. The possibilities are mind-blowing and can be used for kids just beginning to make sense of the alphabet to complex and highly evolved word games. Using a combination of pictures and the letters, teachers, parents, and kids can invent new games. Many educators and others have uploaded games to share or inspire you to make your own. Play centers on unlocking mystery words by placing the tiles in front of the base to complete a word. Not only is vocabulary reinforced, but also the possibility in other areas of study as well, e.g., learning skills in drawing, taking pictures or using complimentary programs on the iPad or the computer. One game that is easy to construct is identifying classmates or family members for kids that have difficulty recognizing others. Kids can play by themselves, compete as teams, or test their skills against a lovable Osmo character. We played this game with preschoolers who reveled in the graphics. Another favorite with early readers was the adventure game included.
Numbers is an open-ended creative approach to learning math. There is no one approach to attaining the correct answer which opens minds to many possibilities in finding solutions. Rather than be right/wrong in play, Osmo takes a proactive approach that builds confidence and competence. The manipulatives in the numbers packet contain the numbers 0-9 and also "dice-like" tiles with 1, 2, or 5 dots. I do wish they had all the numbers represented on the dice tiles as I have many kids that would love to play with them, and it always is a source of questioning for both kids and their parents. Gameplay centers on freeing fish to swim in the ocean by popping the numbers bubbles in the "holding tank." All operations can be achieved by how the number tiles appear in the field below the iPad. There is also no time limit which is a blessing for kids that need a little extra time to process.
Tangram is a classic game of spatial reasoning and orientation. These skills are the foundations of reading, writing, and math as well as the ability to be creative in solving problems. Puzzles also teach persistence and teach kids how to form and test out a hypothesis. Tangram consists of putting shaped tiles into a variety of positions to create objects, animals or people. With 4 levels of difficulty and over 500 puzzles to solve, the gameplay never gets old. There is even an adapted level for preschoolers -
"Intro to Tangram," but we found most preschoolers needed some help to complete these levels. Again I was amazed at the game's ability to recognize the puzzle pieces no matter where the base was set-up - creating an environment where the focus is on learning and not fussing with a system to get it to work.
Newton is a fast-paced game that turns kids into physics superheroes. By drawing or using items within reach, kids actively problem-solve on the fly in guiding balls that drop from the top of the screen onto targets similar to pinball. Plans need to be revised to complete levels - which is part of the fun. Pathways can be drawn on a whiteboard, with pencil or paper, or using Osmo’s Creative Board and whiteboard-safe markers. Investing in the dry erase pens and board is well worth it as it’s hard to not mark the iPad in a hurry to save the escaping balls. I love that the game teaches kids to use their intuition and creativity. We had a blast using everyday items like doggie biscuits, candies, and even tissues to make a pathway. Crumpled paper or fabric made cool free-flowing shapes.
Drawing with Masterpiece is just pure fun. Masterpiece uses any picture and turns it into a line drawing to trace through looking at the screen. It is a highly motivating app for getting kids to coordinate visual-motor skills. Not only does it refine grasp on writing instruments but it gives kids continuous feedback as to how accurate they are drawing. And that translates into the ability to grade force and improves legibility when writing. There is a learning curve to learning how to draw using the reflective mirror, and kids may want to start in the gallery with the easier drawings first. Drawings can be saved to print out and color or sent to Grandma.
The Osmo Genius Kit is a bargain for classrooms and for parents who want to get a leg up on their child's ability to think creatively and generalize material learned. This basic set has the capacity to grow with a child in complexity and covers a broad base of academic and other interest areas. The sets are amazingly responsive, and kids can be up and be playing in minutes. The Osmo store has additional sets to explore - so check it out!