What's so educational about model building?

Paints on egg box
You may think model building is a thing of the past, but in fact there are more exciting and diverse kits available than ever. And with so many educational benefits to them, there really is no better time to unplug the games console and give it a try.
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While once the staple hobby of every '50s, '60s and '70s schoolboy, model building today has to contend with the dazzling lights of the digital-age.

However, there are many educational values in model building, so the hobby is well worth upholding today. According to the National Toy Council, model building and construction will foster spatial play and nurture a child’s dexterity, as well as other cognitive skills such as planning, problem solving and logical thinking.

What do model kits teach?

Fortunately, the model makers of today create large, bright, colourful products – combining the best elements of modelling kits with the simplicity and versatility of construction toys. More importantly, there appears to be an added emphasis on education.

A child’s interest in model building will inevitably originate from construction, as most children are brought up playing with colourful building blocks during their early learning years. LEGO have a branch committed to education, specialising in pre-school and early learning products. Their colourful games incorporate the building blocks required to stimulate reasoning and creativity while teaching basic maths and literacy.

According to professor Emeritus Seymour Papert of the Massachusetts Institute for Technology, “Constructionism means learning by making something. LEGO is an example, writing computer programs is an example, painting is an example. And what you learn in the process of doing that sinks much deeper; its roots go deeper into the subsoil of the mind than anything anybody can tell you.”

Learning outside of school

Toy model companies such as Meccano, K’nex and Geomag have all created products that can be used as teaching aides, as well as educational supplements to be played with at home.

Similar to K’nex but slightly more advanced in terms of its format, the mechanical nature of Meccano allows the user to build up simple mechanisms which demonstrate various principles of mathematics, physics, mechanics and science in general.

Geomag claims to be not only a toy, but a ‘pedagogical aid’ – otherwise known as a useful learning tool. This is a construction system whereby magnetic rods are connected together via steel spheres. The simple make-up means the parts can be used to build any number of things, and the magnetic nature lends itself well to the sciences, enabling the child to learn some fundamental natural laws of physics, geometry, chemistry, architecture and engineering.

Model building can help support a child's learning outside of school, and is an excellent way to open up the world of maths, sciences, and design, to children who may struggle with more formal school-based learning.

Model building: links with the National Curriculum

Model makers say their ranges are designed to complement the national curriculum in the following subjects:

  • Design and technology - structures, mechanisms, control, designing and making skills
  • Science - forces, motion, energy, experimental and investigative science
  • Maths - number, shape, space and measure
  • Cross-curricular requirements - creativity, problem solving, mathematical skills, communication skills

Not sure which model building sets would be most suitable for your child? We've picked eight of the best construction toys.