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Bottle Clix, aka Magz Clix: A set of colorful, magnetic, bottle-shaped piecesEastern Connecticut State University’s Center for Early Childhood Education announced on December 4th that “Bottle Clix” (now sold as “Magz Clix”) by Magz® has been named the 2018 TIMPANI (Toys that Inspire Mindful Play and Nurture Imagination) Toy.

The annual study investigates how young children learn as they play with a variety of toys in natural settings. Toys are placed in preschool classrooms at the University’s Child and Family Development Resource Center, and student researchers use hidden cameras to videotape children playing with the toys. Faculty and undergraduate student researchers then code the footage according to the study’s evaluation rubric, which includes four subscales: thinking and learning, cooperation and social interaction, creativity and imagination, and verbalization. 

For this year’s study, researchers also investigated how teachers introduce new play materials into their classrooms and the effects of those introductions on children’s play quality. To study that effectively, it was important to select toys that had similar characteristics, so researchers selected eight construction toys to study. 

Bottle Clix/Magz Clix received the highest overall score in this year’s study and was the highest-scoring toy in the social interaction subscale. The toy includes colorful, magnetic, bottle-shaped pieces that can be connected side-to-side or stacked. Children were often seen stacking the pieces in very tall towers. According to Morgan Winship, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study, “That was a huge problem that they had to solve together. How were they going to get high enough in order to stack them when the towers were taller than them? They needed to interact and help each other.”

Children were also observed using the Bottle Clix/Magz Clix to create microphones, rocket ships, and guitars with their peers. “It provided them the opportunity to express themselves open-endedly through object transformations and play narratives,” said Allison Lundy, a psychology and early childhood education student involved in the study. “I wasn’t expecting this toy to score the highest, because it didn’t really seem like there was much to do with them. But watching the videos, I was surprised to see the different ways that children utilized them.”

According to Professor Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, principal investigator of the study and former Phyllis Waite Endowed Chair of Early Childhood Education, toys that appear simple to adults often inspire some of the highest quality play. “We’ve found over the years that toys that are quite basic and can be used in multiple ways do very, very well.” He also noted that like many construction toys, this year’s TIMPANI toy consists of many small parts, which leads to more social interaction and problem-solving. “Children need to coordinate their activities with peers as they’re building with them.”

Notably, Bottle Clix/Magz Clix also held children’s attention over time. “With many toys, we see high quality play the first day that it’s in the classroom, but then the play quality wanes over time,” said Julia DeLapp, director of the Center for Early Childhood Education and co-investigator of the study. “But with this toy, we actually saw an improvement in play quality the second week that it was in the classroom.” Bottle Clix/Magz Clix was the highest-scoring toy for Hispanic children, and for children from families with high levels of financial need.  

The results of the study were first announced at the annual meeting of the National Association for the Education of Young Children in Washington, DC, on Nov. 14. Findings will be disseminated to preschool teachers nationally to inform their decisions about the toys to include in their classroom. Findings will also be shared with families. The investigation on how teachers introduce play materials will continue for another year; results are expected in late 2019.

For more information about the TIMPANI Toy Study and to watch a video featuring high-scoring toys from the 2018 study, visit http://www.easternct.edu/cece/timpani/