If you have Magna-Tiles hanging around your house, you no doubt have seen a lot of cubes built. Maybe you’ve even made a few yourself. In my house, these cubes become Hot Wheels garages and airplane hangars. Today they became a spatial reasoning and visualization tool.

Take 6 square tiles and lie them down in any connected configuration. They will necessarily connect side to side (as opposed to corner to corner) because that’s the way Magna-Tiles work. Self-correcting! Now, ask your child if it’s possible to “fold” the tiles into a proper cube from this start position. Start by making a guess, then try it.

Do it again but with a different configuration. Does every configuration of 6 cubes fold into a cube? Which do? Which don’t?

Challenge your child to think of all the different possible configurations of 6 squares next to each other. These shapes are called hexominoes and there are 35 possibilities!  Then test which ones make cubes and which do not.

Of course, your child may not have the desire to figure out all 35 possible hexomino configurations. Or even the 11 configurations that will fold into a cube. As always, that’s okay! This is play. A game. Ask questions, and if your kid doesn’t bite, move on. Ask different questions. Try different things. Build a Hot Wheels garage, an airplane hangar, or a pizza pie (use your triangular Magna-Tiles for that one…) The point is, this toy is a great way to explore spatial reasoning and visualization. Whether or not your child responds to your adding more structure to the activity isn’t really important. Simply playing with this toy will spark all kinds of great thinking.

(Mathematically…being able to visualize an object and its orientations is an important skill. Being able to “unfold” a 3-D object in your mind is also a skill that comes less easily to some than others. In math, the 2-D patterns that fold into cubes are called “nets” because they are akin to draping a net over the shape to cover it completely. Giving kids early practice with this kind of thinking and some hands-on materials to experience that kind of manipulation is valuable. You can approach this activity differently by drawing these configurations on paper, cutting them out, and folding them into cubes. Graph paper lends itself to this nicely!)