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K'NEX® is both a company and also a brand of popular construction toy that was initially conceived by Joel Glickman and first produced by the K'NEX company that Glickman started with his brother Bob. Today, the company sells not only K'NEX® but also two other famous and popular children’s building toys: Lincoln Logs® and Brio®.
The idea for K'NEX® came to Joel when he was playing with some straws at a wedding. The original product, as you might expect from the straw model, was made with rods and connectors. Later movement was added, with gears, pulleys, and wheels. A third development step incorporated movement with several mechanisms: motors that were integrated into the models and mechanical drives. A fourth innovation allowed the K'NEX® to be programmed and led to CyberK'NEX®.
In addition to expanding the capabilities of the parts, there were other changes in K'NEX® over time. The colors of the building parts changed, and when the models that could be built expanded to include vehicles and space-themed models, chrome parts were added.
K'NEX® products are targeted at different ages of children, from preschool to nine-and-up. Product offerings include themed sets that on the one hand target the models that can be built—such as vehicles, amusement parks, and contraptions—and also tie to other brands, such as Sesame Street®.
Beyond the models for play, K'NEX® offers a line of products for education, so that teachers can incorporate K'NEX® into kindergarten through high school education. The first set in the series is an early childhood set, that references basic educational principles such as life cycles and transportation. For school-age students, subjects targeted include elementary school and secondary school physics—with exploration of simple machines such as wheels, gears, axles, and inclined planes, along with solar energy; math and geometry sets for grades 1–3 and 4–6; and a biology-focused kit that enables students to explore DNA replication and transcription. A specially-made teacher’s guide is available for the DNA set.
Because K'NEX® are made of plastic, parents may find that their children experience less frustration with them than with wooden Tinkertoys®, for example, which have had some issues with poor fit between pieces. In addition, despite the fact that kits may be labeled for certain possible outcomes, children can have a good time with spontaneous play just sticking pieces together without a formal goal in mind.
Sets can be combined to make larger models, and storage specially designed for the toy is available. Building tips on the company's website may help young builders avoid frustration.