Educational Toys

Courtesy:  Queena Lee-Chua

IN 2002, Edward Sy and his wife Monica came across a Hong Kong toy fair.  Not just ordinary toys, but those geared for learning—mathematics puzzles, word games, science models from all over the world.

“Educational toys were then not known in the Philippines,” Monica says, “but we knew there would be a market for them.  If not, we would create that market.”

The couple practiced what they preached.  Their kids’ toys had to be functional. “Our daughter did not play with dolls, our son did not like toy cars,” Monica says.  “They preferred puzzles and games.  Our own parents raised us the same way.  We did not want to waste money on what we felt were frivolous stuff.”

At the fair, the couple chose the most engaging toys, talked to the suppliers and shipped their purchases home.  They thought that if they loved the toys, other families would, too.

But it was hard at first.  “We talked to toy shops and department stores, but educational toys were not yet popular, and they turned us down,” Edward says, “so we opened our own store.”

Fundamentals, in Shangri-La Plaza, soon became a hit.  Later on, other groups opened their own stores, and the Sy couple’s company, Gentlestar Trading Corp., started supplying them toys.  With business growing so fast, the couple closed Fundamentals after five years to concentrate on meeting the demand of others.

Today, Gentlestar supplies Hobbes and Landes, Rustan’s, Toy Kingdom, Toys ‘R’ Us and Dash. Among their most loyal customers are families that homeschool their children.

”…Our toys help make learning practical,” Monica says.  “Our toys are certified safe,” adds Edward.

Here are math and science toys I recommend:

Math toys

Junior Engineer Zoo (Gigo) develops shape and color recognition, eye-hand coordination and spatial sense.  Toddlers and preschool children can build elephants, snakes, eagles, etc. using sturdy plastic gears and other building pieces.    They can also try Farm and Magic Gears, all from the Junior Engineer line.  (Ages 2 and up)

Katamino (Gigamic) develops geometric skills and perseverance.  A pentamino is a figure formed by five squares that share at least one common side.  There are 12 possible pentaminos. Katamino contains all of them, plus extra squares and a game board.  Players are challenged to fit the required number of pentaminos within a given space.

Small spaces are easy to fill (perfect for 3-year-olds) while the bigger ones are fiendishly difficult (I have not finished some of them). Katamino has won parenting awards from the United States and Canada.  (Ages 3 and up)

Smart Car (Smart Games) improves visual perception and creativity.  Young children need only four pieces to assemble the car.  (Ages 3 and up)

Camelot Jr. (Smart Games) develops logic and imagination.  Using wooden towers and stairs, young knights try to find the best path to get to the princess.  The game provides more than 40 challenges, from easy to brain-busting difficult.  Princesses can help their chosen knight by guiding them along the right path.  (Ages 4 and up)

Architecto (FoxMind) enhances perspective and spatial logic.  Using blocks of various shapes, budding architects can build structures, from simple boats and animals to complex farms and fountains.  Our son insisted on doing all 50 models within a week, and quickly shifted to Cliko, the advanced version, where three-dimensional structures are rebuilt based on two-dimensional images.  (Ages 7 and up)

Science toys

Solar Power Tractor (Gigo) shows how energy from the sun can make a tractor run, without batteries!  After attaching the gears, our son, then 6 years old, went to the garden and put the solar cell, attached to the motor, under the sun for ten minutes.  To his delight, the tractor sped away.  The toy is an excellent introduction to physics for young children.  (Ages 6 and up)

Solar System Mobile (Uncle Milton) is a must for budding astronomers.  What can be cooler than having a brilliantly glowing sun with orbiting planets in the bedroom?  A remote-controlled pointer can highlight a favorite planet, or even make comets whiz through the night sky.  Parents can help children set up the mobile.  (Ages 6 and up)

Hydro-Pneumo Car (Gigo) shows how the energy of water and air can make a car run.  Young engineers can pump air into a tube, watch the water rise, and see how the gears power a car across the room.  Our son brought this to science class when he was in Grade 2, and it caused a sensation.  (Ages 7 and up)

Human Torso (Edu-Toys) is an anatomically correct structure of the human body, with detachable intestines, heart, liver, lungs, among others.  Perfect for would-be doctors and nurses, the hand-painted model comes with a fully illustrated instruction manual.  (Ages 8 and up)

Astrolon Telescope (National Geographic) gives spectacular views of the night sky.  Our family received this as a gift some years back and, despite the air pollution, we were able to peer more closely at the moon’s surface.  With a stable tripod, the height of the telescope can be adjusted to meet the requirements of even the youngest astronomer.  (Ages 10 and up)

Contact Gentle Star Trading Corp. at 7471421 or 6388630 or e-mail or  Contact Monica Sy at 0917-5294604.

E-mail the author at


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