Building Dreams: Unleashing Creativity and Learning with the Best Building Toys for Kids
We tend to think of “technology” as something digital, but technology existed long before computers.
The term refers to the full range of equipment and machines created through engineering and applied sciences. Even a printed book is technology!
Humans have always relied on invention and engineering to survive and advance as a species. Making things is a human instinct and a skill that has endured through millennia, and it begins in childhood.
Building and creating are critical tasks in human development. The use of building materials or toys among young people improves spatial reasoning, motor skills, brain development, hand-eye coordination, creative thinking, focus, and problem-solving. It helps us all develop into capable adults.
In this post, we will examine a variety of building toys and tools geared toward young people, with a specific focus on age-appropriate use and features to help your learners grow.
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Factors to Consider When Choosing Building Toys
As with any topic or toy, it’s important to find the best fit for your child based on their age, interests, needs, and abilities. You can find building toys to suit any number of hobbies and curiosities, from circuitry to artistry. As you browse the various kits and materials available to you, consider your child’s safety as well as their preferences.
Overall, as you assemble your inventory of building toys, open-ended sets will offer the most bang for your buck. Look for an array of versatile objects that allow the builder to use their own ideas and try new things. For example, basic wooden blocks can be used to build any number of structures, and they can also be arranged in pictures and patterns.
As your child’s interests change and develop, these flexible tools will allow them to adjust accordingly, but you can begin to add a few targeted kits as well.
- Consider your child’s age, abilities, interests, and needs.
- Choose materials that are safe for your learner.
- Start with flexible, versatile materials first.
Best Types of Building Toys for Kids
Building toys are diverse and tough to categorize, but here is a basic overview. In the next section, we’ll delve more deeply into recommended sets, tools, and toys for each age group.
Natural and Found Objects
You don’t have to shop for these “educational toys” — you can find them outside or around the house. Look for resources on loose parts play to help you compile a great supply list. It can include sticks, branches, stones, pine cones, and acorns if you’re building and creating outdoors. Or, you can look through the recycling and gather old boxes of varying sizes, plastic containers, and bottles, and even paper bags.
Make sure you also have the necessary tools to put it all together: that means glue, tape, zip ties, and the like. These will certainly vary by age (have you ever seen a toddler with a bottle of glue?).
Natural and found objects are the ideal starting place because they encourage children to create something new with whatever they can find, thus promoting creativity. They are also completely free, and totally open-ended.
Woodworking and wood-building kits are great tools for children to develop creativity, skills, and confidence while having fun. Whether your child is interested in simple tasks like hammering nails or advanced concepts like joinery techniques, a woodworking kit can cater to their interests.
Blocks can be plain or painted, wood or cardboard, a mix of shapes, or all flat planks. They might be homemade or store-bought. These are the basic elements of a building toy collection that you should be able to find in just about any home. They can be used for a variety of inventions and artistic creations, not just building structures.
Duplo “blocks” and bristle blocks, and maybe even standard LEGO bricks, fall into this category, too.
Magnetic Building Toys
You’ve probably heard of Magnatiles, a building toy that teaches the scientific concept of magnetism as well as engineering and problem-solving. And you don’t need any adhesive to build awesome structures with these magnetic tiles.
You can choose basic sets or specific kits depending on your child’s age and interests. Other brands and styles include magnetic cylinders and balls to create jointed structures. My son loved playing with these as a youngster in daycare but keep them away from toddlers who might want to taste those shiny magnet spheres.
Magnetic tiles, specifically Magna-Tiles, are our top pick when it comes to building toys for kids!
Amongst the numerous magnetic toy options on the market are Magna Tiles and Picasso Tiles – both known for their bright colors, sturdy construction, and endless possibilities for imaginative play. In this article, we will compare Magna Tiles and Picasso Tiles side by side to help you decide which one is best suited for your child’s playtime needs.
Dedicated Building Kits
I’m putting most LEGO in this category, as their huge assortment of build kits is wildly popular. They offer everything from robotics to cityscapes, perfect for little hands. LEGO is multifaceted, and the LEGO corporation offers additional support for educators in schools as well. Whether your child is interested in floral arrangements or fast cars, or even coding, LEGO has you covered.
LEGO also boasts a highly usable website, which you can search by age, interest, price range, or theme. They make it easy to find an ideal building kit for your unique situation.
We think of LEGO as a classic toy, but I can think of an even older, more traditional one: Lincoln Logs. Lincoln Logs celebrated its 100th anniversary in 2022! Now that’s a toy that’s stood the test of time.
Lincoln Logs are far less complex and versatile than LEGO or other blocks — they were designed for building structures. But they are highly sensory toys, uncomplicated, affordable, and nostalgic. Sometimes you can’t beat a classic.
Newer additions to the building kit litany include K’nex, various marble runs, Snap Circuits, and Picasso Tiles. Most of these are geared toward older kids and/or those with the understanding and fine motor skills to operate them successfully.
Construction toys are perfect for sparking creativity and enhancing problem-solving skills. Classics like LEGO sets offer endless possibilities for building and customizing structures, while Mega Bloks provide larger blocks suitable for younger toddlers or older children.
Wooden building blocks offer a tactile experience and encourage sensory development. For toddlers, construction sets with chunky pieces, like those from Melissa & Doug, promote imaginative play and early engineering skills. Construction toys benefit children of all ages, fostering spatial awareness, fine motor skills, and critical thinking.
They encourage open-ended play, allowing children to explore different designs and overcome challenges. When choosing construction toys, consider age appropriateness and safety, avoiding small pieces for younger children. Construction toys provide an engaging and educational way for children to have fun while developing important skills.
Best Building Toys for Different Age Groups
Infants and Toddlers
The very young among us likely won’t be constructing LEGO ferris wheels anytime soon, but that doesn’t mean they can’t begin to develop some foundational skills.
Consider classic ring stacking toys and lightweight cardboard blocks. Melissa & Doug offers a great selection.
At this age, my son also loved Squigz.Squigz suction together and can also affix to other smooth surfaces, such as the shower wall, leading to many colorful inventions during toddler tubby time.
Preschoolers are probably ready for full-weight wooden blocks, as long as they are taught to use them appropriately. They might also enjoy Duplos, bristle blocks, magnetic blocks, Lincoln Logs, and loose parts play. These are all perfect for young children that are learning problem-solving skills. Basically, this is a wonderful time to expand your basic building toy repertoire!
It’s also a great time to play close attention to your child’s interests and notice how they use the tools. Do they play like artists? Storytellers? Builders? Engineers? Inventors? Jugglers? This will give you some insight into how you might specialize your building gear in the future.
School Age and Beyond
Your school age learner can begin to experiment with more advanced LEGO kits from collections such as Creator 3in1 or City. As you consider the right building toys for your elementary child, look for specialty kits and tools that play to their interests, from art to robotics. This is an opportunity to show how STEM interweaves throughout many topics.
School age children might also enjoy making marble runs. There are a number of kits available for this, or you can try using found objects like paper towel tubes cut in half. The best choice for you will depend on your and your child’s creativity, skill levels, and budget.
Depending on your personal beliefs and the resources available to you, you might also consider virtual building options at this time, and also as your child moves into high school. Programs like TinkerCad and games like Minecraft allow learners to endlessly explore building and modeling principles, apply science concepts, practice mathematical thinking, and hone their spatial awareness. Older students can learn 3D modeling concepts used in real-life design and engineering applications.
Building toys have been a staple of childhood play for generations. From wooden blocks to plastic bricks, these toys allow children to use their creativity and imagination to construct anything they can dream up. While Legos are undoubtedly a favorite among kids everywhere, many other building toys on the market deserve recognition. This article explores some of the best building toys for kids that aren’t Legos.
Educational Benefits of Building Toys
As mentioned in the beginning of this article, building and creating are natural human instincts that help us advance and thrive. When children play with building toys, they boost physical and cognitive skills, such as:
- Fine and gross motor skills
- Spatial awareness
- Conservation of constancy
- Creative thinking
Building tools and materials are an essential element of STEM education. They allow for hands-on learning and application of ideas, and they make the job fun. All types of building play are educational, and you can get a sense of this by browsing the Common Core Next Generation Science Standards.
Developing in complexity, the science standards include foundational elements of inquiry, problem-solving, mathematical thinking, and materials use — all of which benefit from experience with building toys.
You can also look for kits and products that offer support tailored to the classroom, such as LEGO Education or Minecraft for Education, for specific lesson plans and ideas.
Wrapping Up Building Toys for Kids
Building toys are versatile, useful, engaging, and fun. They help children develop the necessary skills and understandings to function in our world, from simple hand-eye-coordination to advanced physics.
You can find free building toys outside or around your home, or you can stop at the store for dedicated materials — or both!
To foster your child’s growth, offer them tools and materials, let them explore, pay attention, and follow their interests. The things we create tell our stories. The things we create have the power to change the world.
Magna Tiles have become one of the most popular toys for toddlers. These magnetic tiles are fun, easy to use, and help children develop essential skills such as spatial reasoning, creativity, and problem-solving. In this article, we will take a closer look at some of the best Magna Tiles for toddlers and see how they stack up against each other in terms of quality, durability, and overall value.