Best construction toys for kids
Building sets are the blank canvas of the toy world, ready to be transformed into something new every time your child opens the box. Stimulating creativity isn’t their only benefit, though.
“Lots of construction toys involve an element of logic and strategy, which is good, as well as promoting a basic understanding of physics – for example, how to build a solid base or the fact that if elements of the construction lean over too far they will fall down,” explains Dr Amanda Gummer, a child psychologist specialising in play and parenting. “If a parent is playing with their child they can start to introduce some of these advanced concepts in a non-threatening, easy-to-understand way. For younger children differently-sized and coloured pieces offer valuable language development opportunities, too.”
Good for social development, construction toys can be played with solo or co-operatively, and the different shapes and sizes of the pieces build manual dexterity. “Big blocks for younger children help develop the big arm muscles and some of the sets with smaller pieces require fine motor control, so they aid physical development and help children develop the control needed for skills such as handwriting,” says Dr Gummer.
We've built, assembled and knocked down a lot of towers – and this is TheSchoolRun's pick of some of the best construction toys for all ages.
LEGO is one of the most popular toys in history – if you laid all the bricks sold each year end to end they would reach more than ten times across the world, and more than 400 million children play with the bricks every year. The secret of its enduring success is its versatility: six eight-studded LEGO pieces can be combined in 915 million different ways (literally) and building towers, bridges, cities and mountains boosts spatial, logic and maths skills as well as being great fun.
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Building instructions, games and inspiration are available online, and LEGO-mad kids might like to know that there are 13 certified LEGO Professional builders in the world, so there’s a chance they could one day make a living from their hobby. Just beware of stepping on bricks with bare feet…
In 1898, in a small Liverpool shop, Franck Hornby invented a construction game for his children using screws and nuts and called it Mechanics Made Easy. Today the build-it-yourself Meccano sets are suitable for children aged from 5 – the Build & Play range uses flexible plastic components (easier for small hands to handle), while the metal Turbo sets require a more technical build including lights, sound and remote control.
Construction challenges using Meccano are part of the Beaver and Cub Creativity badge, so young Scouts will be used to building in this medium – will cars, planes, robots or helicopters be the result? Prices start at £10 for a small model set.
Gears! Gears! Gears!®
Even Reception starters can build structures that move with the Gears! Gears! Gears!® sets from Learning Resources – you begin with colourful plastic gears, cranks, connectors and mounting plates and link them together to make everything spin.
You can build upwards and sideways, trying different combinations to make your construction come alive and move in different directions – a great trial-and-error way to get children thinking about physics and movement. Start with a Beginner Set, then add extension and motorised sets to your collection.
A hands-on way to encourage your child to explore shapes, Magformers are hard plastic magnetic construction toys.
Children can link them together to create different structures, developing geometric reasoning as they build 2D nets and 3D shapes, from simple cubes to amazing rhombicubooctahedrons! The results are modern-art-like and adults find the construction process just as engrossing as kids do! There are loads of different sets available, from the My First line (suitable from 18 months) to the vehicles sets with wheels and the eye-catching neon LED collection.
Build it with Bob
For kids who are desperate to build in bricks and mortar, Build it with Bob offers the real thing (in miniature): tiny clay bricks, cement, a trowel, a mixing bowel and building plans. Once the structure has been erected it can be demolished by soaking it in water; the bricks can then be reused and extra bags of cement are available to buy.
A great way to promote hands-on manual dexterity in older children.
The Geomag construction system uses magnetic rods and chrome spheres which can be assembled into a huge number of geometric shapes and the new Eco range is made of 100% recycled plastic, using eco-friendly manufacturing methods.
Panels can be added to form rigid structures, and the results can be weird and wonderful – fans upload photos on the Geomag website, which can be a great source of inspiration. If your Y3 child is bored by talk of magnets at school, challenge them to use magnetism to build a skyscraper and make the science come to life.
A glow-in-the-dark construction set for children aged 7+, Laser Pegs allows kids to build LED light display models (or night lights!) while brushing up on their KS2 electrical circuits knowledge.
The toy can be used lit up or turned off – once connected to a power source, each peg illuminates the other pegs it’s connected with through a low-voltage current. Start with a beginner set; step-by-step model construction and plans are available online.
Give your child a box of wooden construction blocks, each exactly the same shape and size, then watch their imagination take flight as they stack one on top of the other and produce their own unique design.
Eco-friendly (the wood comes from certified renewable forests), Citiblocs require no glue, snaps, connectors or magnets (so no mess – hurrah!), just gravity, balance and creativity.
Magna-Tiles are sturdy, colourful 3D magnetic building tiles designed to be stacked, built with and explored in a huge number of ways.
Fusing maths, science, engineering, and creativity, the tiles allow children to build anything from a high-rise city skyline to an outer space outpost. Every building set is compatible, so you can add to your stock of building materials bit by bit. As well as inspiring imaginative play through construction, Magna-Tiles are great for STEM development, helping children with spatial and tactile skills.
Playmobil is a classic for beginners who love imaginative play. Although often associated with younger ages you can actually find fun Playmobil sets for 4-year-olds up to 12 years. The pieces are simple, colourful and safe to use. You can build a playschool, a helicopter, a hotel — the list goes on. As well as being a great construction toy, it encourages creative conversation and imaginative scenarios that will help develop social, verbal and emotional development.
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