Building toys ... brilliant building toys kids love that really enhance their motor and spatial and STEM understanding from babies to tweensChildren, from when they’re tiny babies, seem instinctively fascinated by building things.

Those first tentative towers that are knocked down with such delight become soaring build-them-as-high-as-you-can skyscrapers on the sitting room floor.

And building is a brilliant developmental activity all the way through childhood as it constantly enhances fine motor skills, allows endless creativity and grows ever more complex understanding of physical structures and mechanics.

Building toys can also provide a great foundation for developing literacy and numeracy skills.

There are some brilliant building toys out there … many of them old classics … which will grow with your child and which are really worth investing in because pound for pound, dollar for dollar you’ll get more play out of them for your money than out of almost any other toys.

This is a list of our favourite building toys plus a few we’ve got our eyes on for Christmas following recommendations from friends.

I hope you find it helpful and if you’re looking for more fun ideas for building play do check out the brilliant links from other bloggers at the bottom of this post … and feel free to add your own …


1. Soft Blocks

Soft blocks are wonderful for very small babies and will grow with them throughout their first year. One’s with different textures, flaps and tags will enhance their pincer skills even before they are ready to start building and knocking down towers.

Bright Starts do some great value ones and Galt and Melissa & Doug also have nice sets.


2. Stacking Cups

I could rave on for hours about the wonders of stacking cups. You can pick up sets … like these ones from The First Years … for under a fiver and from 6 months you will get so much play out of them.

And whilst little ones are developing fine motor skills with them they are also discovering all sorts of things about sorting by size and the role of size in their ability to build stable towers.


3. Mega Bloks

We had our first bag of MegaBloks … kind of big lego … when my daughter was almost one and again we have had endless play out of them. Zoos, castles, fairy gardens, bridges and I don’t know what else have been built with them and they have been used in colour sorting and increasingly in tower charting.


4. Wooden Bricks

Wooden blocks are a timeless classic. And sets with lots of different shapes … particularly cylinders, cuboids and triangles … are a wonderful way for children to start to see and understand that an upper body can be supported by smaller lower bodies.

We had a nice coloured set that came from Pintoy with a walker but also really like the Melissa & Doug version that comes with 100 coloured bricks and a similar set available from Hape.


5. Screws & Nuts

Children love screwing & unscrewing things almost as much as they like building things so variations on traditional Meccano that allow children to build by screwing things together are a hit with a lot of children from about 3 onwards.

We’ve got my old set of Meccano but also a brilliant big plastic version called Build It, (Meccano do a similar versions called Micro Build and Build & Play), which is commandeered for all sorts of imaginative play … medical instruments were being made out of it last week … and is fabulous if you’re building cars, trains, buses etc out of cardboard boxes as it allows you to put real wheels on them.


6. Sticking Bricks

These are another old classic that we had as kids and which are still going strong.  The plastic pins give children the flexibility to make all sorts of structures that they couldn’t do with conventional bricks and which help them see the power of adhesion in building structures.

Personally I think they are suitable from somewhere between 2 and 3 as before that children may find them frustrating. There are versions available from all sorts of brands including Thistle Blocks, Bristle BlockMagicBrix and Stickle Bricks.


7. Octons / Connectagons

I loved these as children and would spend ages building beautiful fragile structures that went off at all sorts of angles. They are wonderful for developing fine motor skills in children 3 years and older and build their appreciation of 3 dimensional structures and repeating geometrical patterns.

We still have my old Galt set from the 1970s but you can get much more complicated Connectagon sets from HearthSong.


8. Dado

Dado like octons and connectagons allow children to build complex 3 dimensional structures from interlocking shapes. The Dado pieces are much bigger so children can build really big constructions.

We have got huge quantities of cardboard boxes in our shed and I am planning on using them to make our own enormous Dado pieces which I think could be a really fun painting & building activity.


9. Marble Run

Having bought marble runs for various god children that have been enormous hits, this is on our wish list for Christmas this year. Gives endless opportunities for clever solutions and there is something endlessly fascinating at watching things fall … it also guarantees that Dad will happily play for hours :-)

Marbulous, Mindware, Marbleworks and Galt all have popular versions that are pretty similar. Whilst Hape have a lovely wooden Quadrilla version.


10. Gears

Even babies as young as four months can enjoy simple gears – they love the twisting movement and are fascinated by turning one thing and making something else move. And as children get older they are constantly challenged by building ever more complex mechanical interdependencies and things that actually move.

Melissa and Doug have a lovely simple first gears toy and Gears Gears do big sets that are suitable from about 3 onwards.


11. Suction

Children “get” gravity from a very early age – they know that if they drop something it will fall. So they are also fascinated by forces like static and magnetism and materials that can apparently defy gravity.

Malleable plastic toys with suction connectors … such as these from Squigz … allow them to build wonderful structures that apparently defy everything they’ve learnt about the rules of gravity.


12. Connecting Straws

Connecting straws are another timeless classic that, like Squigz, allow children to create elegant, apparently gravity defying structures and to appreciate the strength of curves and bends in supporting structures.


13. Lego

Having kept millions of children happy for many many many hours, Lego needs no introduction but a list of building toys would really not be complete without it …


14. Make Your Own

All these building toys make wonderful presents but as School Time Snippets shows you can actually make your own super size building toys out of all sorts of things that you’ve got around the house.