The Little Lake County editors and their kids have been busy playing and trying out the latest toys and tried and true favorites to bring you this holiday wish list. All items are ones that we have tried, played with and are kid and parent approved.
Building toys inspire so many types of play and learning experiences in children. Building fosters basic hand-eye coordination, math and spatial relationships, creative engineering and cooperative play among children AND adults. What’s not to like about them, except for maybe the errant building brick underfoot after a long day of play? Building sets, from basic to extravagant, are always on our holiday gift shopping lists. Here are the best one we’ve found, excluding LEGO which is a perennial favorite of all the Little Lake County Editor’s and Kids.
Best Building Toys for Kids
If I win the lottery, I’m buying this toy for every child in my family. Builderhoos won me over at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair and I love, love, love this concept. It’s an indoor-outdoor, life-size building set. Kids can build their own fort and play in it. This company is local to the Chicago, mom-owned, and totally awesome. The basic set contains 50 building pieces, one side is colored, the other side is natural wood. All pieces are handmade in the USA. The recommended age for this toy range from three to twelve years,and they can be stacked flat for storage. I’m pretty sure I need one for myself.
Automoblox are high quality toy cars that come fully assembled, but also contain tools and directions for disassembly and re-assembly, and pieces from cars of the same size can be interchanged to create new cars. This toy is recommended for children ages three to nine, and the parts are color coded for ease of play. While assembled, the car is sturdy and plays well, and there are no stickers or parts to come loose and get lost.
If your kids are like mine, they will combine their building sets on those long winter days to make elaborate creations. Versa Bricks is a connecting set that bridges LEGO, Hot Wheels, K’NEX, Mega Bloks and Best-Lok sets for even more creative play. These pieces are designed to interact with each of those building systems, and using just a few pieces from the Versa Bricks set, kids can construct elaborate bridges for cars and trucks and really take creative play up a notch. The starter pack is priced under $10, which is a great price point for this versatile addition, and you can order packs of only the connecting bricks you want or use the most.
Code and Go Robot Mouse by Learning Resources
Normally I wouldn’t include a toy with batteries in a building set review, but this toy rocks! Part maze building, part STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) toy rolled into one, this toy teaches programming to kids ages as young as five. First, a maze is built for Colby the mouse, then kids use program the mouse so it can navigate the walls, tiles and tunnels of the maze they create. A second mouse can be purchased to expand this toy for two players. This innovative toy hails locally from Learning Resources, headquartered in Vernon Hills, and it has won multiple awards this year.
GeoSmart sets are colorful, geometric magnetic tiles, and are built to safely withstand years of play by multiple children. There are many sets to choose from, some include only tiles (no motors) and others are sets to build motorized vehicles or specific shapes, and some sets contain lights. The recommended age for this toy is five to twelve, depending upon the complexity of the kit.
IKOS spherical building sets are geared for kids ages six and older. With these colorful, thick tiles, creations sprout wings, roll around and take on dome shapes. When constructing a sphere, placing the last tile can be a little tricky, but it did not deter my kids from creating, and once they figured it out, they no longer needed parental assistance. We had a lot of fun playing with this toy at the Chicago Toy & Game Fair, and we think it will be a big hit for your family, too. And these building pieces are made out of recycled materials!
Meccano is the new name for the old-fashioned Erector set toys. Meccano kits are assembled using a wrench, allen wrench and mini screwdriver, and contain nuts, washers, axles, and all of the other metal parts needed to really, truly construct a working model. My daughter sat and played for hours at last year’s Chicago Toy & Game Fair and created a custom race car that actually rolled from random pieces out of buckets at a creative play table. We had to pry her out of the booth to go to lunch. Sold as kits with detailed instructions, or toolboxes, and in buckets, this is a classic building toy that all children should experience. Kits are geared for kids ages six and up.
Meccanoid G15 Personal Robot by Meccano
This toy is a two-foot tall robot that kids can build and program. While the recommended age for this toy is ten years and older, if you have building-obsessed children and are willing to work closely with them, I think an eight-year-old could find success with this model. My older child immediately downloaded the free app and connected to the demonstration model of this toy at the Chicago Toy & Game Show last year, and spent a lot of time learning how it is built and powered. This is a toy that will take a few days to build. This toy also enlists voice recognition and over a thousand pre-programmed phrases, making it interactive and entertaining for a group of children.
Znapeez! by Fashion Angels
Don’t let the “Fashion Angels” on the box convince you that this is toy just for girls. Znapeez! construction tiles can be snapped to make basketball hoops, banners, balls, bags, medals and so much more. Designed for children ages eight years and older, there a lot of building kits to choose from, and after the kit is built, it can taken apart and reassembled into something else. Fair warning, this toy requires good fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination, and the parts are small. The kits are comprised of slotted tiles and small connectors, which are interlinked to build things. The unique thing about Znapeez! is once connected, they move flexibly to form arcs and they bend like fabric.
My son (Melissa) fell in love with these cards two years ago at the Toy and Game Fair. This year after wowing the creator with his building skills they sent him home with a starter box. Kardtects take your standard house of cards build and turns it into a versatile building toy that multiple ages can use and that you can pack up and put in your bag – perfect for family vacations!
In theory I’m (Melissa) not a fan of toys that could be gender neutral made “girly” just for the sake of being girly. However as my daughter has taught me with LEGO Friends, a toy that isn’t played with at all can’t teach her anything either. She received the Roominate Chateau last Christmas and despite our concerns on the flimsy feel of it, he’s enjoyed it and it’s lasted. This year she has her fingers crossed that Santa will be bringing her the carnival. There was a large Ferris wheel at the Roominate booth at the toy fair and even my totally averse to all things pink son was intrigued and thought it was super cool.
When you are the youngest of four kids you want to do things that the big kids do, usually before you are physically able to them. Magnetic blocks are perfect for bridging that gap. Our favorite is Tegu, particularly the kits. which come with patterned blocks and special shapes to quickly and easily make a few recognizable items such as the robot shown here. This year all the littles on our list are hoping to receive the new Sticky Monsters. While more expensive them some magnetic building kits these are wood, with beautiful colors. Tegu is also doing good by creating a meaningful social impact in Honduras through employment and responsible business practices.
Another magnet block we saw these for the first time at our public library and it’s a favorite of my little guy. The kits combines balls and straights or curves that quickly and easily stick together to make all sorts of creations. While at the toy fair we also saw that they now have vehicles including planes that young kids can build and play with that are compatible with the original SmartMax sets.
What are your family’s favorite building toys? Leave us a comment and tell us about it.
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