Choosing Building Toys

As parents, one of the difficult choices we have to make is that of buying toys for our children. We want the best for our kids, but we also don’t want to waste money on the wrong things. Which ones will last and give many hours or even years of play? Which ones will help them learn valuable skills? Which ones will stay on the shelf and hardly be used?

A great set to build a variety of models

A great set to build a variety of models

So many times I have given in and bought toys that my children wanted, only to be disappointed because they quickly got bored with the toy, or the toy broke after not too long. I am sure you have also had this frustration, many of my friends have the same issue and often agonize over what toys will make good gifts for their children or a friend’s child. At the same time we want to develop our children’s abilities, we want them to become the best that they are capable of.

Building toys have become my toys of choice for my kids. Even with these you can make bad buying choices and end up with a toy that only gets played with a few times. There are so many options when it comes to building toys. Think of some of the names that I am sure you have heard of or even owned, like Lego, K’nex, Meccano, Zoob, Tinkertoy and many more.

I am going to share with you the things that I consider when I am choosing a set for my kids. Not only are these choices about the kind of building toy, but also the specific sets available for that type of toy. If I am buying a first set of a particular type then I try to buy a set that has a good variety of play options and that will be used for years to come as my children grow up.

When it comes to developing a child’s mind these are also the first choice of many parents and education specialists. Since the early years of school my children have had access to some form of building toys in the classroom. Even when they got to “big school” they had access to these in the junior years. There are many essential education skills that are developed in a child when they play with these types of toys.

Make Age-Appropriate Choices

Most building or construction toys have an appropriate age range on the box. The lower age gives a good idea of the level of skill needed to be able to build the models without a lot of help. The higher age gives a guideline as to the age when a child is likely to get bored with the set and no longer be challenged by it.

You know your child best and these age ratings are a guideline. Just don’t be too quick to buy a set with a higher age rating than your child’s age if you are not prepared to spend time helping them to make sense of the instructions and with the building of the models. You don’t want to frustrate your child and end up with a toy that they don’t want to play with. Buying sets for the appropriate age group will both interest and challenge your child. They might need a little bit of help from time to time, but they should be able to build the models independently most of the time.

How Many Models Can be Made?

Small sets that only have pieces for one model don’t interest my children for long. They get tired of building the same thing over and over again. Unless I am adding a small set to an existing collection then the smallest set I would consider is a 3-in-1 model set. This means that 3 different models can be made from the pieces, but not at the same time. You have to break the model up to be able to build the next one. I call this the “re-play value” of the set.

These small sets are also not suitable for sharing unless children are going to build the same model together.

521 K'nex pieces in a storage tub

521 K’nex pieces in a storage tub

How Many Pieces Does The Set Have?

Many of the different types of building sets have basic sets or starter sets that include a lot of different types of pieces. More pieces means more models can be built, or bigger models. These are often referred to as multi-model sets.

There is a catch with these too – some will have just 1 or perhaps 2 of a particular part that the models in the instructions might need. For example, the Meccano Multi-model sets only include 1 or 2 motors in the larger sets. This restricts the number of motorised models that can be built at the same time.

Are There Specialised Pieces?

The more general sets that don’t have specialised pieces used by each model do not create this restriction and will enable a lot more group play without any fights over the 1 piece that everyone needs. If there are specialized pieces, how many are there? Always consider how many models can be built at the same time if there is to be any sharing of the set. If it is only going to be used by one child on their own then this might not be an issue.

How Can I Help You?

On this site you will find information about different types of building toys and my recommendations about the suitability of the different sets. For each one I will talk about how they fit in to the points I have made in this article. I hope this information will help you to make a good choice when you want to buy toys for your children.

If you have any questions or want to share your experiences, please leave a comment below. We can all learn from each other. You are also welcome to let me know if there is any other helpful information that you would like to see on my site.

8 thoughts on “Choosing Building Toys

  1. Sylvia

    I found your website very informative especially your post “choosing Building Toys”. In the “old” days it was more common to do so. I have a 2 year old grandson and I am intrigued to start something you have mentioned in your post to try out with him. I am sure he would love it. He already is interested in Legos.
    Thanks for all the information. 🙂

    1. Lesley Post author

      I hope he learns a lot from building toys because I am sure you are going to be getting some for him. They get bored of the modern toys too quickly, the only ones that they really go back to, even as they get older, are the building toys.

  2. Stacey

    Hi Lesley

    Great article and I couldn’t agree more!

    I find building toys to be very stimulating for kids and it enhances their creativity and puzzle solving skills with all the different things that they can build.

    They are less as popular now as they used to be with the introduction of technology, tablets, ipads etc and the challenge today is to get our children off those and building creating more social relationships.

    Good luck!

    1. Lesley Post author

      Hi Stacey,

      that is exactly what I want to achieve with this website. To give parents better options for choosing building toys that will interest their children and help them develop essential skills. Before I started doing research for this site I didn’t know about many of the sets that are available. I hope I will be able to help a few people through the information I publish..

  3. Gary

    I’ve always tried to get toys that allow for imagination to work it’s magic. Building toys are the best (except when the little pieces hide in the carpet and you step on them with bare feet)

    I remember one Christmas. Mom had to work out of town for a few weeks so when she got home she bought a bunch of presents for the 3 year old. He opened them all excitedly, but an hour later was outside playing with a stick he found in the yard. His most favorite play things were the boxes the toys came in.

    share-a-like dot com

    1. Lesley Post author

      Kids have great ways of finding things to play with and many of the expensive toys just sit on the shelf. Even building toys can fall into that category when they don’t stimulate a child’s imagination. some of those sets to build just 1 model are like that.

      I agree with the bit about the little pieces in the carpet! Some of those little Lego blocks are not fun to stand on.

  4. Zbigniew

    Building toys are great. Personally, I found that the simpler the building blocks (I mean toys) are, the longer my kids take interest in them. I think it has something to do with a child’s creativity. Contrary to popular belief, children doesn’t like it when you have everything ready and prepared for them. They love to create something entirely new. For example, my daughters rarely use the instructions attached to Lego sets. Usually they just put all the pieces from various sets into one box and only then they start to build a house, a town or a vehicle that you wouldn’t find in any building instruction.
    Great site, keep up the good work!

    1. Lesley Post author

      I agree with you about children wanting to more creative. My kids are the same. They will often build a model according to the instructions, but it soon gets added to the collection for them to explore their own creations. While the creativity and the more general sets are great, I also think there is room for specific model-sets. These often give them new ideas to use for their next creation.


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