Looking for the absolute best building toys for kids? This list shares a wide variety of open ended STEM toys kids will love – and play with for years to come.
I am a mom of 4 with an early childhood teaching degree. I know the importance of open ended play. It’s one of the reasons we have so many different building sets in our home. Oh, so many building toys!
There are many toys available to kids but sometimes the simplest toys are the best. Enter these open-ended building toys.
There are building blocks for babies and preschoolers, as well as advanced building sets for older children. Both boys and girls enjoy building because with the right set, you can build whatever you imagine!
Building toys are important for children of all ages for several reasons.
- Building strengthens fine motor skills.
- Building toys are a great way to improve hand-eye coordination.
- Construction toys can be used in different ways at different skill levels.
- Open ended toys (like building toys) encourage imaginative play.
- Building toys are so much fun!
It is a good idea to have different building toys in your home because different types of toys are used for different kinds of play.
One of the great things about developing a collection of building sets is that you can add to them over the years. Once you find a couple sets that your child truly loves, add ons make great birthday or Christmas gifts.
When looking for the best building sets, I wanted to include high quality sets that truly last through multiple kids. (Some of our sets have lasted 10 years already and are still in great condition!) I also wanted sets that could span the ages and stages of child development. Finally, I wanted sets that are fun! Kids should enjoy building.
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Here are 24 of the best building toys that kids love.
1. The Simplest Building Set that Every Child Needs: Wooden Blocks
Let’s start with the basics. Every child needs a set of wooden building blocks to begin building. There are a couple different options, but I recommend you stick with neutral colors as they truly are timeless.
My children and I really like the square Uncle Goose blocks. They are exactly like the old fashioned wooden blocks you have seen in the past, but these are available in a variety of sets – and all made in the USA. We have the capital letters and lowercase letters, as well as the nursery rhymes. They even have foreign language blocks or science concepts on the blocks. Everything is the same size so you could have multiple sets that all work together.
Another wooden block option is a wooden block set like these from Melissa & Doug. This unit block set includes different shapes of wooden blocks – rectangles, arches, squares and columns. If you want a wooden set that has more shapes than just square, this would be the wooden block set for you.
2. Soft Blocks Perfect for Young Children: Foam Blocks
When little children are just starting to build with blocks, foam blocks are a great option for babies and toddlers. Foam blocks are soft and squishable for small hands. They can stacked and tossed are not damaged when your child decides to chew upon one. Foam blocks (like these) are a great first building set for younger toddlers.
I can’t say enough good things about Duplos. Duplos are one of those classic toys I think every family should own. Duplos are a child’s first introduction to Legos – as they are Lego blocks in a toddler size form. They are a high quality block that doesn’t break and will last for generations. Kids of all ages love Duplos. I know because my 7 and 9 year olds still enjoy playing with Duplos just as much as the 5 and 3 year old.
One word of caution? Don’t mix the generic sets with the Duplo sets. Yes, they technically can work together but in our experience, they don’t fit nearly as nicely or securely as the name brand options. I think it is better to invest in a couple quality sets of Duplos.
The other nice thing about Duplos is that you have so many options now for sets. I recommend starting with a basic Duplo block set (like this one) but then let relatives add to your collection for birthdays and Christmas. Duplos are not as expensive as Legos so you can still buy a single set or two at reasonable prices. Here are a couple other Duplo sets that we love.
- Duplo Classic Brick Box
- My First Number Train
- Santa Claus & Gingerbread House Duplo Set – An adorable Christmas gift option!
- Duplo Space Shuttle Set
- Duplo Wild Animals of the World – SO many neat animals!
- Duplo Fire Truck Set
- Duplo Building Board – A must for building lots of creations.
4. A Frugal Beginning Building Set: Mega Bloks
If you don’t want to spend the money on Duplos, Mega Bloks would be a good option for you. Mega Bloks are a larger size building block that preschool age children enjoy. Since they are so similar to Duplos, I would recommend you pick either Duplos OR Mega Bloks – and don’t add both to your collection. Like Duplos, you can start with a basic building set like this one, and add to it easily.
5. The Creative Building Toy That Uses Suction: Squigzs
We were introduced to Squigz with my second child, and they have become a favorite toy for all of our children. Squigz were created by Fat Brain Toys and are a quality toy that is worth the investment. Squigzs are pieces with suction cups on the end. They stick together and stick to windows, door frames and cabinets – without damaging anything – providing creative building opportunities.
Toddlers love the sound they make putting them together and pulling them apart. My older children love building hanging towers with Squigzs. Start with a basic set of Squigz, and we added another basic set the following Christmas to give the children more pieces with which to build. They also have a mini Squigzs set if that size interests you more.
6. A Fun Building Toy Where Everything Connects: Bristle Blocks
If you have never seen bristle blocks before, bristle blocks are best described as interlocking building blocks. Each block is covered by little pieces where you can stick another block into it. This idea allows children to build all sorts of creations without worrying about if the pieces will fall down.
I had a set of bristle blocks as a child, and my children enjoy playing with them as much as I did. Bristle blocks are very reasonably priced for a set which make this a frugal building option. Plus, they now have fun add on sets with cute animals and different bristle shapes.
7. The Building Set Where Towers Won’t Fall Down: Square Magnetic Blocks
For younger kids who enjoy building with basic square blocks, consider adding a set of magnetic square blocks. These really are a simple concept. They are a smaller size square block – in a variety of colors – that are completely magnetic inside so blocks will stick together as stacked. Having a magnetic block set allows children to build towers that don’t fall down nearly as easily.
8. A Big but Simple Building Toy Kids Love: Cardboard Blocks
Cardboard blocks are a simple but big building option for small children who love to create big things. Cardboard blocks are great for building tall towers and castles. Due to the size, we did not have a set of cardboard blocks at home but I know they are always a hit in the preschool classroom. Cardboard blocks are simple but provide lots of different building opportunities, due to their size.
9. Another Think Big Building Set: Fort Building Kit
For all the kids who love building forts out of cardboard tables and sheets, there are now fort building kits! This size kit is perfect for builders ages 6 and older, who can figure out the complexity of building a fort shape. Fort building kits are still an open option building toy because you can build many different shapes and sizes of forts using the pieces provided.
10. An Oldie but Goodie: Lincoln Logs
Did you know Lincoln Logs were invented in 1916 by John Lloyd Wright, the son of architect Frank Lloyd Wright? Lincoln Logs are a classic toy many generations have enjoyed. The original Lincoln Logs brand are still made of real wood. You can buy a smaller farm set of logs or a larger original set – all of which build together in that interlocking log style we all know.
11. An Old Fashioned Building Toy: Tinkertoys
Tinkertoys were invented in 1914 after Stonemason Charles Pajeau watched children creating with wooden spools and sticks. Tinkertoys are a modular building system of round wooden wheels – with holes on all sides – and sticks that connect and build. Tinkertoys have been updated and redesigned so gone are the days of the pieces falling apart. Tinkertoys sets now snap together and stay together when building.
12. A Different Way to Build: Stacking Rocks
Have you seen this new building toy? Stacking rocks are unique in that each rock is a different shape, size and weight. However, each rock also has many flat surfaces on which children can stack and build. Often advertised as a Montessori product, wooden stacking rocks are a creative building option for younger children. Preschoolers and Kindergarteners – as well as adults – will enjoy building with stacking rocks.
13. A Math Tool That Also Builds: Learning Resources MathLink Cubes
Every Kindergarten teacher uses MathLink cubes to teach math skills. These interconnecting cubes help teach counting and one to one correspondence. Even though MathLink cubes are great for math, they are also a fun building tool! These cubes can link together on any side so there are lots of different ways to build. Plus, your kids can have fun with patterns as they build! One MathLink set is a great place to start, but having two or three sets provide the most building opportunities.
14. An Old Fashioned Concept in a Kid Friendly Format: Straw Connector Set
A straw connector set is similar to TinkerToys but in a larger scale. With over 600 pieces in a straw connector set, there are building options for several children to build together. If you are looking for an open ended STEM toy for your child, this straw connector set would be a good option.
Magformers are another great building toy that children of all ages love. These are shape magnet blocks that are open in them middle, so they are easily grasped by little hands. There are countless ways to build with Magformers, and this is another set that you can add to year after year. I recommend starting with a basic Magformers set like this one. After that, you can add a more involved set or focus on the shapes your child enjoys building with the most, like:
16. The Best Magnet Toy Ever Invented: Magnatiles
If I had to pick a favorite building toy, Magnatiles are definitely one of my top picks. This is a building toy that all our children – regardless of age – absolutely love. Adults love them too! Magnatiles are magnetic tiles that can be built into flat shapes as well as 3-D shapes. Our magnatiles get a lot of use. They are small enough that make it a good toy to travel with when you need to take toys along. Magnatiles are the building toy that every child needs.
Now, Magnatiles are the original name brand of all the magnetic building sets. They are high quality and always stick well together. All the brands technically do stick together, but I would recommend picking a brand and sticking to it. Magnatiles are some of the strongest magnets around. Plus, they have fun themed sets now too!
A budget friendly option is Playmags. We have a couple Magnatiles sets mixed in with quite a few Playmags set. They look similar and all stick together nicely. I would highly recommend Playmags.
Our children have received many new magnet sets over the years and they are always thrilled with getting more pieces to build. We especially like having the magnet cars but having lots of geometric shapes is also important.
17. A Truly Fun Building Set: Marble Run
A marble run set is another unique building set where you build different paths to see how marbles run through them. I bought a Discovery Toys Marble Run set years ago and it has lasted through multiple preschool classrooms as well as years with my own children. They always enjoy building with the marbles! Now, there are a wide variety of marble run sets available. Each set has slightly different pieces but the concept is the same. The Meland Marble Run set gets good reviews as does the Marble Genius Marble Run.
18. An Endless Possibilities Option: Domino Sets
Dominos might not be what you think of when you say building toy – but have you seen all the domino maze set ups? The ones where you build a long row of dominos and then tip them over to watch them fall into one another? Dominos can be a great possibility for building mazes you can knock down! If your child likes to build this way, skip the small sets of actual domino blocks – and buy a larger set of plain, domino sized blocks created specifically for building mazes. This is a good gift for children in 3rd grade or older who have the patience to create elaborate mazes.
19. The Classic Toy that Lasts and Lasts: Legos
No building list would be complete without Legos. Legos are the classic building toy – that absolutely everyone loves!
There are so many options for Legos! Since every single set works together, you can build quite the collection over the years. I recommend starting with a basic Lego bricks set and then adding to your collection by choosing the sets that interest your child.
As I mentioned, there are knockoffs available for purchase. Don’t buy them. It is worth investing in Legos. In fact, here are quite a few Lego sets that are available for under $20. You can slowly add to your Lego collection over the years because I guarantee that your child will be playing with these blocks for many, many years. Legos last so well, you will be able to pass Legos onto your grandchildren some day! Legos are definitely a good building investment and one of the best toys around.
20. A Fun Engineering Building Set: K’Nex
K’Nex are a system of rods and connectors that attach in a variety of ways. The unique part about K’Nex is that you can build creations that actually move. There are a variety of sets and pieces, all that work together (just like Legos). The pieces aren’t huge so they are easy to store. Plus, there are so many different models you can build with K’Nex! K’Nex is called the Ultimate Model Building set for a good reason!
21. Interlocking Plastic Discs That Connect in Unique Ways: Brain Flakes
Brain Flakes are another great STEM building tool. These interlocking plastic discs can be attached in a variety of ways so your building options are truly endless. All the discs are the same size and shape which is a positive aspect of this building set. You get 500 Brain Flakes in one set which makes this another reasonably priced building tool.
22. The New Mini Puzzle Building Toy: Plus-Plus
Plus-Plus blocks are a mini puzzle building toy that looks like two plus signs put together. Hence, the name… Plus-Plus! Because they are small pieces, Plus-Plus are better suited for older kids. All the blocks are exactly the same size and they interlock like a puzzle. You can build flat creations or 3-D depending on how you interlock the pieces. Once again, the possibilities are endless which makes Plus-Plus another great building option!
23. An Open Ended Building Toy That Encourages Creativity: Keva Planks
Keva planks are one of those building toys you didn’t know your older children needed. All of these small wooden planks are exactly the same size. The beauty of Keva planks is that you can build so many elaborate creations with planks that are identical. It is one of the best open-ended toys I have seen because it really encourages creative thinking and problem solving.
My 8 year old received a set of planks for Christmas last year, and I wasn’t sure how often they would be played with. My kids all play with them on a regular basis! I am amazed at the structures and mazes and buildings they create with Keva planks. Once again, you can start with one set of Keva planks like (this one) and add more planks in future years.
24. The Science Inspired Building Set: Snap Circuits
If your child is curious about how things work, consider giving them a set of Snap Circuits. This neat set allows you to build different electronic gadgets like alarms or whistles or radios by snaping circuit pieces together. Snap Circuits are brilliantly designed to click into a grid so young kids can easily make these circuits work. They also include great step by step instructions kids can follow on their own.
There is a Junior Snaps Circuit Set, a Snap Circuits Classic, and a Pro Snaps Circuit Set. The pieces all work together so that is something to remember. Even though the recommended age is 8 and up, my kids handled the sets at the age of 6. You can easily start with the Junior set to gage their interest, and follow it up with a more involved set or an add on Snap Circuits set.
There you have it! 2 dozen building sets that your kids are sure to love. Do you have a favorite building set?