The 10 Best Kids Building Sets
10. Roylco Straws & Connectors
9. Meccano Super Construction
8. Lauri Tall-Stackers
7. Magz-Bricks 60 piece
6. K'nex 70 Model
5. Zoob Builder Z
4. MindWare Keva Contraptions
3. TinkerToy 200 Pieces
2. Learning Resources Gears Gears Gears
1. Magna Tiles Clear Colors
A tremendous amount of our daily lives depends on the quality of our spacial reasoning. Every time you unexpectedly twist an ankle, miss a curb or a step; bump into walls, tables, door frames, and more, it's usually the result of a lapse in spacial awareness.
In more concerted cases, overpacking a suitcase to the point where it won't close, trying to fit four people in a two person tent while camping, and other silly examples illustrate ways in which a gap in your spacial reasoning can come back to bite you.
The brain is a plastic thing, which is to say that it's constantly learning and evolving. But the vast majority of your brain's development occurs within the first few years of life, with a kind of diminishing return as you age and pass on through puberty and into adulthood. There is no better time to work at developing the skills and ingrained quality of spacial reasoning than at a young age.
The building sets on our list, even as they entertain your kids with hours of creativity, exploration, and the occasional thrill of destruction, will all also help to solidify important concepts that will help them down the line. Not every kid who picks up a building set will go on to be a mathematician with a specialty in geometry, or become the next Frank Lloyd Wright, but he or she will undoubtedly have an advantage in those fields in school and in life.
Builders And Creators
There's a pretty stark divide among kids when it comes to building sets. Most kids will own either of the two primary set categories, but in their hearts there's really only room for one style, and knowing which kind they prefer will just about cleave our list in twain before you begin to consider other variables.
Those two primary categories are the free-builders and the designed builders. I know free-builders sounds a little bit like Freemasons, but I don't mean to imply that these are the kids destined to preside over the world order by the force of the their invisible hands. I mean that their sets aren't meant to be any one thing.
The blocks and pieces in free-builder sets aren't meant to be put together like a model in any particular manner. They leave the end product open-ended, preferring instead to engage your child's imagination from the ground up. Design builders do just the opposite. They usually come with a small pamphlet of instructions, and your child will follow this flow to the letter and eventually emerge with a well-built, finely crafted item, like a truck, boat, or building.
It's impossible to say which style provides the better educational experience. The lessons that a design can teach a child about the importance of pre-planning and patient execution of a specific task are invaluable. So, too, are the revelations of the creative imagination when something that wasn't necessarily supposed to be anything suddenly becomes something recognizable and exciting.
In a perfect world, perhaps your child would spend equal amounts of time with either kind of building set, though that might make for a boy or girl who is a jack of all trades, master of none. What matters is that you tune into what their preferences would be, so that if you buy them a box of bricks with no instructions they'll actually put it to use, or if you get them a set to make some fancy trucks they won't just tear the instructions up and build whatever they want.
The only other major variable to consider in your purchase is the relevant age for each set. Some of the sets on our list are clearly intended for younger groups of children, while others are far too complicated for a younger age bracket to comprehend. Each set has its specific age recommendation, and those are usually right on the mark.
A Building Boom At The Turn Of The Century
The building block has been a popular children's toy since long before an industry for children's toys existed. As far back as the late 17th century, there are mentions of square, lettered blocks very much akin to alphabet blocks, the modern precursors to the sets on our list.
It wasn't until the early 20th century that more complicated building sets became popular among children. Very early in the century, on an expedition to Japan with his father who had designed the Imperial Hotel in Tokyo, John Lloyd Wright invented a toy architecture set based on the model pieces his father was using to create his designs. This set would go on to take the name Lincoln Logs, after the construction of Abraham Lincoln's cabin in Illinois.
At around the same time, Alfred Carlton Gilbert and his Mysto Manufacturing Company patented and began to market a steel construction set for young boys interested in architecture. He called the sets Erector, and their popularity exploded almost instantly.
A little over a decade later, a wooden toy workshop in Denmark began to produce interlocking blocks of various rectangular lengths and colors. The Lego Company eventually switched from wooden pieces to plastics, and their success has been consistent for nearly a century.