What kid doesn’t love putting things together and taking them apart? Building and construction toys are the ultimate STEM and STEAM gifts. They push kids to think critically and creatively, and hone their science, technology, engineering, and math skills—all through play.
If you’re going to buy one big investment toy this year, make it a building or construction set. They are the classics that kids never really grow out of, and that they always go back to when the trendy toy of the moment has run its course.
Toy companies have seen sales in construction and building toys increase by 59% since the COVID-19 pandemic—and for good reason. With parents multi-tasking as teachers and playmates, building sets allow for independent play that gets kids off their screens and engages their minds.
Here we share our picks for our favorite blocks, magnets, Legos, STEM building sets, and more. With features for everyone from toddlers to tweens, these sets will get them playing and learning, and might even give you a few moments of quiet in the process.
1. A magnetic origami building kit
Best for ages: 4 and up
Deceptively simple, these reinforced synthetic paper building pieces go from 2-D to 3-D with a satisfying magnetic snap, making for endless building possibilities. These innovative open-play building kits are part magnetic origami and part building blocks. Their bendable design allows them to be manipulated into unexpected shapes and designs, encouraging improvisation, experimentation, and creative thinking.
We love that they can go from jewelry to helicopter to snake to mouse to daisy chain to wearable art—really only limited by your child’s imagination. And the fact that they are so lightweight, compact, and easy to travel with make them the perfect travel toy, whether it be on an airplane or the back seat of a car.
2. Spaceships that hold up in intergalactic battles
Best for ages: 6 and up
SnapShips is a building kit that really understands how kids play. These kits not only build impressively cool space crafts, but once built the toys solidly lock into place to stand up to just about any intergalactic battle your kid can dream up.
These can be tough to build and the directions are complex, so the manufacturer recommends age 8 and up for fully independent play. If you don’t mind helping your kid build these, however, the they keep kids as young as 6 years old busy for hours.
We also like that there is an iPhone and Google Play app to give more build ideas and there is even a YouTube video channel to further immerse users into the SnapShip universe. SnapShips are sold everywhere, but some models—like, arguably, their coolest ship, the Trident ST-33 gunship—are only sold through a proprietary deal with Target.
3. A set to electrify your building bricks
Best for ages: 8 and up
Snap Circuits are cool enough, but what about those that can energize building bricks with electricity? This set really amps up the wow factor in brick-building by mounting circuits onto ordinary bricks. This super educational toy is a fun and creative way to encourage STEM and problem-solving skills and it’s sure to invigorate the boxes of Legos or building bricks your child might already have. The kit includes 26 intricate projects to build and enough bricks to pull them off, but where it really shines is when you incorporate it into an existing Lego or building brick set you might already own—making for an electrifying play experience!
4. A building kit with big pieces for tiny builders
Best for ages: 1 to 5
If you’re looking to build STEM skills before they’re even fully walking, SmartMax has you covered. These jumbo-sized ball- and bar-style magnetic build toys are easy for small hands to grasp and work with; they are smooth in all the right places, and they are impossible to swallow, making them safe for curious and gnawing little mouths. Plus, they continue to be fun right through age 5.
5. K’nex and Kid K’nex
Best for ages: K’nex: 5 and up; Kid K’nex: 3 and up
K’nex toys are the ultimate building sets for budding engineers. They have sets that are made for preschoolers, early elementary, master builders, and everyone in between. We like that the builds result in gratifying feats of engineering, but aren’t so complex that kids refuse to take them apart. They also come with really robust build manuals that get kids thinking in new and innovative ways to tackle a problem.
Honestly, you can’t go wrong with any of these sets but we are particularly partial to either the 35-model building set that allows users to build cranes and vehicles, or their new line of Moving Creations, made in partnership with hand2mind, that result in some really gratifying engineering feats.