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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
Credit: Clixo This innovative building set is part origami and part magnetic engineering set.
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.
Get the Clixo modern magnetics at Clixo.com from $29.99
2. Spaceships that hold up in intergalactic battles
Credit: Snap Ships These bricks stay together for builds that really stand up to play.
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.
Get SnapShips ST-33 gunship at Target for $19.99
3. A set to electrify your building bricks
Credit: Snap Circuits / Elenco Electrify your Lego and brick structures!
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!
Get the Snap Circuits Bric: Structures at Amazon for $40.97
4. A building kit with big pieces for tiny builders
Credit: SmartMax A first-magnet building toy for little hands.
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.
Get the SmartMax 42-piece basic set at Kohl’s for $59.99
5. K’nex and Kid K’nex
Credit: hand2mind K’nex get the minds of young engineers really thinking and building.
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.
Get the Kid K’nex preschool set at Amazon for $37.41
Get the K’nex model building set at Amazon for $25.46
Get the K’nex Moving Creations at Hand2Mind for $39.99
6. A must-have magnetic building set
Credit: Magna-Tiles / CreateOn The ultimate gift for would-be architects.
Best for ages: 3 and up
Architects-in-training love the endless possibilities of Magna-Tiles, and their novelty and use sustain the interest of kids for years to come. If you’re not already a Magna-Tiles fan, they are a fun alternative to building blocks and the way they magnetically connect takes their STEM-inspiring possibilities to new levels. They start out 2-D but once pieced together make 3-D shapes and construction, making them an excellent entry-toy into basic geometry.
Get the Magna-Tiles Metropolis set at Amazon for $112.99
7. Add ons to make your magnets magical
Credit: CreateOn Make your magnet set out of this world with these graphic add ons.
Best for ages: 3 and up
If your child’s Magna-Tiles set needs a little something to renew their interest in them, these gorgeous graphic sets with beautifully printed scenery and structures might be just what they need. These dual-printed tiles can be built into a rocket ship, or flipped around to show all of the planets of our solar system, two versions of the sun, the moon, and an astronaut. Play with them on their own, or integrate them into whatever magnetic tile set you might already have to take magnet play to new heights.
Get the CreateOn Galaxy Rocket Ship at Maisonette for $49.95
8. A soft set of magnetic builders
Credit: Blue Marble These squishy, soft, and buoyant builders can go from the playroom to the bathtub.
Best for ages: 18 months to 6
They’re magnets! They’re foam! They build and they float! These soft builders are more versatile than we expected. Perfect for bath time, changing time, and playtime, these are both safe and dynamic. Thanks to the magnets that are safely concealed inside, Blockaroo builders easily connect together and they can even twist and spin with a satisfying click that makes them a fun fidget toy as well.
Blockaroos can be played with like typical blocks on a solid surface and—because they are buoyant—they make for a fun toy that can also transition to the pool or a bathtub.
Get Blockaroo building sets at Walmart for $19.88
9. A quality set of building blocks
Credit: Melissa & Doug A high-quality wooden block set will last for years.
Best for ages: 3 to 8
A good set of building blocks will keep children engaged for years to come. Since even very young children will enjoy exploring the shape and feel of blocks long before they are able to successfully stack them, it’s good to spring for a set made of quality wood that is paint-free and built to last.
We love the quality construction of this set, the sturdy box they are stored in, the way they neatly fit together in a puzzle-like way for easy clean-up, and for some covert mathematical learning.
Get the Melissa and Doug building block set at Amazon for $60.99
10. A plank-building set that will even engage older kids
Credit: BrainBlox This plank set takes a delicate hand and makes for exciting builds for older kids.
Best for ages: 4 and up
If you think your kid is too old for blocks, think again. This plank-style set is recommended for kids ages 4 and older, but it really starts to show its worth from ages 8 and up.
These planks are thinner, more narrow, and much more lightweight than standard wooden blocks. This makes for more challenging builds, but as kids get older that’s part of what makes them so appealing. They can be subtly stacked to make for interesting architectural elements and they can even open up for creative and artful wooden designs. They are also an excellent tool for class projects and for figuring out complex math problems.
The simplicity of this set belies how engaging it is. You just might see your 10-year-old get off their cell phone for a few minutes to work out an idea with this set.
Get the Brain Blox 200-plank set at Amazon for $49.99
Credit: Tinker Toys A upgrade to a classic that’s an actual improvement!
Best for ages: 3 and up
Remember TinkerToys? There is a reason why this building set has been around for over 100 years. This classic engineering toy gives limitless options for creative construction. The wooden set you may remember as a kid has come and gone but, unlike many toys that have been “upgraded” over the years, the change to plastic has actually improved this classic toy. There are now flexible bendable rods as well frames that click into place, allowing for even more creativity than the original kit.
Get the TinkerToy 200-piece set from Amazon for $43
12. A motorized building set
Credit: Brio This motorized build set really adds some action to this classic set.
Best for ages: 4 and up
Brio is known for their high-quality toys. Their building sets are made of such sturdy construction they are certain to be hand-me-downs through siblings and cousins.
This kit brings some motorized magic to anything your kid might build, letting kids create vehicles and robots that can move forward or in reverse. Compatible with all Brio Builder sets, this 120-piece set includes a battery-powered motor, easy-to-use tools, and a manual that is full of inspiration and ideas.
Get the Brio Builder motor set at Amazon for $59.99
13. A new spin on puzzle pieces
Credit: PlusPlus PlusPlus kits lets kids construct in 2D or 3D for the ultimate STEAM toy.
Best for ages: 4 to 12
Plus Plus are interlocking mini blocks that basically look like puzzle pieces that build up and out. From flat mosaics to 3-D models, these allow for a range of creative building options that easily go from art to engineering.
We love the basic set, but they also have creative smaller sets that focus on everything from race tracks to jewelry-making, depending on your child’s interest, and their mini-tubes are perfectly stocking-stuffer-sized.
Get the Plus Plus Learn to Build 1200-piece Super Set at Amazon for $59.99
Get the PlusPlus mini-maker unicorn tube at Amazon for $7.99
14. A big box of bricks
Credit: Legos You can’t beat a classic! The basic big box of Legos lets kids imagine their own builds without the constraints of a kit.
Best for ages: 4 and up
Nothing beats the classics. Kids are always going to want the latest Lego sets from Star Wars to Elsa’s Sparkling Castle, but sometimes it’s fun to get back to basics with a jumbo set of bricks.
These big boxes have no rules, knows no bounds, and have no plan—so they are ripe for creative building and anything your kid can dream up on their own. The Lego set is always a classic and the Zuru Max set is one of the best deals around for the brick-obsessed.
Get the Lego classic 790-piece creative brick set at Amazon for $43.99
Get the MAX Build More Premium Building Bricks Set at Amazon for $31.00
15. A fort-building set to put couch cushions to shame
Credit: Learning Resources Most fort kits are hard to assemble and collapse under blankets–this one is both sturdy and easy for kids to build on their own.
Best for ages: 4 to 11
If you’re tired of your couch being torn to pieces, it’s time to invest in a fort-building set. But not all fort-building sets are created equal. This one is easy for kids to assemble on their own and it holds up to even heavier blankets (because sitting in a pitch-dark fort with a flashlight is the whole reason for fort-building). They say this is best for ages 4 to 11, but I’ve seen older tweens hide out in this one to escape younger siblings—so the use may extend beyond what you expect.
Get the Ultimate Fort Builder at Lakeshore.com for $49.99
Credit: Hubelino Get ready to see your tween break a smile with this marble run.
Best for ages: 8 and up
It’s a marble run like no other. The crazy tricks and designs kids can create with the Hubelino Pi marble run system inspires boundless creative STEM problem-solving ideas. Kids can create towering high-speed and action-packed runs for maximum entertainment. Best of all, this kit is fully compatible with other building brick sets so kids can build out and come up with some serious Rube-Goldberg-style ideas by incorporating this into their existing brick sets.
Get the Hubelino Pi advanced marble run starter set at Target for $79
17. If they are too little for that last marble run
Credit: Hubelino A buildable marble-run for little kids with big ideas.
Best for ages: 4 to 8
Why should the big kids have all the fun? This marble run is compatible with Duplo and other bigger-sized blocks and gets little kids thinking creatively and critically. It’s just like the Hubelino Pi, but for little kids with ideas that are just as big as their older siblings. These pieces are sturdy and stable and, since they are compatible with Duplo, this set brings new ideas to an already beloved toy.
Get the Hubelino 45-piece marble run set at Amazon for $49.99
18. A beginning circuit set
Credit: Educational Insights This beginner circuit set is a perfect intro for little builders.
Best for ages: 5 to 8
This one came highly recommended to us by The Toy Insider trend forecasters. This set makes circuit building very little-kid friendly, so it’s a fun starter set for the younger set. Designed for younger builders ages 5 and up, the pieces are both simple and durable, so that kids can build and discover independently. Plus, it has exterior diagrams that allow little electricians to easily line things up to illuminate their builds. It’s perfect introduction to circuit building, trial and error, and other STEM skills,” says Ali Mierzejewski, Editor-in-Chief, The Toy Insider.
Get the Educational Insights Circuit Explorer Deluxe Base Station at Amazon for $59.99
19. A track set to take over your living room Christmas morning
Credit: Carrera This Super Mario slot car set makes for hours of screen-free excitement.
Best for ages: 6 and up
Train sets are the ultimate creative building set, but this year maybe appeal to their inner speed demon. We love that kids can get good and creative with building out and that they can add to the tracks to keep the imagination going. When they play you’ll notice a nice bonus is that this set gives them all of the thrills of a video game without screen time. Super Mario is having a moment right now, making this set particularly appealing to kids.
Get the Carrera GO!!! Mario Kart Mach 8 electric powered slot car racing set at Amazon for $90.37
20. A big box of smart blocks
Credit: LeapFrog / Blue’s Clues This 81-piece block set featuring a Blue figure from the show Blue’s Clues and You!
Best for ages: 2 and up
A big box of interlocking bricks is always a big hit. We love this collaboration between LeapFrog and Blues Clues. Blues Clues is making a comeback, making for a colorful and educational set that little kids will gravitate to. This set has 70, easy-to-hold, jumbo-sized building blocks and 13 double-sided learning blocks that feature letters and objects. The set comes with three double-sided building cards to give little builders creative ideas for building animal friends for Blue, a pick-up truck she can ride on and more. You can also take advantage of this set’s “smart features” by combining them with other LeapBuilder sets to activate fun sounds, educational songs, and encouraging words of praise to enhance building play with learning content.
Get the LeapFrog LeapBuilders Blue’s Clues and You! building set at Amazon for $19.99
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Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
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