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Best type of building block sets for little architects?

post #1 of 26
Thread Starter 

This is not exactly a "gifted child" question, but I am curious what type of building block sets your gifted kids have enjoyed playing with. I have a 2.5 year old who loves to build, and she could stand to move beyond the Duplos. I was considering getting her a set of unit blocks, but the good sets are rather pricey. I didn't want to make the investment without asking parents of older kids first whether their children actually play with them in the long run. It seems like most of the older children I know play with legos.There is something more charming about the wooden unit blocks to me compared to the plastic legos, but mainly I am curious about which type of building set is the best tool for fostering spatial creativity. So, what have your imaginative little architects enjoyed building with? Any suggestions for specific brands?

post #2 of 26

I have found that older kids go back to Duplo again and again. My oldest was never that interested in wooden blocks at all, they've just been collecting dust at our house (I know he plays with wooden blocks at preschool, they have the HABA dominoes type blocks, all the same shape and size). However, he loved diving into real construction toys between 3 and 4.

Don't know whether any siblings are planned but another good thing about Duplos is that it spans age groups; legos are a bit of a problem as you have to keep prising it out of the mouths of little ones. Maybe invest in more interesting Duplo sets? Can you find out whether she'd be interested in wooden blocks at all, at a friend's house for instance, before you invest in a pricey set? A large toy store in our city has a playroom and I take my kids before birthdays and holidays to check out what they gravitate towards.

 

Another nice wooden toy for little builders is a BRIO train set. Actually that was the only use he ever put wooden blocks to, propping up train tracks. Check out marble runs, too - I would have loved to get an expensive wooden set for both kids to play together with but have found they are extremely happy with a plastic set - easier to build and more stable than the beautiful but rickety wooden ones. I'd love to fill my house with beautiful wooden toys but it appears that sometimes they do get more use out of the cheaper plastic stuff. A Quadrilla set, supposedly stable, is on my amazon wishlist...

post #3 of 26

FWIW our science center had several Quadrilla sets out for play and they were horrible.  The kids had an awful time getting the marble runs to stay together.  What my then 10 yr old got out of the toy was a lesson in patience and balance.  I'm so glad I never purchased that thing.

 

As for building toys, LEGO all the way.  Wooden toys just are not a huge hit around here.  

 

I never made the investment but Magna Tiles are a favorite from a friends house.

post #4 of 26
Thread Starter 

Thanks for the suggestions! We don't plan to have any more children, so I am hesitant to buy lots of Duplo sets because we probably will get Legos soon. I'll try to find a place that has many wooden unit blocks in my town to see if she is interested. We do have a small Haba set right now and she likes to make little buildings with archway doors. She doesn't play with them for as long as her Duplos, though, and I can't tell if that's because she's limited by how many blocks we have or because she's simply not that interested. Strangely enough, I don't know of any families who have many wooden blocks that we can borrow. The Legos are ubiquitous. I guess that's saying something about what kids really like to play with! I will also check out the Magna Tiles and marble runs.

post #5 of 26

We love our magnatiles.  They are horribly expensive (espeically because of a factory issue this last year), but they are lovely and will be useful from toddler years through to preteens/maybe even teens?  Everyone who comes over enjoys playing with them (adults too).  We have the clear set.  The more you can buy, the more fun they are.

 

Tjej

post #6 of 26
Hello, the Bionic Blox construction and building set is the closest "build like an architect" for little architects we have found. Their site is wwwbionicblox.com

There was a great review at:
http://babyelandaily.com/2012/04/19/bionicblox/

Best.
post #7 of 26

I should also add that the age range is 3+ and our range of kids 5-12 love them. And I misspelled the site:

 

www.bionicblox.com and lots of example "real life" buillding at discovery centers on their facebook page:

 

www.facebook.com/bionicblox/

 

We like the magatiles and magformers as well, but they don't build as big and don't look like actual buildings and skyscrapers which BionicBlox do!

post #8 of 26

My oldest is Lego crazy. 

 

At that age, he really loved his Thomas wooden train set and a plastic marble run  set that his uncle gave him. We had some of the  Melissa and Doug wood blocks and they didn't get much use.  He liked Lincoln Logs more, but those didn't get that much use, either. 

post #9 of 26

I'd like to contribute here from my experience as a kid. I ended up with an undergraduate degree in architecture though not working in that field.

I LOVED Legos! Mostly because of the small size so that they truly functioned as building blocks. I made anything and everything out of them. The smaller the unit the better because it is so much more versatile. From an economic standpoint Legos are everywhere. The Legos I played with as a kid were passed down to me and after I was done with them my mother passed them along to someone else, there must have been a good 10lbs worth of blocks...

I don't know about the more recent Legos, they seem to all come in sets with highly specified uses for each block...

I don't know about other "building" sets/blocks. My own experience was such that I wanted to build houses, spaceships etc, not abstract geometric shapes...

Just my two cents.

post #10 of 26

 

Quote:
Originally Posted by dakipode View Post

I'd like to contribute here from my experience as a kid. I ended up with an undergraduate degree in architecture though not working in that field.

I LOVED Legos! Mostly because of the small size so that they truly functioned as building blocks. I made anything and everything out of them. The smaller the unit the better because it is so much more versatile. From an economic standpoint Legos are everywhere. The Legos I played with as a kid were passed down to me and after I was done with them my mother passed them along to someone else, there must have been a good 10lbs worth of blocks...

I don't know about the more recent Legos, they seem to all come in sets with highly specified uses for each block...

I don't know about other "building" sets/blocks. My own experience was such that I wanted to build houses, spaceships etc, not abstract geometric shapes...

Just my two cents.

 

On the other hand, they don't make good ear plugs. While a Lego stud will fit in your ear, it doesn't work that well and it's hard to get out.

 

Ask me how I know. :)

post #11 of 26

Okay, I take everything back. DS just anounced that he NEEDS wooden blocks, and exactly the type they've got at school:

http://www.kapla.com/kapla/accueil.en.htm.

He wants the 1000 box. He and DH are still negotiating.

Another inspirational website - they do run towards plastic and I do not think they ship outside the UK, but they are inspirational: http://www.constructionkits2enjoy.co.uk/

post #12 of 26

My DD (3) absolute favorite and most played with toys are her wooden blocks and wooden animals.  We have invested over 300 dollars in HABA blocks (fantasy blocks, starter sets, special blocks) over the past years and she would love more.  She constantly runs out of blocks to use with over 200 pieces! They have been the best toy investment we have made, (those and the balance bike.) Those Kapla blocks are very enticing. For her, it is not so much about building as it is about incorporating them into her fantasy play.  They become the sides of the boat that hold down her blanket, she builds a bridge across the rug for her figures, she pens up the naughty animals, our living room becomes littered with skyscrapers, etc.

post #13 of 26
My 3yo DS didn't get into the wooden blocks at first, but what I ended up doing is making a block corner in our living room (all the other toys are in the playroom) and now he plays with them a ton. We got our wooden blocks from the thrift store, places like Savers & Salvation Army always seem to have a surplus of wooden blocks and they are CHEAP. I don't know why he didn't like them when they were near all the other toys but I noticed he liked the block corner at the children's museum & now he loves his block corner at home too.

Magnatiles are AWESOME & I really wish we could afford them. DS plays with them forever at the museum.

DS also has Lincoln Logs & Tinker Toys. Both get played with quite a bit. He doesn't have any Duplos so I'm not sure how they'd compare.

Another cool toy is Snap Circuits, they aren't really a "building toy" but they use similar motor skills to Duplos/Legos and DS loves them. They are designed for much older kids though, just FYI.

We have a marble run & it is fun but also frustrating (even for me!) because it is poorly designed, the pieces don't go together well & it's just not stable.

Melissa & Doug's jumbo cardboard blocks are tons of fun and can even withstand being walked on (by a toddler... haven't tried walking on them myself lol!)

DS will make anything into a block though. I don't know how he accumulated so many building toys, but the things he enjoys most are scrap pieces of wood, random boxes & containers, parts of toys, furniture, etc. and he builds with all these things... which is fun to see but also frustrating because our house looks a bit odd after his whirlwind of destruction... uh, I mean construction...

And his favorite thing of all time is REAL construction work, with real wood, hammer, nails, screws, etc...
post #14 of 26

At 2.5, I'd actually buy more duplos. They can have a long, long, long lifespan for some kids. If you don't already have the following then considering finding them new or used: animals, people, (including the special order princess with hair), building walls, role playing pieces, tubes, building walls, trains, and outdoor stuff. Seriously. The old castle sets are great for kids on the older end of play at around 5-6. 

 

Also, duplos can easily be resold. My almost five year old is amazing with duplos and other building systems but still finds legos difficult and sort of unfun.

 

If you don't have them, a lot of kids really love manga tiles.

 

Real unit blocks are expensive and I wouldn't buy them if you are planning on a good preschool which would have them as well as things like large hollow blocks, etc. I'd choose small basic shaped blocks and some of the fancy haba ones maybe. Those are nice because you can later use them with the ball track etc. And note that really building blocks are much trickier.

 

Kaplas are great but really for 5+.

 

 

 

 

post #15 of 26

We have kapla blocks, the 1000 set.  They get a lot of play but  may be frustrating for little hands and you can't play with toy figures or cars around them like you can with unit blocks because the structures tend to be easy to knock over.  The children still build huge kapla towers as a holiday tradition together (my oldest is 14).

 

Why not get a small amount of kapla (200), a small set of unit blocks (I found a 30 piece set at a thrift store for not a lot - it does happen).  You can always add on more later if they are a hit and that way it is not too big of an investment up front. I have 3 children and they are older and they really never use all1000 kapla blocks.  A thousand blocks is too many for one toddler, imho.  I also believe that a small set of unit blocks is fine for a starter set that you can add to if you think your child will use them.  We get a lot of play value out of just the 30 blocks we have.  

 

We have duplo and lego - you can use these  together to make larger structures with detail, so you can start with duplo and buy a set of lego in a couple of years.  I'd look at a more open ended  school supply dealer's starter kit of lf lego, rather than a set from Toys R Us that is meant to build one sort of figure or playset.

 

Magnetic blocks also get a lot of play.  We have Magnetix.

 

We have all four and I'd say that the unit blocks and duplo got the most play in the younger years, the lego and kapla as they got older, and the magnetix has been played with all along.

 

I would not get rid of any of them.  I wish I had more unit blocks and more magnetix. 

 

I also save smallish (shoebox sized) sturdy cardboard boxes with the lids taped on in our block area.  They get a lot of use for bigger structures and forts, like the cardboard brick colored blocks, but I can throw them out as they get worn or soiled.  

post #16 of 26
Thread Starter 

Great input so far. Thanks everyone! I hit the yard sales this past weekend and found a huge Diego-themed set of duplos with jeeps, boats, a treehouse, etc. My kid played with this new set all day. Even when I asked her if she wanted to watch cartoons on TV, she turned down the offer so she could keep building with the Duplos. So more Duplos are definitely in our future. It seems she just needed a bigger, newer set to keep her interested. I also want to find some inexpensive unit blocks to try but have not had luck finding these so far on craigslist or yard sales. I would LOVE to get either some Barclay blocks or a large set of Haba blocks, but those are such a huge investment that I definitely need to get my hands on a cheap trial set first. That goes for the Magnatiles too. I'll keep in mind some of the other advanced type of blocks for when she gets older.


What is up with the Lego sets being so specific these days? Like Dakipole, I remember Legos being more open ended when I was a kid. Now the sets they sell are for making very specific structures or vehicles. Is this how kids prefer to play with Legos these days? I guess can see how this type of building is also a good spatial exercise for the kids. But what happens when a kid is done making that specific vehicle/gadget/building in a kit? You then have to buy them a new kit? This all sounds like a very expensive hobby for kids, and very profitable for the Lego Company.

post #17 of 26
Quote:
Originally Posted by qualia View Post

 This all sounds like a very expensive hobby for kids, and very profitable for the Lego Company.

 

 

 

Exactly :-)  

post #18 of 26
Quote:

What is up with the Lego sets being so specific these days? Like Dakipole, I remember Legos being more open ended when I was a kid. Now the sets they sell are for making very specific structures or vehicles. Is this how kids prefer to play with Legos these days? I guess can see how this type of building is also a good spatial exercise for the kids. But what happens when a kid is done making that specific vehicle/gadget/building in a kit? You then have to buy them a new kit? This all sounds like a very expensive hobby for kids, and very profitable for the Lego Company.

 

Forum crashing cuz I like talking lego... ;)

 

You can buy Lego bulk used online for super cheap.  That is what DP did.  We have one big underbed bin that is just full of the basic pieces, plus some specialty pieces.  DD is not yet three and has been playing intensively with Lego for about a year now, thanks to a familial obsession with this medium.   She gets out the duplos to play with littler friends (and she has a set of megablocks at gma and gpa's that is very popular), but the lego are her favorite by far.   I think DP bought ours on ebay.   You can buy them by the pound.  I know he didn't spent more that $25 on it and we have quite a bit.  Grampa also found some cheap at a garage sale but after having to wash and dry them I said, "No more if I have to wash them!!!"

 

I do think that for the younger kids, I like the megablocks better than duplo because they are easier to manipulate.  They don't stick as well, which for small toddlers, is actually a benefit.

 

We have a small set of haba blocks too, mixed with some unit blocks.  They almost never get used.  i am not certain if it's that there just arent as many, or what, but I'm actually thinking of selling them on craigslist.

post #19 of 26

(Forum crashing... Not sure if my 3 y/o DS is "gifted" so take with a grain of salt, ha ha!)

 

The wooden blocks can be expensive but they've honestly given DS such open ended building play that I'm glad that we've invested (or asked for them for birthday/holiday gifts... most have been gifts, honestly!).

 

We've got a random collection, and that's ok... just more variety & more fun.

 

DS loves, his Uncle Goose alphabet blocks, his cheaper Melissa & Doug mini-alphabet blocks, a (gifted) set from Plan Toys, and two quite affordable sets of smaller Plan Toys blocks (here & here). I like the variety of shapes you get with the Plan Toys sets & the mix of natural wood/painted blocks, but I think if your aim is good building material for your LO (& not ecologically "perfect" play things...) then Melissa & Doug makes a few good sets. I see them every once in a while on Woot.com.

 

My DS has built crazy big towers & elaborate cities (along with his train set). His ability to figure out what will balance on top of what is getting better all the time & his creations are getting exponentially more intricate & detailed. We're also known to repurpose little boxes to create things that we just don't have the money or space for.

 

I have great memories of playing with Legos as a kid, but there's no way they're as flexible or open-ended as plain old blocks. I should say, they weren't for me -- I think it's easy for a type-A kid (which I was/am & my son is also) to fall into the trap of building the objects pictured or following the directions that come along with the set. That's what happened to him when he got a Lego-type set for his birthday (I can't remember the brand now...) -- all he wanted to do was go through the little pamphlet & build the things in it. Eventually he started building "tools" with them, but I thought they were a little too limiting).

post #20 of 26

Legos all the way. Seriously. We have wooden blocks, and they get used, but not like legos.
 

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