Best type of building block sets for little architects? - Mothering Forums

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#1 of 26 Old 04-24-2012, 06:19 PM - Thread Starter
 
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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?

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#2 of 26 Old 04-25-2012, 12:38 AM
 
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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...


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#3 of 26 Old 04-25-2012, 01:29 AM
 
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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.


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#4 of 26 Old 04-25-2012, 07:47 AM - Thread Starter
 
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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.

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#5 of 26 Old 04-25-2012, 08:38 AM
 
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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.

 

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#6 of 26 Old 04-25-2012, 05:30 PM
 
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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.
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#7 of 26 Old 04-25-2012, 05:37 PM
 
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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!

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#8 of 26 Old 04-26-2012, 05:53 AM
 
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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. 

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#9 of 26 Old 04-26-2012, 06:15 AM
 
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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.


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#10 of 26 Old 04-26-2012, 02:31 PM
 
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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. :)

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#11 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 06:17 AM
 
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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/


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#12 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 10:09 AM
 
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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.

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#13 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 01:15 PM
 
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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...

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#14 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 10:27 PM
 
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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+.

 

 

 

 

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#15 of 26 Old 04-28-2012, 11:09 PM
 
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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.  

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#16 of 26 Old 04-30-2012, 10:59 AM - Thread Starter
 
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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.

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#17 of 26 Old 04-30-2012, 04:59 PM
 
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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 :-)  

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#18 of 26 Old 04-30-2012, 05:41 PM
 
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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.


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#19 of 26 Old 05-02-2012, 02:20 PM
 
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(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).


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#20 of 26 Old 05-02-2012, 03:31 PM
 
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Legos all the way. Seriously. We have wooden blocks, and they get used, but not like legos.
 


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#21 of 26 Old 05-03-2012, 06:47 AM
 
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We have an enormous set of wooden blocks that were slowly collected over the years.  Some were bought new, some at garage sales, and some off of CL.  For one of my kids, now a teen, they have been an incredible tool toward a real interest in architecture and building, as well as a fabulous hands on experience in spatial awareness, geometry, etc.  We continue to have blocks being used to create structures, now translated to paper for more "design work".  I have never regretted the cost, or the space they take up!  I think it's one of those things-either your kid likes them or not. Mine, one more than the other, was just drawn to them.

 

We also have a seriously enormous collection of Legos here, again some bought new, lots bought off of CL, often paid for by the pound.  My son loves to build the sets, but ultimately, everything gets mixed together.  We have tall stacking bins of 5 drawers to store them.  I would say they see almost daily use.  I think they appeal differently than the unit blocks, but are another great toy/tool.     

 

For visual/spatial kids, you really can't go wrong with either.

 

Also, ETA that these are the two "toys" (although I hesitate to call them that) that have survived the later childhood-into-teen years.  I think they are a wise investment.  Duplos, etc. have their place, but I wouldn't spend a lot of $$ on them.

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#22 of 26 Old 05-03-2012, 10:14 AM
 
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Aubergine68 View Post

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). 

I asked DS and he says it is mostly him and another, red-shirted kindergartner out of his mixed age (3-6) preschool class who build with the kaply blocks. Apparently the other 5yolds complain that they are "too slippery" but they will sometimes "assist" (I bet he and the other kid hog them and the teachers don't interfererolleyes.gif. DS was the victim of a lot of hogging behaviour in his preK year and I advocated a lot for more inclusive policies at the time. It did help some, but this year  I've decided it's not my job anymore to tell the teachers how to do theirs).

He does insist they use up the whole 1000 set between the two of them, frequently.


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#23 of 26 Old 05-03-2012, 08:21 PM
 
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DD is 7, almost 8, and will still not let me get rid of the duplo.  Every year I pack them up, thinking she is done with them, but then she has pulled them out again, and her creations have got larger and more complex over time.

 

She was only able to manipulate the regular lego bricks with ease about a year ago.  Before that, she liked them, but needed significant support from me to build with them.  She is enjoying the new lego "friends" sets, and is very interested in making lego brick buildings of her own design for the friends.  I'm thrilled that I get to buy more bricks now! 

 

Wooden blocks had a very short life here, as they were not stable enough for 3 foot castles and the giant monsters that terrorized the castle occupants.

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#24 of 26 Old 05-04-2012, 09:46 AM
 
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My son REALLY likes magnetic blocks.  I don't know the brand, since they are at daycare.  He would ONLY play with that toy at daycare so much that the teachers kept asking me if they should put it away and make him play with something else.  I told them to let him have it, he's working on something.

 

Also, this might be beyond what you are looking for, but I also bought him the HydroDynamics kit from Think Geek.  My son is 4 and the set is for ages 10 and up, but he's been building with it for over a year. 


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#25 of 26 Old 05-04-2012, 03:33 PM
 
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I posted earlier about Bionic Blox (www.bionicblox.com). The connectors are compatible with Kapla type planks/blocks but hold them together so they don't fall down and can be put into play with other toys.  Our daughter builds to create houses for dolls and corrals/barns for horses.  Our son likes to build big towers and ramps and use toy figures or cars with them.  I believe they sell just the connectors.

 

I can't say enough good things about them.

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#26 of 26 Old 05-04-2012, 04:11 PM
ljc
 
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No gifted kids here - but we love to build!  I have more legos than I care to admit - most from yard sales and freecycle.  My sons like the kits, but spend most of the time building their own creations.

We also love unit blocks - and still use them to build castles, army forts, buildings, farms, etc.

Another favorite are the Keva Planks - can be a bit of a challenge - but that is part of the fun.

Legos get the most use - but i love the wooden blocks and the keva planks are beautiful.

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