When I became a mom, I never imagined how many building toys would one day fill our home. Whether it’s pushing up on tip toes to build the tallest tower possible or building something with no other purpose than to use construction trucks to knock it down, building is the number one activity my boys do. And each building set adds imagination and creativity, but with so many building toy options how do you know where to start? This Top 10 list will provide you with the best mom and child tested list of building toys for preschoolers!
With a 3.5 year age span between our oldest son and our youngest, we range from small intricate Lego pieces to the large toddler approved sizes and everything in between. Just like you, I’ve stood in the toy aisles bewildered at all the options and puzzled on best value or how much would the toy actually get play with. As a hands on family, I can tell you this is a tried and true list. We’ve had most of these building toys for a couple years and they still keep all three boys (currently ages 8, 6, and 4) happy and entertained.
So how did I come up with this Top 10 list out of all the building toys? What can I say, I’ve done my toy research! Between Amazon best sellers, Toys R Us favorites (yes, this post was originally written back in the day when Toys R Us still existed), customer reviews, and our family’s favorites (ranked according to my boys’ building preferences and length of time played with) this list was created.
(This post contains affiliate links to our favorite stores and products.)
Top 10 Building Toys
#1 PVC PIPES
Starting our list is one of our personal favorites. This “unique” building experience is a DIY gift from the hardware store…
My in-laws gave my middle son a box of PVC pipes and connectors for his 3rd birthday. It is one of the very best gifts we have ever received! The creativity with these pipes is just astounding. The boys pretend the pipes are paint rollers, vacuum cleaners, and snakes. Of course being kids, they also try to use them for baseball bats and swords (yikes!). Their absolute favorite thing is to build a fort with their daddy. Dad builds peaks and makes it big enough we can all fit inside (well, kind of).
Our oldest son used the pipes to practice both his shapes and alphabet with them (he was only 5 in these pictures). Our youngest son was just one when this gift came into our home and he too found ways to play with them. This is a guaranteed hit and hours and hours of entertainment!
What you’ll need:
- A variety of lengths of PVC tubing
- Connectors – corners, caps, 2-way connectors, 3-way connectors, 45-degree angled connectors
- A large plastic storage container to store them
Our family first experienced these at our local children’s museum. (BTW… if you’ve never been to a children’s museum, it’s a must! Its not a “museum” at all but rather a hands-on experience for children where they can build, learn, and explore things from music to light to physics and just have a blast and try out new toys!) Funny thing is that my husband was the one who took to the magnetic tiles first, building a skyscraper. Our boys gathered around watching daddy build and then it was all hands in!
We ended up purchasing the 100-pc set of Picasso Tiles for our boys and they always want more pieces. Other options: PicassoTiles® 60 piece set Magnet Building Tiles Clear 3D color Magnetic Building Blocks or the Magna-Tiles® Clear Colors 100 Piece Set. I propose that if you want a bigger set, to go with two of the PicassoTiles 60 pieces set for your best value! You won’t regret it!
Our first set of Tinker Toys entered our home when our oldest was 5 years old… and it has completely astounded me with all the things he has made out of them over the last years. The instructions that came with the set featured a tractor and race car (which Daddy helped build). However, with some experimentation, our son learned how to make gears… and was able to understand how gears work! He has also built rockets, arrows, and towers (that he says he creates for homeless people to live in… yes, this compassionate boy comes up with this on his own and brings these wonderful creations to me to marvel over).
My middle son loved his brother’s set so much he wanted his “very own” so he received a set of Tinkertoys when he was 4 years old. His set was a little different… the sticks are flexible instead of hard plastic. Plus, his set had a instructions to make more items. Not sure which set they love more!
The best value for Tinker Toys: The 200 piece set. For those of you who have little ones that love pink, there is a 150 piece Tinkertoy Pink Building Set that makes flowers, animals, a kite, and more!
I have a love/hate relationship with these blocks. When our littlest guy turned one, he received an Imaginarium Wooden Block 150-piece Set which is probably my dislike of the blocks… when little guy dumps them out on the floor, it seems like there are waaaay more than just 150 blocks and they do seem to take a really long time to pick up. However, I love all the ways all 3 of my boys play with these blocks… building a circus, making roads, forts, and the most impressive castle I’ve ever seen!
When they’re not building with them, my boys scoop up the blocks in their excavators in their pretend construction site. And my favorite part of this block set just might be that the lid to the container is a shape sorter. So when clean up time comes, the boys can sort the blocks and drop them through the correct shape. In other words, it works on matching/shape recognition, plus fine motor and hand-eye coordination skills! Yup, these are good ones!
Our boys especially loved making airplanes with these interlocking building pieces. Our oldest son first played with bristle blocks at preschool and begged and begged aaaaaand begged us for a set. While Bristle blocks seem a little less than common on the store shelves, they are a big hit in the classroom and at home!
Here’s the scoop… the original Bristle Blocks are the best value for your money. HOWEVER… I love the B. Toys Bristle Block Stackadoos set and their easy storage container is actually a nice, thick plastic. Anything that helps keep our family organized gets automatic brownie points with me. Plus, the colors are a little different than the typical primary colored infant and preschool toys which I think was a nice visual break for the boys. Either way… you can’t go wrong with Bristle Blocks!
#6 MEGA BLOKS
This was our starter building set. The boys went from just randomly stacking to learning to make walls to working with Daddy and building a kid-size robot. Because of the large size, these are the perfect first builders for little ones to starting to develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination. My 5-year old still enjoys building with them as they are prefect for building tall towers and other “big” creations.
Start out with the classic 80 piece set or get your little engineer-in-the-making the new deluxe 150 piece set. And if you have a construction truck lover to find a gift for, the CAT Dump Truck Mega Bloks set is a mega hit!
#7 LEGO DUPLO SETS
I look at Lego Duplo sets as the mid-ground between Mega Bloks and Legos. Starting with Mega Bloks and moving on to Duplo Lego sets starts honing in on kid’s fine motor skills. Duplo Legos are large enough for children to not get frustrated as they build, but provide a little more challenge with their mid-size pieces and a firmer connection than a MegaBlok. This is also the first building block stage with themes… everything from planes, trains, and automobiles to animals and superheros, your beginner builder will love their move into Legos.
#8 LEGOS & LEGO JUNIORS
Legos seem to me as a rite of passage for little ones. Besides moving up to a big kid, these tiny little pieces are a big move for kids. At ages 4-5 their little hands are just figuring out how to fit these small building blocks together and are struggling even more to take them apart. But it doesn’t matter… these big kid toys are awesome! So what if they can’t read instructions yet… nothing beats building walls, walls and more walls to start off with. Knowing this, Lego seems to have outdone themselves with the Lego Juniors sets!
Our middle son received several sets of the Lego Juniors for his 4th birthday and it was really a turning point. He was proud that he could now build a set on his own. Lego Juniors are easy for small hands to handle and assemble by themselves as they provide kids with an intuitive and easy start into Legos. And they come in so many fun sets! Your kids will LOVE them and you will love how well entertained they are!
In case you need help deciding what box of fun to buy… the sets that got played with over and over again were the superhero, Ninjago, and race car sets!
#9 CARDBOARD BLOCKS
While we didn’t have any cardboard blocks at home, our boys had many opportunities to build with these at preschool and church. They were always excited to tell me all about the structures they built with these blocks! Having taught in the Preschool/Kindergarten Sunday school room for years, I can tell you firsthand that these blocks are a hit with the kids! Made of a strong, heavy-grade cardboard, these large cardboard blocks make building tall towers easy and painless when it topples. And lemme tell ya, making the tower topple or exploding through a cardboard block wall is everyone’s favorite!
There’s something about gears that get kids going! These Learning Resources’ Gears! Gears! Gears! Building Sets are amazing! Kids can experiment with simple mechanics and science using pillars, connectors and cranks that create a really cool, moving masterpiece! BTW… the testimonials on these sets are outstanding! The set pictured here is the 235 piece MEGA set, but there are sets of all sizes and prices to get your kiddo’s gears turning!
Okay, friend… you’ve got the scoop. Were these items mind blowing? No. But hopefully you gleaned a little info on stages of building toys and got an “inside” view of why these 10 items have been tops for years. There are definitely lots of fun and flashy new items on the market. There’s even some great ones (like Lincoln Logs) that didn’t make my top 10. Why? I wanted you to give you the most attention holding toys. Some of the others are fun for a bit, but didn’t keep my boys engaged in play or building for very long. And as a mom, I needed that.
Also from a mom’s perspective, I love that none of these items require batteries which means the only noise you’ll be hearing is from your little one bringing their imagination to life! Pretend play is vital to your child’s development and creative ability and all these building toys help nurture that in your children. (BTW… here are my top 10 gifts to encourage pretend play that you may find helpful as well.)
Happy shopping and may the odds be ever in your favor!