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Best Construction Toys for Preschoolers and Young Children
Construction toys are perfect for young children (and for older children as well). Not only are construction toys fun, but they can encourage good hand-eye coordination, mental dexterity and a sense of reasoning. Construction toys are the perfect introduction to the beginnings of engineering. Children also learn good concentration skills, because they are required to think about and plan what they are doing. Each action on their part affects the overall outcome, which is why the best construction toys are highly educational.
In terms of lasting fun and longevity, good construction toys are played with over and over again, never losing appeal. In fact, my personal opinion (based on my experiences as a parent) is that they are perhaps the most absorbing, most frequenty played with toys of all. Their success lies in the fact that they can be put together in a multitude of ways; thus the child can explore their own creativity and imagination at the same time as learning the skills of construction. Boys are generally thought of as being the biggest fans of construction toys, but girls can and do enjoy them just as much. The most famous construction toy of all time is almost certainly those little bricks called Lego - I recall many hours of building as a young girl back in the 70's and 80's. I liked building quaint houses with tiled roofs, whereas my son's prefer to make battleships and secret bases where gruesome things happen. However, although undoubtedly fantastic, Lego is not the only good construction toy for the little ones. Here is an extensive list of many of the best building and construction toys available for preschoolers and young children:
Gears! Gears! Gears!
Gears! Gears! Gears! by Learning Resources is a fantastic construction toy for young children. The beginners set is suitable for preschoolers from around 3 years old, whereas some of the more advanced sets are designed for children aged 5 plus. This is an award winning toy, with a lot of educational benefits. Children fit together pieces to build a unique, moving creation. They can then turn the crank to see their colorful creation spark into action.
Gears! Gears! Gears! introduces children to the concepts of engineering, problem solving and cause and effect. The colorful design is appealing - this is a toy which will provide lasting fun. I think it is an excellent innovation and certainly up there with the best construction toys for the younger market.
The Beginner's Set contains 95 pieces, including pillars, connectors, cranks and inter-locking plates. It is suitable for ages 3 to around 6 or 7. The Lights and Action set is a larger set (121 pieces) with additional pieces such as a power motor, springs and flashing lights. This set is for slightly more advanced children from age 5 to around 9.
All in all, this is a fantastic toy with great play value and educational benefits disguised as fun.
There is a lot more to playing with a marble run than watching little glass balls find their way from top to bottom. Of course, putting the marbles down is the exciting part, a sort of reward reaped for building a successful run. However, a lot of the fun is in the building itself. And a lot of thought has to be put into it if you want the marbles to follow the intended route, which is why marble runs are up there with the best educational toys for young children. Children learn to concentrate and work out which route the marbles will follow. It is another toy in which the concept of cause and effect comes into play.
The marble run we have at home, purchased six years ago when my oldest son was five, is definitely up there towards the top on our list of most popular toys. My three year old likes it now - although he can put it together (sort of) he doesn't yet have the necessary cognitive skills for working out which route the marbles are going to take until he tries it out. Sometimes it works out; sometimes the marbles take the unintended path and fall to the bottom, missing out half the track. Still, experimenting is half the fun, and a little parental assistance means younger children can attain much enjoyment from a marble run.
Almost every parent of a young child is sure to be aware of the 'big' Lego bricks aimed at preschoolers - after all, they have been around for years and are a staple in most toddler's toy boxes. My small son first began playing with Duplo about three months before his second birthday, simply because it was Christmas and Duplo was a gift from a grandparent. He did spend a lot of time playing with it, just fixing the bricks together and usually making a 'wall.' If you go for the basic box of Duplo you might not think there are enough bricks in there - my mother-in-law bought two boxes and put them together and still he did not have huge amounts. But Duplo is something that can be collected and added to - once you have the basics, you could add the sets based on zoos, the farm, fire station or whatever.
My son is three now and does not have very much Duplo. He also doesn't play with it all that much anymore, because we also have a lot of Lego in our house and he likes the 'big boy's' stuff. However, a friend's daughter was still playing with Duplo up until the age of six - probably because she had so much of it and so was able to make better things and play more intricate games.
Duplo is definitely great for the little ones, though, as little, clumsy hands can fit the bricks together much more easily. Lego is for children aged 4+ - and even then, many children will find it difficult to build a particular design without assistance.
You can see some good examples of Duplo sets pictured here, including the rather interesting 'tubes' Duplo.
First Lego Sets
If your child has already experimented with Duplo, but now feels ready to move onto the 'big kid's' stuff, there are several good Lego sets for the beginner. Although these sets use the typical, original Lego brick, they are much less complicated than many of the sets for older children on the market. Some of the themed Lego, such as the Harry Potter and Toy Story Lego sets, might seem appealing, but the building level is likely to be too difficult for the younger child. If you are looking to purchase a first Lego set for a child of four or five, then personally I would stick with a box of assorted Lego designed for creative free play, or alternatively one of the other, very simple first Lego sets pictured right.
Teifoc is perhaps for slightly older children - it is marketed towards ages 6+. Teifoc is a very traditional toy, harking back to the 1950's. It is a very realistic construction activity, which uses actual cement to fix bricks together and produce houses (other sets are available as well, such as a castle and farm building). Lots of children are fascinated by real-life building sites, and this is their chance to replicate the real thing, following the set of plans included in the box.
Once the house is made, it doesn't mean that the kit cannot be used again, as it can simply be taken apart when placed in water (the bricks are produced using dissolvable clay). Sets come with a trowel, bricks, board, plans and bag of cement (additional cement can be purchased separately if and when required).
I think these little houses are great, and very educational, encouraging concentration and the ability to follow instructions.
K'Nex For Younger Kids
K'Nex has always been very popular as it is a fantastic construction toy - however, the majority of the sets are designed for older children. You can, however, pick up some great sets for younger kids (pictured right).
K'Nex sets come with lots of different parts which all slot together to create whatever innovation your child has in mind. Sets come with instructions which can be used for inspiration; however many children will have just as much fun using free play to form their own creations.
Sets for younger children are suitable from the age of 3+, although children of that age will probably need assistance, especially if trying to follow instructions to make a particular model. They can have great fun making funny creatures with big, bulging eyes; flying creatures or even things with wheels. The pieces are large enough to be manipulated by small hands - K'Nex encourages creativity, fine motor skills and patience. As with the other construction sets on this page, K'Nex is a toy that withstands five-minute fads, retaining play value over time.
I hope you have found some ideas and inspiration here - construction toys are invaluable, both in entertainment value and educational worth. Certainly, they should find a way into every young child's toy cupboard.