Building Toys – Creative Play that reaches for the sky!

Building Toys

From first building blocks, right up to intricate model making, building toys have been part of our creative background for many years. Getting children to balance one thing on top of another, find how they can interconnect and then investigating just how stable the how thing is – almost as much fun as knocking them all down again afterwards.

Whirligig Toys I Made This Rollercoaster
Whirligig Toys - I Made This Automata

It is all about selecting the right tool for the job – choosing toys that each age group can get hold of and explore – pushing them just when they are ready to move on.

We thought that we would look at some of the most the latest and most interesting building toys we have found that help them build their building skills!

We’ll start with our youngest builders and work our way upwards…

Getting started – big wooden blocks with great stability!

The first step is the tower – but having big pieces that have large surface areas is a real advantage. Children can explore which ones stay up the longest, build the highest tower or make the loudest clatter when they fall over.

This set from Wild and Wolf is a beautiful collection of animals – they all fit together to make a puzzle in the box but have large wooden flat areas on each animal so it is obvious where they should touch. There is a variety of sizes so they are great for exploring shapes and they also look lovely as ornaments. It is a set that could last forever!

Recommended age – 18months+

Exploring shapes – smaller pieces need more picking up!

As we understand that things can stack, and fall off, time to move onto to ones that are a going to require more placement and visual identification of the best surface to stack on. We love sets where there is no right or wrong way of assembling them – give them ones to explore and see what happens. The pieces should be about the same size and the child’s fingers – bigger is easier, but if they are too small, they just don’t have the impact!

This is a classic townscape from Jumini with wonderful colours and shapes. With 40 pieces, there are so many different combinations to choose from and once the town is built, who knows what stories will be told there.

Recommended age – 2+

Moving on up – finding joining pieces

Buildings stay up because they are connected together in some way. Finding ways of exploring joints and interconnectivity between pieces is our next step. Here we can also look at cogs that move pieces, balancing seesaws or mechanisms that flick or throw other pieces together.

These stacking owls are lovely – each one has joints at the shoulders, feet and hands that means that they can be joined together in  many different ways. Knocking them over is still very much part of the fun, but by using the rods, we can introduce complicated patterns and more height. Each one has a number on its tummy so we can also play counting games with these owls.

Recommended age – 3+

Making things move – early machines

Once we understand the idea of balance and falling down, we can also start to see what makes things work. Being able to build something, take it apart and then rebuild it again is a key element and repetition helps to build familiarity with the components.

These simple machines from Timberkits are great fun. Based on Shaun the Sheep and with no glue required, each piece slots together and you can really see how the crank is making the pigs move up and down. Also look out for sliding mechanisms and wheels that turn.

Recommended age – 3+

How high can you go? A stacking challenge…

All work makes Jack a dull boy – let’s play a game! If you still have the blocks from when they were younger, they can come back out now as a challenge. How high, how fast can you build it, what is the strongest tower, what can you balance on top? Endless fun and very memorable.

Wonky Blocks is a new take on the Jenga type of game. With large, odd shaped wooden blocks, the challenge is build a tower based on the cards that you are dealt – if you can keep your tower standing, then you win the game!

Recommended age – 5+

Model with a new material – try something softer!

Dexterity and building go literally hand in hand and as we get more confident, the key is to try other materials that are a little more giving without trying to progress too quickly. Young children and paper craft can be a challenge, but a strong, thick cardboard with slots to attach into makes a good next step.

Super Structures has been a great new product this year. With a book that explores monuments, bridges, sky scrapers and famous buildings, each page explores the methods of building, the stresses and the strains and then gives you a model to build yourself. Each of the pieces can be slotted together with no cutting out or glue required – you can then reuse the pieces to build the rest of the models or invent a structure of your own. Loads to explore.

Recommended age – 7+

Even softer materials – the world of paper!

Everyone has heard of origami – and a very few people can even do it! Paper is not scary however if it is well engineered and prepared. Starting with models that are perforated out so that scissors are not required, working with paper often means just slotting together and using folds that are pre-scored so that the model comes together quickly. This gives children a great end product before they even have to think about sticking and waiting for them to set before moving onto the next step.

This impressive Megabot from Clockwork Soldier is a great example. With just a few folds and no glue, the robot is build and ready to take charge of the room – everyone will want to have a go and the instructures are really clear.

Recommended age – 7+

Whirligig Toys I Made This Megabot
Whirligig Toys I Made This Music Box

Simple machines that work

Watching something that you have build come to life is a great feeling. Moving on to building models that incorporate a wind up motor or a battery pack gives another dimention to exploring the workings inside things. Simple cogs and pieces that require no glue make these types of models easy to finish and impressive to show off.

This is a small carousel from Apples to Pears – the motor element is all pre-made – you just have to slot it together and then paint and decorate – feels like you have built something really advanced.

Recommended age – 8+

Getting confident – building complex models

We are well known for our automata models that are build from pre-cut pieces of wood. Here, interconnectivity is the key – making elements work with cranks and pullies requires some precision. However, as the most difficult element, the measuring and preparing of the pieces, is done for them, children can concentrate on the movement and the sequence of the pieces. Introducing glue also gives a sense of ownership – you have to wait until the model is ready before you can move onto the next step – definitely a skill that builds with age!

Timberkits make a huge range of these models for 9-90 years olds at different levels of ability – great for big children to get involved with as well, they are very satisfying and everyone is delighted when they get to play with the end product.

Recommended age – 9+

Whirligig Toys I Made This London Cityscape
Whirligig Toys - I Made This

Going 3D – inventing new shapes!

Working with unusual shapes that have to be clamped together in order to make them stick or folded in just the right way to stand up or cut out with intricate scissor snips – this is the world of the model maker who has really cracked the building game. The key is to be ready to deal with it – nothing more frustrating that having to pass it to an adult who then can’t do it either!

There are some great kits out there – they may take up some space in your home when finished, but if they have the bug and building is part of their make up, there are so many possibilities!

Recommended age – 9 – the rest of their lives!

So, what starts off as something we all remember with simple building blocks can evolve, grow and even become a life long passion – it is all about giving them the right materials at the right moment and letting them explore.

Here are our top tips:

  • Let them play – it really doesn’t matter if things fall over or the models falls apart – let they find out why and have another go
  • Look carefully at the way they are using their hands – the pieces need to be the right size – too small is never a good thing
  • Scissors and glue are a pain – when they are ready for them, they are excellent tools in the building game, but until then, avoid them!
  • Instructions are vital – look out for clear images and photographs – we are not trying to do flatpack furniture here!
  • Lego is great – we haven’t mentioned it above as everyone talks about it, but many people have found their way into other materials through the classic blocks
  • Try other materials – paper, card, wood, junk modeling – they all give a different experience
  • Display if you can! Everyone loves to have their model on show – even if it is only until the next one is made.

We’d love to hear more of your building success stories – let us know if you have an idea we should add to our list. Happy building!

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