When it comes to building toy sets, everyone knows Lego. The ubiquitous, high quality brand from Denmark boasts high-profile licensed themes that are tied to popular film, television and video games.
But Lego has been around for generations for good reason: it lets kids of all ages create whatever they can imagine using an open-ended building system. Not only is this style of play tremendously fun, it also promotes creative problem solving and fine motor skills.
Lego isn't the only game in town, either. Our stores stock many types of construction toys that offer similar opportunities to build and create, including Bric Tek, Laser Pegs, Meccano, Magformers, and Playstix. Each of these building systems brings something a little different to the table (or the floor, wherever the building happens).
Here is a quick look at the features of each building toy, and the development skills it targets.
Playstix is the most recent addition to our stock of construction toys. These solid, interlocking plastic sticks are a great choice for kids as young as 4, and work much the same way as good old Lincoln Logs. Evenly spaced grooves ensure that the bits don’t shift around as they are stacked, but because Playstix are round, they allow for angled constructions. There is even a set of flexible pieces for building creatures and characters.
The individual sticks are colour-coded according to length, which makes it easier for kids to sort and plan their creations ahead of time, and the interlocking design means that their constructions will be reasonably stable if they take a soft bump. However, because they are held together by gravity, they can’t be lifted or shifted around much without some ingenuity. Nevertheless, Playstix is a unique toy, wonderful in its simplicity.
Magformers are one of the more distinctive construction toys to come out in recent years. They are simple, robust, and colourful — great for children as young as 3 years old. Magformers are excellent for working on shape recognition, two- and three-dimensional geometry, and spatial reasoning.
Each piece is made of sturdy plastic and contains a number of cylindrical rare-earth magnets that create a strong connection. One of the most satisfying ways to build with Magformers is to lay out the pieces on a flat surface and then lift them up to make a three-dimensional structure. I personally love how it feels to play with this product, with the slight tug and pleasant click as the pieces connect. We have a demo set at the Appleby Line store, and we all find ourselves drawn to them as a delightful fiddle toy.
Ages: 8+ (with some plastic sets for younger)
With its all-metal components and tools, Meccano sets are definitely for older children — generally 8 and up, though there are some plastic sets for younger kids. Because its made mostly of metal, Meccano is unmatched in durability. In fact, the basic design standards have been more or less the same since Meccano was invented at the turn of the twentieth century, so it is possible to use 100-year-old pieces interchangeably with even the most modern kits.
Kids will need advanced motor skills to use simple tools like a wrench and hex key, but cultivating these skills is valuable for real-world applications. But what really sets Meccano apart is the emphasis on working mechanics, with gears and pulleys. The ability to create models that work in some way has ensured Meccano’s popularity over generations, even attracting a serious community of adult hobbyists. For more on Meccano, hop over to the post I wrote in 2014.
Lego, BrikTek and Laser Pegs
Ages: Toddlers and up, depending on the set
Is there anything that needs to be said about Lego? The interlocking bricks are sturdy, intuitive to use and can be combined in countless ways. Lego offers several lines for different age groups:
- Big, chunky Duplo bricks for toddlers
- Intermediate Juniors line for 4 and 5 year olds
- Complex builds of the Creator series
- Mechanical models of the Technic line
This versatility (along with its entertanment franchise licensing) has made Lego the most popular toy in the world.
At Hobby and Toy Central, we also proudly offer Bric Tek and Laser Pegs, two brands of building sets that are fully compatible with Lego. Bric Tek (right) is an inexpensive alternative that makes a nice, firm fit with Lego bricks, and it features some unique models, like army vehicles and naval ships, that you won’t find with Lego. Laser Pegs sets are really intriguing: they use the same brick design, but integrates coloured LEDs. All of the bricks in a set of Laser Pegs are transparent, and by stacking them together with special light bricks makes dazzling structures that light up.
Begin your next big build
If you have any questions, just speak with one of our team members in store and we will help you find a building set that is just right. And be sure to take advantage of our Construction Toy Sale, which runs February 22-28, 2016, and again in November.
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