Do you have Lego-lovers at your house? If you’re looking for other options for your budding engineer, try out these creativity-boosting gifts for kids who love to build.
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Updated: November 3, 2022
I have three boys. They LOVE Legos (or just Lego, if you watch Lego Masters and have learned the proper pronunciation). They spend hours upon hours upstairs in our loft building all sorts of imaginative (and sometimes genuinely amazing) creations. A few years ago, we even had a Lego-themed birthday party for one of my sons.
They are completely hooked, and I’m okay with that. Legos really are a fantastic toy. They’re open ended, they encourage imagination and fine motor skills, and they teach kids about science and engineering principles. Win!
(P.S. – Did you know you can buy OFF-BRAND building bricks??? I will say that I think Lego is worth buying for specific sets, but if you just want a grab bag of basic pieces to get your child’s creativity rolling (and bump up their building stash), check out these off-brand options.)
All that being said, Legos aren’t the ONLY fabulous toy for kids who love to build. If you have a Lego lover at home, but you want to branch out and try some other fun building toys, here are some of our other favorites!
Alternatives to Legos: Gifts for kids who love to build
Brain Flakes – TOP PICK
We received these as a gift several years ago, and they were the biggest surprise hit with my boys! They come with instructions for a few basic creations, but most of the design is left to your imagination. We have made balls, rockets, monsters, boats, snowflakes, flowers, snakes, and many more creations. They hook together securely, so you don’t have to worry about children falling apart over creations that…well…fell apart. Years later, they are still one of my boys’ favorite building toys. Plus, they’re downright cheap! Most of the sets I’ve seen are around $15. Way to get some serious bang for your buck!
Magnet Tiles – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
Magnet tiles are one of the absolute coolest building toys out there. We’ve played with many different brands at museums and friends’ houses, and they’re all equally fun. We own a large set of Picasso Tiles (because they’re high quality but a little more cost-effective than some other brands), and they get used all the time. We eventually added on the Picasso Tiles Marble Run, which has been a fun addition to the base set!
Snap Circuits – HIGHLY RECOMMENDED
We love snap circuits! They are exactly what the name implies: real circuit components that snap together to create working electronic devices. We bought the the Snap Circuit Jr. set as a Christmas gift several years ago for my inventor boy (he was five at the time) and he has spent hours and hours experimenting with it since then. He needed some help to get started, but he quickly learned concepts involved and started to build his own circuits that made propellers spin, speakers play songs, and lights blink on! He loved it so much that we bought him a more advanced arcade kit for his birthday the next year.
December 2023 Update: After YEARS of play, these top three toys continue to be some of my boys’ very favorites! They have led to countless hours of play, and they’re the first toys I recommend to friends. If you’re looking to build a quality toy collection, start with these! If you already have the above three, keep reading for more of our favorites!
Classic choice, and one that I think every child should own. Blocks give kids so much room to experiment with the laws of physics and engineering…they’re a must in our house. We have a high-quality basic block set, and then a couple years ago my parents bought my boys this castle block set which is also SO fun. In fact, my boys prefer the castle blocks to our basic block set, and as I write this there is a castle set up in my six-year-old’s bedroom that he keeps begging to keep up “just one more day.”
Foam blocks are a great option for the youngest of builders because they are soft and won’t hurt if their tower falls on their hands (or if your toddler chucks one at his brother’s head…totally innocently, I’m sure). They are a little more prone to topple, but my kids love playing with our set. We love using them in the bathtub, and sometimes we’ll take them outside and “cement” them together with shaving cream…one of my boys’ favorite activities!
We inherited my husband’s childhood set of Lincoln Logs a couple of years ago, and it has been such fun. My boys love to build cabins, forts, etc. and then get out our animal figurines or army men (which we bought in Boston last year), and act out dramatic stories. It’s a another classic for good reason!
We discovered these clever little blocks earlier this year. Like Brain Flakes, each block is the same shape (two connected plus symbols), and they interlock to create infinite possibilities. They’re super quiet and don’t take up much space, so they’re a great quiet activity for car rides, restaurants, a friend’s house, or anytime you need something to occupy a waiting child. We also recently discovered the big version of puls plus blocks, which my boys also loved!
Another classic. My husband and I both grew up with Brio trains, and my boys still love playing with them when they go to either of their grandparents’ houses. These days, there are lots of options for wooden trains that are all compatible with each other (hooray for companies playing nice with each other!). We have a mish-mash of a bunch of brands: IKEA, Thomas, Brio, and Melissa & Doug. Some people like to have a train table, but I like having the freedom to build a giant metropolis of train tracks all over the floor. They take over the living room for a while, but we just clean up before dinner, and all is well.
A working (plastic) drill with interchangeable bits that allows you to actually construct and take apart (hence the name) a working toy truck. When fully constructed, it has wheels that turn and a spring-loaded claw crane…a boy’s dream! I included this truck in last year’s Gift Guide for Kids Who Love Cars and Trucks, but I’m adding it here too because it’s just too fun.
Did you have a Lite Brite when you were a kid? I did, and I can remember spending HOURS arranging those little colored pegs into all sorts of intricate pictures. We bought the modern reboot of this classic toy for your four-year-old’s birthday this year (updated to use much safer LED lighting). I’m happy to report that this oldie-but-goodie has become a favorite quiet time activity for both of my older boys, perfect for “building” pictures with pegs.
The pieces of this set interlock to create a flexible race track that can easily curve left or right and bend up or down to create hills. Plus, my boys LOVE the battery-powered dino cars (complete with glowing eyes) that roll along the track. I recommend this set, with one caveat: the bridge pieces are pretty flimsy and hard to assemble. We usually forgo using them and instead use books or other toys to create hills, valleys, tunnels. Still, the track pieces and the cars are solid, so I still consider it a worthwhile toy, especially for the price-point.
This is another blast from the past that has lasted through the decades for good reason. They’re super affordable and a great choice for toddlers because they stick together easily. We bought these for my youngest son (5) this year, but his older brothers really like playing with them, too!
Have you heard of Kiwi crate? Tinker crates are the engineering line of projects from Kiwi, geared toward kids ages 9-14. We did a six-month subscription last year, and my boys loved them! I’m not usually a big subscription box person (I’d usually rather DIY kids’ activities myself and save the money), but Kiwi crate is an exception. The crates are SO well designed, interesting, and unique. I could NOT replicate what we receive in the box for less than what I paid. You can order just one box, or choose a subscription for 3, 6, or 12 months. If you have younger kids, try the classic Kiwi crate (for ages 5-8), which we have also done in the past and loved.
Still need more ideas of gifts for kids who love to build? Here are a few more options to consider. We don’t own any of these, but we’ve happily played with them at museums and friends’ houses.
- K’nex or Kid K’nex for preschool-age kiddos (awesome engineering)
- Tinker Toys (classic fun)
- Squigz (awesome for bath time)
- Tegu Magnetic Wooden Blocks (an investment, but beautiful!)
- Panda Village Block Set (so fun for dramatic play)
What are YOUR kids’ favorite gifts for kids who love to build? Share your suggestions in the comments below!