New Building Toys
That Build New Skills
Tags: building toys build skills, dexterity, math concepts, eye hand coordination, creativity, imagination, language
Posted: 2011-09-22 12:34:16 By: Joanne Oppenheim

 

For the beginner, bring home open-ended sets of construction toys that invite exploration instead of painstaking instructions to follow. Discovery is more important at this stage than trying to copy what is on the box. It's through exploration that children develop an understanding of symmetry, eye/hand coordination, and solve problems of their own making. Adding one more or one less block to make a bridge involves making simple decisions and discoveries on their own. Experiments that fail are as instructive as the ones that work. Learning to make a bridge that balances or putting two squares together to get a rectangle...these are ways children find out about the excitement of discovery.

Later, when they have the dexterity, building models with detailed instructions requires another kind of discipline. Following the step by step directions requires a solving math problems. Building detailed models also involves fine motor skills that young children simply do not have yet.

Here are some building toys that are arranged from easy to challenging. Here are some of the wonderful new and classic building toys for each of these age groups.


 

 

 
2011 Awards
CitiBlocs Little Builders Rattle Blocks
(Citiblocs $35 Score: )

22 wooden blocks with rattle sounds inside, colorful rooftops, and staircases are designed for beginning builders. These are chunkier than the classic Citiblocs. These smoothly finished blocks play to sensory feedback for little hands and ears. Stack them up high or line them up sideways. There is no right or wrong way to enjoy these. After they have played with the blocks for awhile, kids may like using the colored graphics to match up buildings of one color or set them up in patterns. Younger toddlers will like building them up and knocking them down with a big kaboom! 2 and up. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

SNAP Activities: These blocks are chunkier and somewhat easier to grasp. They are also a bit more literal with premade roof tops and colored strips. They should be enjoyed independently, but you can aslo use them to reinfoce color words and sorting skills. Build an all red striped building or talk about the colors of the roof tops. Help build two buildings that are the same height. Talk about building by adding one more and one less. These concepts are basic to math, but they are best learned in concrete ways that build understanding.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


 

 

 
2011 Awards
Green Start Early Learning 10 Stacking and Nesting Blocks
(Innovative Kids $20 Score: )

Like other products in their line, these "Green Start" blocks are made form 98% recycled materials and have a special brown cardboard look. The graphics are colorful and handsome, giving a new look to a classic set of stacking and nesting blocks. Use these for reinforcing color concepts as well as shapes, letters and numbers. Stack them up or fit them into a nest, it's a hands-on way to learn about size order and problem solving.  As with most classic style toys these will be used by over a long time at varying levels of discovery from toddlers to early school years. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements.  We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


 

 


2011 Award
Lego Duplo Play With Letters
(Lego Systems, Inc. $29.99 Score: )

A big 62-piece sets of chunky Duplo blocks, some with upper case alphabet letters. The set is otherwise an open-ended construction set with a wheel base for making a working vehicle. It comes with windows that can be attached as well as one play figure, a cat, and flowers. There is no right or wrong way to build. These classic blocks are good for reinforcing colors as well as spatial relationships. They are good tools for also developing dexterity and problem solving skills. In addition, each letter sound is reinforced with a small image of an object that goes with the letter. These can be used with older preschoolers for knowing and naming letter names and beginning sounds, and for language development. The set is labeled for 2-5. Wed say the letter part is for more like older 3s and up,up,up.

Age: Toddlers, Preschool. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


 

 

 
2011 Awards
Toobers & Zots
(Little Kids $24.99 Score: )

Kids love the bendable open-ended foam pieces in this colorful construction set. It's more free form than building toys like Legos since the pieces twist together rather than needing to fit together. There are tubes, skinny rods, flat pieces and dots that hold and mold together. There is not right or wrong way to create whatever can be imagined. This giant set has 345+ pieces to be used in a multitude of ways. Fitting them all back into the holder may be a challenge, but they are quiet and soft and good fun for younger builders.

We have written about this toy before but it has been repackaged and refreshed by another company and we're glad to see it back.

SNAP IDEAS: Easier to put together than many other building sets, the soft easy to grasp pieces of Toobers and Zots make them a good choice for creative building. They are quieter than wooden or plastic blocks and pleasing to handle. ACTIVITIES: Use them for sorting by color or shape and developing language to describe if there are more long pieces than short ones...more yellows than reds? Fewer greens than yellows? These kinds of sorting and talking games help kids develop concepts that they can touch and see in a concrete way.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


 

 


2011 Award
Superstructs Wacky Machines
(Waba Fun $65 Score: )

Newest set in a construction toy line we really love. Superstructs are like your old Tinkertoy set---on steroids! Kids can construct seven different models with this big 175-piece set. What's new are the 16 large gears that add motion to the Superstructs. It comes with a 59-page step-by-step building guide to help kids create a ferris wheel, clock, a drilling car, a thumping watch-ma-call-it, a three-wheeled car, a crane with gears and a lawn mower. Kids can build these or create structures from their own imaginations. Comes in a sturdy storage container. Pieces are dishwasher safe. 5 & up. The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements.  We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


 

 


2011 Award
Constructibles Wacky Machine
(Mudpuppy Press $16.99 Score: )

Newest in this collection of 3-D cardboard construction sets. There are 25 wacky machine parts graphics on these cardboard playing pieces. Like Mudpuppy's City Constuctibles, these have a playful look and invite inventive ways of making connections. They come in five geometric shapes that are put together into open-ended structures. There is no wrong or right way to use these sturdy building cards. They develop kids fine motor skills as well as their problem solving abilities as they fit the interlocking pieces together and keep them from falling over. These are not flimsy, as many card sets tend to be. Best of all this is a toy for creative thinking as kids make their own structures. 4 & up.
The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


 

 


2011 Award
LEGO Creator Lighthouse Island
(Lego Systems, Inc. $39.99 Score: )

Talk about innovative, this 518 piece lighthouse has a working light that cranks and turns a rotating mirror that glows as it reflects the light. Want to get inside the lighthouse? No problem. It has a back door that swings open so that the lighthouse keeper can climb the ladder inside. It has a light brick and directions for rebuilding the same pieces into a boathouse or seafood restaurant. 


Age: Later School Years, Tweens. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


 

 


2011 Award
Playmobil Falcon Knights Castle
(Playmobil $104.95 Score: )

Our testers loved this large scaled castle from Playmobil. We're always clear to say the following about Playmobil builds: the directions could be clearer; the construction of Playmobil structures requires an adult; there are LOTS of pieces.  With all of those disclaimers, our testers consistently enjoy the product and the level of detail once it's put together.  Specifically, our experienced builders did have more difficulty this year putting the smaller castle in this line together. We recommend having two adults for some aspects of the build--to hold the pieces as the connections are being made.  We also suggest that large structures be built and possibley glued down on a board or table top where they will not be moved or knocked around. True, this means it is less open-ended than a set of block, that will also falls over with active play, but these large structures do become pretend settings that are fun to use, although they will surely require some rebuilding and fine tuning from time to time. Once this castle is put together, it is great fun. It has a main gate that you can crank close (and there is an "iron" gate to put down when you really mean to keep the bad guys out).  There are trap doors, walk ways and one really big tower.  Our testers also gave high marks the play figures (complete with period appropriate clothing) and spectacular horses as well. This is not a toy for preschoolers or even young early school kids.  The level of detail requires more dexterity than most kids under 8 bring to their play.

Age: Early School Years, Later School Years. Award Year: 2011. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 


 

 


2010 Award
Citiblocs Hot Colors Building Blocks
(Citiblocs $24.99 Score: )

We fell in love with these open-ended building blocks last year.   They look alot like the pricier original French, Kapla blocks. Compatible with the originals, they are all the same size pieces of natural wood.  The open-endedness of these blocks truly challenges the builder's imagination and dexterity. The smooth and precision cut blocks are made of Radiata Pine from certified renewable forests in New Zealand and come packaged with suggested projects kids can build without glue or pegs.  What's new this season- sets of Hot (pinks/reds) and Cool (blue/green) colors. These make interesting patterns and may hold added appeal to some young builders.  They come in different sets: 100 piece set costs $24.99, 50 pieces for $12.95.    The packages say 3 & up, we think older builders of 5 & up will find them more interesting.  The activities suggested will challenge even older kids.  Our recommendation--put them on the coffee table and see what everyone, young and old, comes up with.  We found them addictive.
The company has signed a verification form complying with our safety requirements. We did not independently test this toy in a lab.

Age: Preschool, Early School Years. Award Year: 2010. Click here to purchase the product on Amazon.com.

 

 
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