When it comes to manipulative toys, everyone knows about Legos. They are awesome and the most accessible manipulate toy in toys stores these days. Personally, I have a daughter who has been collecting the Disney Princess and Elves collections over the last few months and we both have a ton of fun putting them together. But if you are looking for something a little different to work with, there are a lot of options out there that may actually be a bit more affordable and lend themselves to encouraging creativity in young children. An added bonus to all of the manipulative sets I will talk about are that they are great for working on improving hand strength, eye-hand coordination and bilateral coordination. I can also tell you from my personal experience with all of the following building toys is that parents will have just as much fun playing with them!
Straws and Connectors Building Sets-thanks to an awesome SEIT/friend, I was introduced to straws and connectors. There is nothing fancy about these toys but the kids love to build and create with them. There are visual instructions that can be followed but oftentimes, it's great for kids to work together and build what comes to their minds. The nice thing about these is that you can build something small or something really large that kids can interact with. The kids that attend the social skills class I co-teach (The Meeting House in NYC) worked together to build a giant house that they could sit inside. So in addition to being great for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, they also can work on improving gross motor and motor planning skills.
Multicolor Snowflake Building Blocks-these snowflake shaped manipulative toys are perfect for encouraging kids to expand their imagination and creativity skills. Whether children follow the visuals that come with the snowflake pieces (great for improving visual perceptual skills) or build something on their own, they will work on improving grasping skills, bilateral coordination and work on increasing hand strength in a fun and creative way.
Creative Toys Building Blocks 3D Puzzles-I saw these when I was working at The Meeting House last week and loved them at first sight. One of the things I like best is that the kids were working together to build these elaborate creations. It was fun to see how they were taking simple shapes and different size bars and pushing them together to connect them to build and create. Kids who typically had a hard time working together and compromising with their friends were successfully planning out what they were going to make and helping each other add onto the structure. In addition to working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, these are great for working on learning colors and shapes and sorting skills (have kids sort by shapes, colors, size, etc.).
Tinkertoys-there are certain toys that have been around for a long time and even though they have changed a bit over time, the purpose is still the same. Tinkertoys are one of those toys. I remember playing with them as a child and spending hours building and creating with friends. This set from Fat Brain Toys is similar to the classic set from my childhood. I liked how the straws/rods bend a bit so kids can add more details to their structures. Spokes and spools snap together, bendable straws help connect pieces and use miscellaneous wheels, flags, washers, etc. to create and build whatever comes to a child's imagination.
The best part of all the toys above is that there is no right or wrong way to use them. You can follow step-by-step directions if you want to, but you can also allow kids to interact with them and create with them using their imagination. Given the amount of structured work our children have in school these days, it's important to offer lots of opportunites for kids to have open-ended and unstructured play. Kids need to be able to have time to let their imaginations grow and all of the aforementioned manipulation toys do just that. They can all be used independently or used with friends or siblings to work on improving critical social skills such as turn taking, compromise, flexibility and language skills.
I've had such fun testing and playing with all the toys written about above. I am always looking for new products to keep the kids I work with excited and motivated to come to our sessions. Do you have any great building toys that you/your kids love? Please share your ideas with me and my readers if you do. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.