One of the biggest benefits of building toys is the opportunity to offer open-ended play experiences for kids. Open-ended play is crucial for the development of imagination and creativity in children of all ages. Through open ended play, kids can develop a variety of social and emotional skills such as empathy, cooperation, problem solving, and improved self-confidence and self-esteem. There are also a number of cognitive benefits of open ended play including working memory, self-regulation, organizational skills and so much more. While all of the building sets I recommend come with suggestions and visual directions, they can also use their imagination and build whatever they want. Another thing I like about building toys is that they can be done by a single child or can be done with a group of kids, which is great for working on improving teamwork and other social skills.
In addition to working on all that I have previously mentioned, building toys are great for working on improving bilateral coordination, increases grasp strength and manipulation skills. If children follow visual directions while building, they are also good for working on improving visual motor and perceptual skills.
Tegu-these continue to be one of my favorite construction toys since I discovered them. These wooden blocks have magnets built in so they can stick together. Since they stick together so easily, they are great for children who may present with decreased grasp or upper extremity strength or have difficulty with bilateral coordination due to physical limitations. Tegu blocks come in a variety of color-waves and each set comes with a variety of different shapes. In the last couple of years, they have begun offering kits that you can make different vehicles, monsters, robots and smaller travel packs that are perfect for throwing in your bag to keep kids entertained in the car, at a restaurant or while waiting in waiting rooms. One of the things that I love is that because they are magnetic, they can stick to any metal surface like a refrigerator so you can work on building upper extremity strength at the same time as creating.
The Offbits-I had been on the lookout for construction sets that would be more motivating and
Plus Plus-I was originally drawn towards Plus-Plus Mini pieces because of their bright colors and convenient packaging (the tubes were just perfect to throw in my bag and keep my daughter entertained when we were on the go). Once I started using them, I realized what a great tool they were for reaching occupational therapy goals. In addition to being an awesome open ended building toy to work on improving creativity, they were ideal for working on improving fine motor skills such as grasping, strengthening and bilateral coordination and for working on visual motor and perceptual skills. Kids can follow the visuals provided with each set to build something or can use their imagination and create whatever comes to mind. For younger children, be sure to check out the Plus-Plus Midi pieces.
Timber Planks-sometimes kids need opportunities to build and create without any rules....to have an opportunity to play where there is no right or wrong to what they are doing. Timber Planks are perfect for this. This set comes with 300 planks (270 natural wood and 30 bright orange) that kids can stack and arrange to create large structures. Not only is this a great toy to work on increasing creativity and imaginative play, it is great for working on improving fine motor skills, visual-motor and perceptual skills and improving focus, attention and organizational skills. Kids can play with them on their own or can be used in groups.
Build & Imagine Building Sets-I've been a long time fan of Magna-Tiles and they make my list every year but this year, I have become obsessed with the Build & Imagine building sets. Instead of colored tiles, the Build and Imagine sets are made up of tiles with pictures that when put together create a castle, a pet portrait studio and many other things. In addition to the tiles, each set includes a bunch of magnets to add details to the tiles and dolls that can be dressed and played with. Kids can work on so many skills when playing with the Build & Imagine sets including developing fine motor and manipulation skills, improving spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination and visual motor and perceptual skills. At the same time, kids are offered an open-ended play experience that builds creativity and imagination skills. My speech therapist friends love how kids can work on improving their language skills and work on storytelling skills when playing with them.
Natural Building Blocks (Waldorf Construction Toy)-one of my daughters favorite playgrounds in Brooklyn is found in Prospect Park. It's a natural playground that has been built using fallen trees. When my friend Heather from Hope Learning Toys showed me these natural birch and oak building blocks, I immediately thought of them and how much kids enjoy playing and building when out in nature. Now with this all natural open-ended building set, kids work on building imagination and creativity skills as well as spatial awareness and hand-eye coordination. The 30 piece set comes with a different sized blocks and opens young minds to create and construct.
Fort Boards-if you have a kid who loves to build forts, these are a great gift for them. The sets come in a handful of colors and can be used indoors or outdoors to build. Fort Boards are large tiles that snap together and can be turned into structures that kids can play inside of. We have been using Fort Boards with our kids at The Meeting House and the kids just can't get enough of them. I love that while they invite kids to play together to create and build a fort....and what I have noticed is that the bigger the structure is, the happier the kids are! Fort Boards are great for working on increasing grasp and upper extremity strength, improves spatial reasoning and hand-eye coordination, encourages creativity and imagination skills, and is a fun way to work on improving executive functioning skills such as focus/attention, planning and organizational skills.
Popoids-I discovered Popoids when on a mission to buy a bunch of birthday gifts and they have been one of my favorite finds of the year. This open-ended construction toy encourages problem solving, organizational skills and creative thinking. The set comes with 36 colored mini poptubes and 24 different shaped connectors that kids use to build and create. The set comes with some suggestions on what to make but when I have my kids use them at work, I have them build whatever they want. Popoids are great for working on a variety of occupational therapy goals such as improving grasp strength and manipulation skills, bilateral coordination and hand-eye coordination.
Click Blocks-this 100 piece set of natural wooden blocks comes with different colored and shaped blocks that invite kids to build and create. These are something that your kids will play with for years and years and well worth the investment. For many of the kids I work with, building with blocks can cause a lot of frustration because they may have decreased coordination and can easily knock down their creations. The Click blocks are similar to Legos in the sense that they can be pushed together and stay together until you pull them apart. In addition to being great for encouraging creativity and imagination, they are also great for working on increasing grasp strength and manipulation skills. They also work on improving bilateral coordination, visual motor and perceptual skills and hand-eye coordination.
These are just a handful of the amazing construction sets that are out there. Does your family have a a set that they love? I would love to hear what kinds of sets other families or therapists/teachers use with their kids. I am always a click away and love hearing from you all.