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The 9 Best Building Toys For Kids That Aren’t Legos

Legos (and their little-kid sidekick, Duplos) are not the only STEM toys in town!

Erica Silverstein and Jack Shepherd · about 2 months ago

 FatCamera / Getty Images

FatCamera / Getty Images

From the early days when I’d build towers for the kids to knock down to today when our floor is covered with elaborate mansions, spacecraft, and the oft-repeated “car hotel” (where Hot Wheels go to vacation?), our blocks and bricks are always in use.

While the Lego brand gets all the glory, families should know that Legos (and their little-kid sidekick, Duplos) are not the only STEM toys in town. If you’re looking for toys to inspire your kids’ creative and hands-on play, here are the nine best building toys for kids that are not Legos.

1. Magnetic Tiles

Whenever we discuss family gift lists, I inevitably say, “We could use more magnetic tiles.” No matter how many Magnatiles, Magformers, PicassoTiles, or Playmags we own, the kids always need more to finish that tower, castle, or spaceship.

The see-through shapes attach via magnets (secured inside the plastic casing), providing junior architects the flexibility to build complex structures that aren’t all 90-degree angles. On the flip side, your buildings will never be as sturdy as ones built from Legos or other snap-connecting blocks. Use your creation’s inevitable collapse to teach resiliency and the joy of rebuilding, while you wipe the tears away.

Buyer beware: Not all magnetic tile brands are compatible with each other. If the magnets don’t line up, the tiles won’t attach to each other.

2. Foam Blocks

Foam blocks are ideal for toddlers and preschoolers, but I can attest that my school-age children still build with ours. The lightweight, colorful shapes can be stacked into all kinds of precarious towers that won’t cause owies when they fall. Look for foam blocks that are BPA free if you’ve got a teether, or ones that float in the tub for extra play time. Creative play with foam blocks tends to expand beyond building; the long tube-shaped blocks are likely to become baseball bats and light sabers.

3. Wooden Blocks

A nice set of wooden blocks is a gift that will last — and that your kids will never put away because they are not strong enough to lift a box full of blocks. Choose from painted or natural-finished sets, depending on your playroom aesthetic. The Tegu wooden blocks are a fan-favorite because they combine two building toys in one: They're not just wooden, they're magnetic too, so you can easily combine them into exciting shapes.

4. Plus Plus

Plus Plus are just what they sound like: Each block is made up of two combined “plus” shapes that allow kids to build mosaics, puzzles, or more complex 3D creations of their own devising. Keep these nifty little blocks out somewhere in your house and it’s an absolute guarantee that anyone (not just the kids) will start building something fun with them any time they pass by. 

5. Marble Runs

Marble runs are slightly less open-ended than Legos because you are specifically building a bobsled course for marbles. However, the possibilities for how to build your marble run are endless, and not only can your family try out a variety of designs, but they can test the speed of their tracks and race marbles once they’re complete. Budding physicists and engineers can test their skills, and accessories like jumps, swings, and chain lifts let you add to the set over time. If your family likes healthy competition, in addition to building challenges, a marble run would be a great addition to your toy collection.

6. Clixo

Clixo is a building toy set full of multicolored shapes that look kind of like fidget spinners with magnets on them. They connect to each other in a satisfyingly clicky way so you can build cool creatures, robots, STEAM-punky machines, or just abstract creations. They’re super fun and satisfying to use, and the only limit to what you can create with these bad boys is your imagination. 

7. Waffle Blocks

Since the time of Pythagoras, it has been known that the “waffle” is the perfect shape, melding form and function in an ideal fashion that cannot be improved upon. Did I just make this up because I like waffles a lot? Yes, probably. But these blocks are super fun and versatile — great for making castles and buildings, and easy for little hands to pull apart and build back up again! 

8. Magformers

These sturdy magnet tiles are great for making houses, churches, schools, or super-cool future buildings the world has never seen before! The magnets never reject, so the building experience is full of easy, clicky fun, and junior architects will love the endless construction possibilities these colorful tiles provide. 

9. Squigz

The genius of Squigz is that they use suction to stick together, which allows for a completely unique building experience. The other cool thing about Squigz is it’s an incredibly fun word to say. And I guess if I had to say one more cool thing about Squigz, it’s that they look more like quirky little alien creatures than building blocks. Oh, and also, they’re so much fun to build with!