10 of the best construction and building toys

From toddler-friendly tracks and building blocks to motorised dinosaurs and rollercoaster sets, here are the best construction kits for kids

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Building toys are a hit with all ages and genders and there’s a massive range available– from simple toddler-friendly blocks and bars that click or stick (magnetically) together to more complicated structures that take time, care and older, nimbler fingers to build, piece by tiny piece.

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A good construction toy develops motor skills, imagination and logical thinking – and always rewards you with the sight of something cool you built all by yourself.

Here’s our pick of the best building toys, as tried and tested by children, parents and toy experts …

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1. SmartMax My First Totem Magnetic Set, £17.99 – best for younger children   

Age: 18 months – 5

Awards: MadeForMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Construction/Building Toy – Gold

What it is: A fun stacking totem pole that uses 8 large magnetic pieces to make the process easy for little hands. Comes with cards showing 24 different design challenges for your child to copy.

Why we love it: This colourful bundle of magnetic pieces is great fun and perfect for toddlers who can get frustrated at not being able to easily use traditional stacking toys. We also love the fact the pieces showcase different sounds, styles and textures to make them more interesting.

Kelly Rae, mum to 20-month-old Sophie, says: “This has got lovely, chunky pieces that are easy for little hands to hold and stack. It kept my daughter engaged instantly, and she loved stacking the bricks in different ways. You could see her thinking about other ways to stack the bricks when the way she had tried didn’t work. And of course it was fun knocking the towers down again! We also used it for a bit of colour recognition practice, which was a nice bonus, and as she gets older we can develop this to shape recognition too.”

This set isn’t like Stickle Bricks or Magformers where the opportunity for creating different builds is literally limitless, but it is ideal for young toddles who are still learning about construction.

Available from: Bright Minds and RideonToys4u

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2. Stickle Bricks Fun Tub, £19.99 – best for endless creation

Age: 18 months+

Awards: MadeForMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Construction/Building Toy – Silver

What it is: A starter set of Stickle Bricks in a variety of shapes and colours, all contained within a lidded storage box.

Why we love it: This is one of those classic toys that every child should own (loads of us did when we were little, didn’t we?). The bricks are colourful and tactile and lend themselves to creative construction: you can try to recreate builds on the box or just make your own thing.

MFM tester Sharley, mum to Joe and Rose, both 2, says: “After trying this product I’m now a Stickle Bricks convert and would choose this over any other construction toy for younger toddlers, as it’s much easier for them to build with.”

While they can be enjoyed by children of all ages, older kids will probably prefer something with a little more technical skill such as Magformers or the City Engineering & Design Building Set.

Available from: Very, Amazon and Next

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3. K’NEX Dragon’s Revenge Thrill Coaster,  £49.99 – best for thrill seekers

Age: 7+

Awards: MadeForMums Toy Awards 2019 Best Construction/Building Toy – Bronze

What it is: A 578-part kit that fits together to create a real working rollercoaster, featuring a burnt-out tower, drawbridge entrance and ferocious dragon with flapping wings.

Why we love it: This amazing rollercoaster kit has plenty of fun features to keep children occupied. Once all the pieces have been put together (which will take a fair while, considering there are 578 individual parts!) you can use the motorized chain lift to send the light-up coaster car through epic twists and turns – past the scary dragon, through the burning castle and back to safety.

MFM tester Sarah, mum to Benjamin, 9, says: “This is fantastic and we absolutely loved it. My son has spent hours playing with it.”

It certainly develops fine motor skills and uses STEM ideas to help with developmental growth.

Available from: John Lewis, Amazon and Toy Street

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4. City Engineering & Design Building Set, £24 – best for problem solving

Age: 5+

What it is: A 100-piece kit, designed to help children develop real-life engineering skills by building bridges, cranes, buildings – and more – and then adapting them to solve a challenge. Comes with building challenge cards and an activity guide.

Why we love it: The kit itself is great but, for our child testers, it’s the extra challenges that make this special. So, for example, you could ask your child to redesign the bridge they’ve built so a large boat can get under it.

MFM tester Emily, mum to Maisy, 6 says: “I couldn’t believe how much this engaged Maisy in play and how imaginative she was. She rarely plays with anything for more than 5 minutes but was sat with this for over an hour.”

It may not look quite as snazzy as some of the other offerings (especially those from Lego) but it’s stimulating construction fun and brilliantly priced.

Available from: Learning Resources, Bright Minds and Amazon

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5. Geomag Mechanics Gravity Up and Down Set, £82 – best for science lovers

Age: 7+

What it is: A 330-piece construction set containing 21 magnetic rods, 39 steel spheres and 270 plastic mechanical elements. Once assembled, gravity makes the spheres fall through a system of magnetic gears and a parallel elevator system lifts them back up.

Why we love it: This is a serious build – with amazing rewards! It’s a clever and interesting way to see the laws of physics in action and kept our child testers enthralled.

We love the fact kids can really learn how construction works with this kit and that it takes a good two hours to put it all together.

MFM tester Mary, mum to Freddie, 8, says: “Freddie loves the build and play aspect of this set and how he can move ball bearings around a track without needing batteries. It’s the sort of set that takes time and patience to put together and he really has to concentrate on the instructions to set everything up correctly.”

It is quite expensive – more than £50 more than City Engineering & Design Building Set – but it does offer plenty of fun.

Available from: Amazon

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6. Meccano Formula 1 Ferrari, £29.97 – best for car fans

Age: 10+

What it is: A 325-part kit from which you build your own model (5cm x 32cm x 19cm) of the iconic F1 Ferrari with working wheels and poseable steering. Comes with tools and instruction booklet.

Why we love it: This is a proper nuts-and-bolts build that requires nimble fingers and lots of concentration – and ends up looking pretty darn impressive. Construction time is a good three hours or so – and with 325 parts and 2 tools as well as stick-on details, there’s plenty to keep children entertained.

The instructions are clear and easy to use and we also love the fact the car offers plenty of opportunity for imaginative play once it has been finished!

It doesn’t have quite as many pieces as the Lego Architecture 21034 London (which has 468 – see below) but it’s well priced with this in mind.

Available from: Amazon and Smyths Toys

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7. Magformers Creator Set, £69.99 – best for encouraging logic

Age: 3+

What it is: A 62-piece set of rainbow-coloured magnetised pieces that click together to allow you to build impressive 3D structures quickly and easily. Includes a step-by-step booklet showing how to turn 2D shapes into 3D models.

Why we love it: This is such a great toy for encouraging fine motor skills, logic and creativity – and the instructions are fantastically small-child-friendly.

We love all the different learning opportunities it offers and the fact the rainbow-coloured pieces are so engaging. Kids will enjoy being able to build endless shapes and objects and the set is bound to keep them quiet for hours.

It is more expensive than other offerings geared to a similar age group (the Stickle Brick tub is £50 cheaper, for example) but it’s worth noting that this does encourage the development of logic and problem-solving skills in a more refined way.

Available fromMagformersJohn Lewis and Amazon

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8. Lego Duplo Number Train, £12.99 – best for a first Lego kit

Age: 18 months+

What it is: A 23-piece set to build a locomotive with 3 wagons. Comes with 2 passenger figures, a cat and bricks numbered 0 to 9.

Why we love it: This is a sweet and simple build with lovely chunky pieces. The numbered bricks are a brilliant way to introduce, or reinforce, counting skills as your child builds – and the cool, brightly coloured train is great fun to push around at the end.

Our parent testers loved the quality and durability of the pieces and the fact it’s so easy to put together and dismantle. There are also plenty of opportunities for imaginative play with the included man and dog figurines and it’s compatible with all Duplo too – meaning you can easily add to your creation.

Alice, mum to two boys, 2, and 3, says: “What I like best about the lego is how well-made it is. My sons loved how colourful the bricks are and how many possibilities there are when building.”

Just bear in mind that while older kids may enjoy helping their younger siblings put it together, it probably won’t keep their attention as quite as long as, say, the Magformers or the City Engineering & Design Building Set.

You can see what other mums – and their kids – thought of the LEGO Duplo Number Train in our MadeForMums product test feedback thread.

Available fromLEGO Shop and Argos

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9. Lego Architecture 21034 London, £44.99 – best for pre-teens and teenagers

Age: 12+

What it is: A 468-piece set that builds a 15cm x 28cm x 8cm scale model of famous London sights, including the National Gallery, Nelson’s Column, London Eye, Big Ben and Tower Bridge. Comes with instruction booklet and facts about the architecture and history of each building.

Why we love it: The attention to detail in this model is excellent – and we love how Tower Bridge opens up just like the real one.

It’s also a good, challenging build for a pre-teen, with the London Eye wheel, in particular, a fascinating lesson in creative construction.

It is quite expensive (it’s £15 more than the Meccano Formula 1 Ferrari, for example), but you’ll find that most of the toys geared for this age bracket tend to be around this price.

Available from: John Lewis, LEGO and Amazon

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10. ENGINO Jurassic Earth, £44.99 – best for dinosaur fans

Age: 8 to 14

What it is: A 123-piece construction set from which you can build 5 moving, motorised dinosaurs. Created by a primary school teacher specialising in design and technology. Includes instructions (also available online), and a fact booklet. Requires 2AAA batteries. Dimensions: 41cm x 5cm x 28cm.

Why we love it: We think the finished motorised dinosaurs are pretty impressive – and our child testers loved the build. The fact booklet is really good, too.

Child tester Harriet, 12, says: “I really liked this as it was very fun to build and there were interesting facts to read. I think it was a good difficulty for my age as it was complex but there were amazing instructions that made it really simple to work through.”

The finished product doesn’t look quite as refined as, say, the Lego Architecture 21034 London set and includes considerably less pieces, but when you have moving dinosaurs instead, who cares?

Available from: Engino Toys, The Hut and Amazon

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