Hands-On Building Toys (That Are Not Legos) Recommendations

Updated on November 13, 2012
M.P. asks from Peoria, IL
27 answers

My 7 y/o son likes to do things with his hands. Though he likes Legos, he prefers toys that allow him to use his own creativity. He plays with his Lincoln Logs and also doubles the Jenga pieces to build stuff. Does anyone have any suggestions? We have something called Magnext(magnetic marbles and interlocking plastic pieces) from overseas but I haven't seen them in stores here.

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So What Happened?

We ended up finding more sets of Magnext on Amazon and he was thrilled. He also got a toy called Contraptions and he loves to build with those too.

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answers from Portland on

Just a comment on Legos. My grandson builds things using his imagination with Legos. He makes the item from the box first, then takes it apart and does his own thing.

6 moms found this helpful


answers from Pittsburgh on

DS (almost 7) has Lego, Citi blocks, Lincoln logs and connectagons. You can buy the lego in bulk on their site (bricks, wheels and axles, etc). We buy these - not the kits. We also have a lego by the pound store where we pick up odd pieces. The Magnetix were recalled but there is a similar magnetic building toy marketed as geomag. Looks great - we will likely get that this winter. It looks like the only issue with the magnetix is they shouldn't be eaten (wow, who would think). K'nex is pretty great too - my son built some amazing things at his school with those.

2 moms found this helpful

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answers from Kansas City on

My son loves playing with CitiBlocks (I think that is how they are spelled) at our science center. Simple to look at, amazing to create with!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

How do Legos not allow him to use his own creativity? Does he only build the models? Doesn't he ever break them down and build his own creations? I'm just trying to understand, we have a million Legos and they have been by far the most creatively used toys in our house. My kids have built everything from houses and towns to cars, spaceships, battleships, animals and more!
I honestly can't think of any other building toy that has as many different options in terms of pieces to build stuff: blocks, wheels, hinges, gears, people parts, etc. None of the other building sets come close when it comes to creative possibility.
LOL do I sound like a Lego commercial?!

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Fargo on

No matter which Lego set you purchase, there is always the option of creativity. My son is continually making his own creations, including a working rubber band shooter, a castle with a working drawbridge (not from a castle set- he built a pully system with parts from whatever he had in his bin, and is constantly in the process of creating something new.

The other sets that people have mentioned are great, but encourage him to use his imagination and look beyond the model that the Lego was built for.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Jacksonville on

Careful with the Magnetix. They USED to have them here, but there have been so many recall issues due to kids swallowing them (which can be very dangerous, even life threatening if they swallow more than one) that they probably aren't available here anymore. My son had some, before all the recalls. He is 14 now, and of course still has them... but he is mature enough not to put them in his mouth, lol.

I would suggest TinkerToys. Those are really cool, and the kids really can use their own imagination to build real stuff. My daughter even loves them.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Denver on

My 8 year old has a ton of loose Legos - you can still buy them that way, but you can get WAY more for less $ (and way weirder pieces) off Craigslist. They do end up everywhere though!

When I was your son's age, my favorites by far were Tinker Toys. In a way, they're like a junior o-chem set, but more fun. I'm pretty sure they are still available. I'd suggest looking for them on Amazon.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Lincoln Logs are the best. My son made custom Angry Birds levels with them. He also has k'nex and erector sets that he plays Bad Piggies with.

Sometimes you can get plasticine kits around Christmas season and make your own figures(think Shaun the Sheep/Wallace and Gromit).

Sculpey clay is another good hands on bit, the clay is pliable until you bake them. You do not need a kiln for Sculpey, just a baking sheet you're not going to use for cookies, and pop it into the oven.

Grand imagination he's got, grand job M.!

2 moms found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

We have a set of Keva planks: http://www.kevaplanks.com
They're fantastic as a building toy. The idea is deceptively simple - all of the planks are the same size and shape, simple, unvarnished wood (and made in the USA, which is nice) - but the things you can build with them are amazing. For a child who loves to build creatively, Keva planks can't be beat. My 7 year old plays with them almost every day, and has come up with some fantastically creative structures.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Citiblocs are simple, yet allow for a lot of creativity. I agree with a lot of the other suggestions on here, as well. Also, if you look on ebay you can often find large lots of odd and end lego pieces with no directions cheap. Give him those and he'll be forced to use his imagination and come up with creative things all on his own. :)

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Salt Lake City on

Magnatix were recalled in the USA because of issues with children swallowing them and having health problems because of the magnets. K'nex is fun for my girls and boy. My son has TONS of legos and wants more. The things he builds are very creative and sturdy. He wants to be an engineer and Lego nurture that.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from El Paso on

K'nex, Tinker Toys, and Erector Sets.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Norfolk on

K'nex, Tinker Toys, and Erector Sets are wonderful.
Be careful with magnets if there's any chance he might swallow them - they can cause horrible trouble in the intestines.

If you are looking for something larger scale, give Quadro a try.
We got this for our son when he was a toddler and built things for him to climb on.
Eventually he helped us build, then as he learned proper safety procedure (about 8 or 9 - we insisted we inspect his structures before he was allowed to climb on them) he was building forts on his own with it.
He's a teen now and still builds with it (some people use it to make some basic furniture).
It really nurtures the engineer in him!



Once he was old enough to use the smaller Lego pieces (instead of Duplo), for Christmas one year I got him a 10 lb bag of random Legos from someone who was selling them by the pound on eBay.
We had BLAST sorting through all the pieces and building anything that came into our heads.
It had been awhile since I had played with Legos and I was AMAZED at all the different kinds of parts they had.
You don't have to follow an instruction book.
Our son is STILL big time into Legos (14 now) and is building some advanced Star Wars ships.
But - Legos do have a tendency to take over the play room / house.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Topeka on

Jenga,blocks come on all shapes sizes colors,K'nex has a variety,marble racer it's a tower you create to race marbles,Hot wheels tracks they have them for walls too,

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Diego on

Save the sticks that he eats from Popsicles. He can use those to build houses, fences, etc... I'm sure you have glue in the house for him to use to help him build the houses and stuff.

Buy him a deck of cards that he can bend and do what he wants with.

We used to use these things as kids. It was fun.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Las Vegas on

Go old school! Give him a deck of cards and have him build a tower.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

We have a few different building toys available through Discovery Toys. Bendy Beads, Jumble Zoo, Block It, Marbleworks, and Touch Tec Bricks can all allow him to be creative and come up with different things to make. Check out http://www.discoverytoyslink.com/karenchao to see if you think he'd like any of them.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Los Angeles on

My son had a great time with K'nex, Legos, and Construx, all of which allowed him to use his creativity.

Some of the sets he had were for specific models, but most had instructions for multiple things to build. So once he built some of the models that were listed in the instructions, he usually took them apart and put together whatever his imagination led him to create.

(Construx are no longer manufactured, but you can find them on Ebay)

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I bought my niece this set of straws and connectors and it's a popular toy at her house. And if you don't mind, the straws can even be cut for more creating. This weekend my niece and son built a "ship" and played for hours.

Blocks are great. There are some really elaborate sets.

We bought our son the lego kits that aren't meant to built into one specific thing. It was a huge box of different shaped legos...it's been great,


Marble maze

Trio blocks

Melissa and Doug have set of jumbo blocks...they are cardboard blocks

Magformers are magnetic toys I THINK you can still get here...no tiny pieces

Zoob - I don't know anyone with these, but I am considering them for my kids at Christmas

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Grand Forks on

They used to sell Lego sets that were just blocks, not models. They must still make them. We have tons of Lego we have picked up second hand that are just for building their own creations.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

erector sets
lincoln logs
tinker toys

does your son have a big bin of legos? or only the "sets" of legos? my sons had sets that eventually got all thrown into one big bin. they loved the building without having a specific thing to make. in fact they are still able to sit for hours on end with the grandkids now lol

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

My son also likes to build things, He would get a Legos set, build whatever it was and then dump it and use the pieces for something totally different, whatever he wanted. He loves Star Wars and could totally expand on the ships that the kits made. Don't rule out Legos, just let him know he does not have to stick with the kit as it is sold.



answers from New York on

My 6-year old and several of his friends love these things he had in school called Magna-Tiles. You can find them online. They are kind of pricey, but the kids build unbelievable stuff with them. We went for a playdate the other day and the kids and parents had built something that looked like the Empire State building in the middle of their living room. I bought my son the 100-piece set last summer and he plays with them constantly, creating houses and castles for his other toys. He would like another set, but they're so darn expensive...



answers from Los Angeles on

Funny i was just researching this for my 4 yr old almost 5 yr old. He's extremely interested in building things and can make some awesomely creative thing with his wooden blocks, Lincoln logs and tinker toys--so I was looking for something different. Came across some wooden planks that are magnetic, they're called Tegu Magnetic. They are pricey but from the reviews I've read they are worth it. Going to talk to the hubby about an Christmas/Birthday gift for the lil' guy!

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