Toys for building skills and smarts


With a Little Bits kit, kids can form different snap-together electronic circuits that let them create and power complex structures. (Little Bits via Associated Press)
April 6

Building and construction toys have been popular since, well, forever, and there’s a reason why.

“Directions aren’t necessary; no rules or instructions are needed,” says Judith Ellis, founder and chairwoman of the toy design department at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology.

While Lego and Mega Blox have been favorites for many years — Lego celebrates its 82nd birthday this year — there are other options to consider.

At the recent Toy Fair 2014 in New York, toy store owners showed a lot of interest in building sets, according to Adrienne Apell, trends specialist for the Toy Industry Association. “It’s been very hot, and that’s going to continue,” she says.

Magna-Tiles are colorful geometric plastic tiles with magnets along the inside edges that allow you to assemble them into different structures. Some come in solid colors, and some are translucent for making see-through creations, such as “stained glass” windows.

Tegu blocks also are magnetized but are made of wood. The smooth-sided blocks, rectangles and triangles come in soft, natural colors in six- or eight-block starter-set sizes (with a felt travel pouch) and larger sets of 22 to 480 pieces. There’s a car-building set, too.

K’nex has kits for making simple machines such as windmills, water wheels, elevators and levers, allowing kids to tinker at home with concepts they might have been exposed to in the classroom.

And targeting science-oriented young girls, GoldieBlox kits offer the chance to build such things as dunk tanks and belt-drive machines. Developed by engineering-school graduate Debbie Sterling, the kits feature a young inventor named Goldie, her friends and her dog, Nacho, using creative thinking to tackle various obstacles.

Finally, if you’re one of those kids who are always taking apart broken appliances or rewiring the stereo, check out LittleBits. It offers materials for creating all kinds of electronic circuits, but you won’t have to worry about wiring, programming or soldering. The magnet-embedded modules snap together, and you can add buzzers, lights or other components to create more elaborate contraptions. An online library offers free plans, and you can share your creations there, as well.

— Associated Press

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