Building toys are great at teaching kids STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) skills. They help kids think creatively and problem solve. To make them even better, most kids love playing with building toys. Whether alone or with a friend, kids can enjoy building toys at any age. In our home, our kids started with building toys when they were toddlers, and even my teenagers still enjoy building structures with them.
LEGOs are probably the most popular building toy. They are a fantastic toy with so many different possibilities. There are hundreds of different LEGO sets available with dozens of themes kids enjoy. However, LEGOs can be quite pricey. There are other amazing options out there that are alternatives to LEGOs and cost less (in some cases significantly less).
What To Look for in A Building Toy
- Enough pieces to build something significant. If there aren’t enough pieces for your child to build what he or she wants, you can be sure the toy won’t be played with very long. Plenty of pieces to build different creations will keep a child engaged over and over again.
- Appropriate for child’s age and level. If a building toy is too difficult, a child will become frustrated and quickly give up using it. A toy that is too easy will cause a child to lose interest quickly as well. Generally, the age ranges given by manufacturers is a good guide. However, if you have a child who is either more or less challenged than the average child with motor skills, you will want to adjust accordingly.
- High-quality, durable pieces. You want a toy that will last without being broken. The options on this list are all high-quality and durable.
- Caters to your child’s interest. Even within the brands on this list, there are hundreds of different set options. If your child enjoys helicopters, find him a building set that he can use to make a helicopter. There are also themed sets for My Little Pony, Transformers, Hello Kitty, and many, many others.
- Promotes creativity. Many kids enjoy building creations following the instructions included with their building set kits. However, it is also great for kids to use pieces to make creations they come up with on their own. Building toys are a great way for kids to use their creativity.
10 Good Quality LEGO Alternatives for Kids
Nanoblock Building Kits
- Look like LEGOs
- Takes up less space
- Excellent detail
- Not good for younger children
My favorite LEGO alternative is Nanoblock. It is like LEGOs on a smaller scale and is a great choice for older tweens, teens, and adults. The tiny pieces make for excellent detail, and completed builds take up much less space than their LEGO counterparts. That means you can display finished builds without taking up your entire house. Nanoblock consists of 11 different types of bricks.
Kits for Nanoblock include musical instruments, world landmarks, space scenes, birthday and wedding scenes. Nanoblock themed sets include Hello Kitty, Mega Man, and Pokemon. The largest of the Nanoblock kits is Neuschwanstein Castle, with 5800 pieces.
K’NEX Building Sets
- Options for younger and older children
- Many sets to choose from
- Larger finished sets take up a lot of space
- Larger finished sets can be unstable
K’NEX are a building set with rods and connectors which are put together to form any number of different creations. They can be used to build anything from vehicles to roller coasters to Super Mario to anything a child can imagine. Many K’NEX sets are motorized, and the roller coaster comes with a vehicle that can ride it. Most regular K’NEX sets are made for kids 7-12, but there are more advanced options for older kids.
For younger kids, Kid K’NEX is a great option. The pieces are similar to those of regular K’NEX, but Kid K’NEX pieces are larger, which is great for preschool age kids. Kid K’NEX are recommended for ages 3-6. Kid K’NEX has sets with planes, motorcycles, trucks, unicorns, and My Little Pony.
Meccano Erector, Robotics, and Engineering Sets
- Many product lines and set options
- Options for older and younger children
- Robotic capabilites
- No real options for preschoolers
- More expensive than most options on this list
Meccano has fun, exciting, and interactive building toy options for kids of many ages. Created in 1898, Meccano has perfected the art of making toys that are both enjoyable and educational. Unlike other similar toys, Meccano uses metal strips, axels, wheels gears, nuts, bolts, and a few plastic parts. It also includes robotics in some sets.
For older kids, Meccano offers several fun lines of building toys. Meccano Tech is a line of robots that you build and then program to move and complete different tasks. In this line is are the Meccano Micronoids, a finalist for 2017 Toy of the Year. These STEM toys are so much fun to create and then watch come to life as you program them. The Mecanno Engineering and Robotics line includes aircraft, trucks, cars, motorcycles, and construction equipment for children to put together. There is also a remote control car in this line.
Younger kids will enjoy playing with the Meccano Junior line of toys. These are simpler sets with larger pieces and plastic parts. This line features a variety of vehicle sets. While Meccano recommends Meccano Junior for kids 5 and older, we find the simpler sets could be used by a 3 or 4-year-old.
Kre-O Construction Sets
- Pieces are compatible with LEGOs
- Many fun themed sets
- Bags don’t come sorted or labeled
- No longer being made, so prices will likely go up
If you are looking for a building set that is interchangeable with LEGO pieces, Kre-O is an option. Kre-O is very much like LEGO. It has the following set options: Transformers, Battleship, Star Trek, GI Joe, Dungeons & Dragons, and CityVille Invasion. I must admit that these sets, when assembled, look pretty impressive.
My big concern is that Hasbro stopped production of Kre-O early in 2018. Unfortunately, that means prices have gone up and likely will continue to go up. It will also make it harder to find the set you want. For those reasons, I would personally go with another option on this list. However, if you can find a set at a good price, Kre-O is a fun building toy.
Play Platoon Building Bricks
- Compatible with LEGO bricks
- Look just like LEGOs
- Significantly less expensive than LEGO
- No actual sets, only a container of blocks
- No option for younger kids
If you are looking for a bucket of generic LEGO pieces, this is the one for you. Play Platoon Building Bricks look, feel, and function just like LEGOs, but they cost a small fraction of the price. These bricks come in 10 different colors and can be used interchangeably with LEGO bricks.
There is a lifetime replacement warranty on this building toy, and Play Platoon recommends them for ages 3 and up. We find that the pieces are too small for kids that young, so we recommend them for kids 5 and up. If you are looking for a good building toy for your toddler or preschooler, check out the Mega Bloks on this list.
To be clear: This is a bucket of plain LEGO-type bricks. It is not a specific set to build a specific toy.
Mega Bloks for Toddlers and Preschoolers
- Great for small hands
- High-quality material
- Much less expensive than LEGO DUPLOs (nearly half as expensive)
- Comes in a bag instead of a tub
Mega Bloks are a great alternative to LEGO DUPLOs. These large, colorful plastic blocks are great for kids as young as age 1. Mega Bloks are high-quality and long-lasting. We had the same set last through all four of our kids, and they were still in great shape so we donated them to another family. Mega Bloks makes several different sets for young children including dinosaurs, trains, castles, and more. There are also plain blocks that come in a bag.
Whether your toddler is building a tower or a train, Mega Bloks are a great choice. These large blocks are perfect for small hands. With Mega Bloks costing approximately half the price of LEGO DUPLOs, your wallet will thank you!
Mega Bloks and Mega Construx For Older Kids
- Very similar to LEGOs
- Many fun options
- Much less expensive than LEGOs
- Instructions aren’t always clear
- Some instructions only available by downloading app
Mega Bloks also makes building sets for ages 4 through adult. Some of these sets are branded Mega Blok and some are branded Mega Construx. They are built with bricks almost identical to LEGOs. These Mega Bloks range from small figures of 100 pieces to large structures of several thousand pieces.
The Mega Construx line has dozens of fun themed sets for any child’s taste. From Barbie to Call of Duty, from Pokemon to Halo, from Hot Wheels to Star Trek, and many others there is something for everyone. Unlike the Mega Bloks for younger kids, these are challenging and very fun to put together. Many of the sets come with additional figures and props.
Mega Bloks and Mega Construx are an excellent option for a LEGO alternative. Your child will love them!
Dreambuilder Magnetic Blocks
- Great for kids of all ages
- Safe for even very young kids
- Can create simple or elaborate designs
- Relatively expensive per piece (but pieces are considerably larger than most)
Magnetic blocks are becoming more and more popular with kids of all ages. They are colorful basic shapes that connect through magnetic attraction. There are so many creations that can be made with these blocks. The pieces are large enough for a young child to play with safely. Older children also enjoy the intricate designs that can be created with these magnets.
My husband and I have had fun playing with these blocks with our children (and I may or may not have been caught playing with them by myself!). Some brands of magnetic blocks have lower quality magnets that don’t work well, but the Dreambuilder brand doesn’t disappoint. The price per piece is more expensive than most others on this list. However, because the pieces are large, you don’t need as many.
EMIDO Building Toy
- 30-day guarantee
- Comes with storage bag
- Great value
- No instructions
- Not as durable as other options on this list
This building toy is a set of colorful BPA-free plastic sticks that snap onto pieces of other shapes. Kids can use their imaginations to build any number of objects, structures, animals, or whatever else they can think up. The biggest downside to this toy is the lack of good instructions to help build something specific.
Also, the price per piece is very low, but this toy isn’t as durable as the others on this list. It does come with a 30-day guarantee, though, so you could return it if you don’t like it. I recommend the EMIDO Building Toy for kids 5 and older. It could potentially be a choking hazard for younger kids.
ZOOB Designer Sets
- Larger pieces are easier for small hands
- Many different options
- Remote control sets don’t move very well
- Instructions are hard to follow
ZOOB is a line of building toys that use colorful plastic pieces. The pieces have a ball on one end and a socket on the other so the pieces snap together. ZOOB has three separate product lines.
The ZOOB BuilderZ line has sets for building structures, animals, catapults, and other objects, some with moving parts. ZOOB RacerZ is a line of various vehicles. These vehicles can be pulled back and let go for a race against each other. Finally, ZOOB Galax-Z has space vehicles, aliens, and astronauts. Most of the ZOOB sets have several builds, meaning you can make several different creations from the same set (though usually only one at a time).
The ZOOB toys are fun, but they are definitely not my favorite on this list. My kids have enjoyed Nanoblocks, Meccano, K’NEX and magnetic blocks much more.