With a houseful of kids, we have tried a lot of different building toys over the years. The kids don’t realize they are learning fine motor skills, planning and problem solving capabilities, and instruction following among several other STEM skills. They just know that building toys are lots of fun to play with. Whether they are playing alone or with friends or siblings, playing with construction toys is always a favorite activity. From toddlers to teens and beyond (including my husband), building toys are a fun way to expand the mind and use creativity at the same time.
While LEGOs are likely the most well known toy in this category, they aren’t the only good option. There hundreds of different LEGO sets out there, but they are quite expensive. We find that many kids enjoy the less expensive alternatives just as much as the name brand.
How to Choose a Construction Toy Set
- Does it come with as many pieces required to build what the child wants? A toy set with few pieces likely won’t get played with for very long. Make sure you choose a set that has enough pieces to keep your child engaged and willing to play time and again.
- Is it the correct developmental level for the child? A toy that is too easy or too difficult for a child to use will be put away or discarded quickly. Look for a toy that will capture the child’s interest and not be outgrown right away.
- Are the pieces made of good, lasting materials? The last thing you want is to spend money on a toy that will be easily broken or ruined. Choose a toy made of safe, quality materials that will last.
- Will your child like building what the set can build? Many kids enjoy different themed sets. There are so many sets out there with different themes including My Little Pony, Star Wars, Transformers, the list goes on. If your child has a specific interest, look for a building set that goes along with that theme.
- Can your child use creativity with the toy? Most building toys, including those on this list, come with instructions for how to build specific things (a rocket ship, building, insect, plane, car, etc.). However, it is also good for children’s developing brains to use their own creativity in building whatever they can imagine building. Many of the kits below can build something specific as well as allowing children to use pieces to build whatever they wish.
13 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.
- Interchangeable with LEGO DUPLO, Mega Bloks, and LEGO bricks
- Puzzle pieces and bricks stay connected to the base
- Follow a template or create your own design
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Only a few sets to choose from
- No option for older children
A great substitute for LEGOs is Brick Mates. This company has two different types of toy–Stack by Numbers and Lock & Learn Puzzles.
The Stack by Numbers are great for kids ages 5-9. Each kit has a square baseplate with a removable background and template kids can use to make a specific picture (puppy, rocket ship, race car, cupcake, or fast food picture). Each kit comes with all needed blocks as well as puffy stickers to complete the picture. There is a plastic frame that can be added at the end if your child wants to display his or her picture. Or, kids can just use the baseplate and the blocks to make their own creations. The Brick Mates website has blank templates that can be printed. Then kids can make their own drawing to use as a template in creating their own masterpiece. Stack by Numbers are compatible with regular LEGO bricks.
Lock & Learn Puzzles are a fun choice for kids ages 2 and up. I love puzzles for preschoolers, but I hate that the pieces fall out of the puzzles and get lost. With Brick Mates, this is no longer a problem! The puzzle pieces lock in place and won’t fall out. That means no more spending hours looking for and sorting out puzzle pieces that have been dumped out by a mischievous toddler! These cute puzzles are great for young kids who are learning about animals, shapes, numbers. With this toy, a background template fits over the baseplate and kids fit the puzzle pieces into the appropriate space on the template. Quick release tabs make it easy to remove the pieces from the baseplate. The template can also be removed and kids can play with the puzzle pieces on the blank baseplate. The Lock & Learn Puzzles are compatiple with LEGO DUPLOs and Mega Bloks.
Brick Mates products come with a 30-day money back guarantee and a lifetime guarantee for manufacturer defects. The quality of Brick Mates is fantastic. The only downside I see with Brick Mates is that they don’t have more products. I look forward to seeing what they offer in the future.
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 11-year-old loves this toy.
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.
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.
VIAHART Brain Flakes
- 500 pieces
- Good quality
- 12 different colors
- A bit tricky to put together
- Too small for younger kids
VIAHART Brain Flakes are another good construction toy for kids. These snowflake shaped plastic pieces that fit together to form an number of different shapes and objects. Each set comes with 500 pieces of 12 different colors as well as a plastic storage container.
These interlocking discs are about 2 inches across. They can be a little bit hard put together because they have to be lined up just right. Therefore, they can be somewhat frustrating for younger kids to use. While the manufacturer recommends these for ages 3 and older, we find they are better for kids over 5.
Brain Flakes come with a booklet with building ideas. There are also more ideas online or your child will also enjoy using his or her imagination to come up with unique creations.
VIAHART offers a 30-day money back guarantee and a 90-day guarantee for manufacturer defects. Be sure you are buying from VIAHART and not from China. Otherwise you will end up with a subpar product.
- 164 pieces
- 30-day money back guarantee
- Lots of fun ideas
- Only e-book instructions
- Many of the e-book ideas can’t be made with just one set
IQ Builder comes with 164 colorful pieces. It contains balls, wheels, wheel connectors, and ball connectors which can be used to make vehicles, structures, animals, and more. The pieces are easy to put together and take apart.
This toy is good for kids ages 5 years and older (it has small parts that aren’t good for younger kids). The plastic is lead-free, BPA-free, and pthalate-free so you can be confident it will be safe for your child to play with. IQ Builder comes in a plastic storage container. However, the container is fairly flimsy and likely won’t last very long.
Rather than a printed manual you will have to download or print the instructional e-books. They contain ideas with beginner, intermediate, and advanced options. Unfortunately, many of the ideas in these books are not possible to make unless you have more than one set of toys.
Overall, this is a pretty good option, but I would recommend one of the toys mentioned above over this one.
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.