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Best Toys For The Holidays - Blocks and Building Toys

Posted Nov 25 2009 10:00pm
A few years ago I wrote a series of posts on the "best toys for the holidays"...from a Not Quite Crunchy Perspective. Since then, my child has aged...so I'm a bit more hip on toys for elementary age kids and I was involved with a contest to find the "Best Green Toy".

So I thought I'd update a few of my "Best Toys" posts. First, if you're looking for great eco toys for upcoming events - check out theBest Green Toys Facebook Page. there are over 50 great green toys listed here and you can add your own.

And now, please see my updated post on "Best Blocks". The last part on older kids is where I've added a few new favorites!


Yesterday, we scored a big box of unit blocks on Craig’s List for $50.00, an early Christmas present for The Hamster. I was ecstatic. I danced around. I gloated. I was perhaps a bit silly. My DH commented, “They must be gold encrusted.” when he observed my glee.

I was perhaps a bit too jubilant. But this is important. Really. Unit blocks are expensive. Unit blocks are important. Unit Blocks are….blocks!

Blocks are one toy recommended by most child development experts. They are open ended. They promote creative play. They aid in developing mathematical skill, spatial relations and physics. They demonstrate the effects of gravity; promote social interaction and improve hand-eye coordination. What more could you want in a toy?

As the Back to Basics movement gains ground this year and parents look beyond electronic toys to traditional toys that actually ARE educational, blocks may make a come back. Looking for something for the children on your holiday shopping list? Try some of the blocks on this list



For infants, small, soft blocks are for rolling, stacking and most importantly knocking over. As they get a little older they will find new ways to incorporate them into their play as doll accessories and cannonballs.

1. Non-toxic (duh), fabric blocks and/or made from organic cotton are best, since we know they’ll chew them.

2. Foam blocks are another choice, though be sure that they are rated for infants or you'll be picking bits of foam out of your little one's mouth.


Toddlers, with their better fine motor control enjoy wooden stacking blocks. They also begin to recognize the folly of stacking a large rectangular block on top of a small triangular. This makes the following two good choices.

3. Standard square alphabet blocks are perfect for the younger toddler. The constant shape makes stacking easier and less frustrating for this age group.

4. This is also the time to introduce a small set of mixed wooden blocks. Most major toy retailers carry these types of blocks but they may be in the back of the store or section.


The preschool and early elementary years are the perfect time to have blocks of all sizes around.

5. Oversize blocks of foam or

6. Cardboard are perfect for building forts, making towers and creating castles, a popular activity with this gang. These blocks need lots of room so be sure to find a good storage container or you’ll be tripping over them on a regular basis.

7. Unit Blocks, which I’ve written about here, are perhaps the most carefully calibrated blocks around. Designed by Caroline Pratt, a well known educator specifically to aid in teaching the 4 mathematical functions, a good set will set you back a bit but will be played with for years.

8. On the other end of the spectrum are Waldorf school recommended, tree blocks. Odd shaped and including the tree bark, these smaller blocks invite fantasy play and spark imagination.

9. Action blocks and build your own marble runs are also great for this age. Note I mention, “build your own”. Pre-build marble runs are what we call “10 second toys” around here. You play with them for a day or so then you’re done. A marble run with lots of variations provides greater play value.


Is nine too old for blocks? How about twelve or Fifteen? Well no, not for these blocks. As children begin their study of higher mathematics, physics, ancient civilizations too, blocks can be a great tool to enhance their learning!


10. Architectural blocks include shapes perfect for building castles, palaces, skyscrapers and pyramids. The smaller size makes these more appropriate for older children and creations can be displayed on a shelf or dresser top.

11. For master builders, brick building sets that include mortar for permanence may be attractive. Note: encourage the reusable version of play first or you may find your wallet a little lighter as you buy more and more sets

12. Legos - yes, they've been around for years. Yes, they have integrated a number of commercial characters and the sometimes violent themes may not be appropriate for younger children, but they remain a super building toy and one that lasts for years.

13. K'nex - I was only introduced to these this year, but they've found a place on our toy shelf because they offer a classic open-ended building toy with more options for three dimensional play than some of the standard blocks and Legos. (See a recent review here.)

14. Lincoln Logs - I have to add these because they remain a favorite in our house. I find my son uses them less as a straight building toy than as a prop for his storytelling - that's a good thing as it extends building into imaginary play!


Did I forget any? Do your kids play with blocks? what good ideas do you have?

More Holiday gift Ideas here

More Thursday Thirteen



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