2022 Holiday Gift Guide-Open Ended Building Toys

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Over the course of my career, I have come to realize how important it is for kids to engage in more open-ended play. Kids tend to be over scheduled and always being told what to do and how to do which is great for some kids but play should be a time of exploration, creativity and using their imagination. When children engage in open-ended play, they are being given the opportunity to work on developing some major life skills that will help them become more independent as they grow up. It’s been proven that open-ended play helps with not only developing fine motor, manipulation and gross motor skills but helps with developing language skills, encouraging independence and helps build their confidence and self-esteem. Open-ended play also encourages problem solving, critical thing and helps with organizational skills.
The toys below are ones that are high-quality and will grow with your child. The sign of a good building toy is that it can engage younger and older children and it can be used differently depending on a child’s skill set and stage of development. 

  1. Design and Build Water Blocks-Bath time doesn’t have to just be about getting clean and can and should be a time for kids to explore and play when time allows. These floating blocks are a great bath toy and a great way for young kids to learn about colors and shapes. This set of 30 blocks float in the water and when they get wet, they stick together so kids can build and create. In addition to being a great sensory experience, kids work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improve hand-eye and bilateral coordination and encourage creativity and imagination skills. The set also comes with a mesh storage bag and a guide with building ideas.
  2. Stretch and Connect Builders-I have a set similar to this at the office that is always a big hit when I pull it out for the kids. This set of 94 different colored pop-tubes, wheels, bases and so much more will motivate your little ones to use their imagination to make all kinds of creations. Kids use mini pop-tubes to connect different shape bases to make vehicles, creatures or whatever comes to their mind. I love the mini pop-tubes and how great they are for working on improving fine motor and manipulation skills, increases grasp strength, works on improving hand-eye and bilateral coordination and visual motor and visual perceptual skills. Kids will also learn about colors, shapes and size when they play with these building toys.
  3. Yookidoo Spin ’N Sprinkle Water Lab Bath Toy -Another amazing toy to make bath time more fun for your little ones! This 3-piece set has an activity center that suction cups to the bathtub wall and a large numbered test tube container that also attaches to the wall. Kids pour the water into the cups and it makes the eyeballs spin, water spits out of the mouth and spin the propeller. This allows for learning through sensory exploration while working on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, works on improving hand-eye and bilateral coordination and teaches them about cause and effect. If you want to add a little fun to bath time and this toy, drop one of those bath bombs that change the color of the water to work on color recognition.
  4. Plus Plus -Plus Plus blocks have become one of my favorite gifts to not only give to kids, but to recommend to families when they are asking for ideas for kids. First of all, they are a great open-ended building toy that can be taken on the go easily. They have two sizes: larger, chunkier Plus Plus blocks for younger kids or those who delayed manipulation skills and smaller ones for older kids who have stronger manipulation skills. You can buy Plus Plus blocks in tubes or larger sets and they come with building prompts but I always encourage kids to try and create something from their imagination. Plus Plus blocks are awesome for developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, works on developing spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination and improves visual motor and visual perceptual skills and works on problem solving. For older kids who are up for a challenge, be sure to check out their new line of Plus Plus Puzzle By Numbers which are great for working on executive functioning skills in older kids. https://www.plusplususa.com/collections/puzzle-by-number
  5. Marble Run-There are a lot of different marble runts to choose from, both wooden and plastic, and while I tend to lean towards wooden toys in general, I have found the plastic ones easier to manipulate and for kids to build with more success. Spend the extra money on a good set, like this one from National Geographic, because this toy will be used a million times over! First of all, marble runs are great for playdates and siblings to build together to work on turn taking, compromise and accepting other people’s ideas. It’s a great toy to work on problem solving, improves spatial awareness, organizational skills and task completion. Additionally, kids work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills while also working on improving hand-eye coordination, bilateral coordination, visual motor and visual perceptual skills. The best part is watching how proud kids are when they complete building and watch the marbles go through the maze.
  6. Magna-Tiles-These will never not be on my gift guide. I am obsessed with Magna-Tiles and it is still one of my go-to gifts for all the kids in my life. These are worth every penny you spend and will last you forever. I bought them for my daughter when she was very little and at 12 1/2, she will sometimes pull them out and they are in perfect condition. Over the course of the last 10 years, they have expanded their product lines and have added Magna-Tile animals, cars and other structures that allow for more interactive play. Magna-Tiles can work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, encourages visual motor and visual perceptual skills, hand-eye and bilateral coordination and works on focus, attention, motor planning and organizational skills. Kids can work on identifying and matching colors and shapes while sorting the pieces out. If you have a child with language delays, you can work on improving language skills through building scenes and playing with figurines or whatever they want.
  7. Flower Garden Building Toys-This is a jazzed up version of a tradition pegboard which is a staple tool for occupational therapists. I’ve been on the lookout for something a bit more engaging and motivating that will hold the attention of younger kids more than the traditional pegboard and this one definitely does that. One of the things I like about this open-ended pegboard set is that it allows kids to choose what and how they will make their flower garden. They can make any combination so it can be a different play experience every single time. Kids work on developing fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improve visual motor and perceptual skills, hand-eye and bilateral coordination while encouraging focus, attention, planning, creativity and imagination skills. They are also a great way to teach kids about a variety of concepts such as colors, shapes, size and so much more.
  8. Montessori Lens Blocks-These beautiful wooden blocks with a colored lens built in are what I would call an investment piece. A good block set will last a lifetime and is worth the investment. This set of 56 different shaped wooden blocks are high quality and will work on developing so many skills. Building with them is a fun way to teach kids about shapes and colors and you can have kids work on cognitive skills such as matching and sorting colors and shapes. The benefits of building with blocks are endless and include improving fine motor and gross motor skills, improve visual motor skills, hand-eye and bilateral coordination, encourages spatial awareness, motor planning, problem solving, creativity and imagination. Building with blocks is a great social activity and helps work on turn-taking, learning how to work together with peers and how to compromise with ideas. An added bonus to this set of blocks is that it comes in a sturdy wooden storage when your children aren’t playing with them.
  9. Clixo Building Toys-I’ve been wanting to try this out for a while and finally picked some up and just love them. First of all, they are great because they are flat, lightweight and perfect for on-the-go fun. Using 8 different 2D shapes, kids can make 3D creations. They are great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, improves visual motor skills, encourages hand-eye and bilateral coordination and works on developing executive functioning skills such as focus, planning and organizational skills. While the sets include visual building ideas, kids should be encouraged to use their imagination when building with them. For kids who have a hard time coming up with their own ideas, you can brainstorm with them before they build about what they can make, what pieces they will use and what they will do first to start their creation. 
  10. Bristle Blocks-I love when toys of my childhood are still desirable to kids today. That’s the nice thing about good open-ended building toys like Bristle Blocks. I love these blocks for so many reasons, but mostly because they work on improving grasping and manipulation skills while working on increasing grasp strength and offer a sensory and tactile experience. They are also great for working on improving hand-eye and bilateral coordination and improving visual motor and perceptual skills as they are building, especially if they are following visual directions. Bristle Blocks are a great open-ended toy to encourage creativity, imagination and play skills.
  11. Branch Blocks-Another fun set of building blocks that would be a perfect addition to your child’s playroom that encourage open-ended play. Kids can practice building, stacking and creating using the 36 wooden branch blocks that are different shapes and have different textures. They can work on problem solving and spatial awareness as they build and play with these blocks. I suggest you find some cute wooden animals and have your kids build structures and creations around them. This will work on improving play skills, language skills and if played with other children, can work on turn taking, accepting ideas and being flexible in play.
  12. Blockaroo Magnetic Blocks-I think you have figured out by now that I am a big fan of magnetic blocks. I initially became drawn to them when I was working with younger kids who had more significant fine motor and coordination delays and I loved how they were able to have so much more success with magnetic blocks than regular blocks. Blockaroos are great because they are perfect for little hands and can grow with children as they get older and develop more skills. They say they are good for children 18 months and older but with supervision, they are a great cause and effect building material for younger kids who are ready to explore and play with toys. They are foam covered magnetic block that magically stick to each other. A nice feature is that they can go in water making bath time more entertaining for kids. Additionally, building with these blocks are great for working on improving fine motor, grasping and manipulation skills, works on developing visual motor skills, hand-eye and bilateral coordination skills and encourages problem solving, spatial awareness, creativity and imagination skills.

These are just a few of my favorite open-ended building toys. There were so many other sets I wanted to include so if you don’t see something that you think would be great for your child or someone else you are gifting this year, please email me at otmeghan@gmail.com and I will give you specific suggestions. One of the great things about building toys is that they will grow with your children. You will notice that many of the suggested items are a bit pricier and that is because I highly recommend getting the name brand because these are what I call an investment toy and will last you forever if well taken care of. I can tell you that I have my daughters Magna-Tiles, Plus-Plus Blocks and so many other building toys (TeguGrapat sets, several Grimm’s Wooden Toy Sets and SO much more) are still in perfect condition. I have even brought some to work and even with lots of play, they withstand the wear and tear. As always, I like to end my posts with the reminder to support your local toy stores and see what you can buy there. My New York City favorites are Lulu’s Cuts and Toys, Annie’s Blue Ribbon General Store, Norman and Jules, Little Things Toy Store, West Side Kids and Stationery and Toy World. If you have a favorite local toy store, comment and share it with all of my readers!

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