Ahh, Christmas…the lights, the trees, the food and all those TOYS. But toys aren’t cheap, and if you have a kid on your list, the last thing you want to do is spend a lot of money on items that don’t sit forgotten in a corner all year long. You don’t even want to spend money on cheap toys that break easily or sit forgotten in a corner either.
You want to spend money on toys with a high use per dollar ratio. Toys that your child will pull out on a regular basis and over a lot of years.
As a former kid and a former day care worker and a current Sunday school teacher, aunt and Mom, I have a pretty good idea of which toys kids play with, at least for the 8 and under set. And the go-to toys in my experience have always been blocks.
Almost every year Jon and I have bought Little Bit one set of blocks or another. She started with soft foam ones that she started knocking down during tummy time. For her first Christmas, she received a brightly colored alphabet set that she could pick up and stack. At one, we gave her a set of pink and purple Megabloks. Over the years we’ve bought cardboard blocks, wooden blocks, Lincoln Logs and Legos.
And she still plays with all of them. Well, maybe not the noisy baby blocks, but she pulls out all the rest. They’ve become bridges and towers and castles and diners. And she shows no signs of stopping anytime soon.
The Benefits of Blocks
I’m not saying blocks don’t have their issues. Blocks scatter all over the floor, and they aren’t fun to step on. But they are sturdy, have tons of replay value, and have a host of educational benefits.
- For younger kids, blocks help develop eye-hand coordination and motor skills.
- They encourage cooperative play with both adults (because they are still fun when you are an adult) and peers. This type of play promotes language development, negotiation skills (“Okay, you can have those, but I need these,”), compromise, and friendship.
- At the same time, blocks can also encourage independent play and self-reliance.
- Blocks introduce kids to physics and engineering. They promote problem solving and math skills (counting, sorting, and geometry.)
- They encourage imaginative play and creativity. Kids can use blocks to make tons of different structures and settings for playing with other toys (even other block sets.)
7 Essential Block Sets for Every Kid
So now that I’ve convinced you that you need some blocks for the kid on your list, I’ll go over a few of the better options we’ve bought over the years. Except the Legos, all of these sets are under $30, and they are good for a variety of ages and developmental stages. And they’ve all been pulled out numerous time for hours of enjoyment.
JohnJaneDoe.com is part of the Amazon affiliate program. That means if you click on one of these links and buy something from Amazon.com, you’ll help us cover our blog costs at no additional cost to you.
I bought these blocks for Little Bit when she was a toddler, and I think I had more fun with them than she did. Because...they’re Tetris-shaped! And they fit together in neat ways, as you would expect Tetris-shaped blocks to do! While not the best for stacking tall towers, they make it easy to build lower to the ground constructions. Maybe even easier than regular wooden blocks do.
Because these blocks are made of foam, they probably aren’t the best choice for kids who still put a bunch of random items in their mouths. I still think they are incredibly fun blocks.
Alphabet blocks are a terrific choice for babies and toddlers. Not only are they the perfect size for little hands to manipulate, but the uniform size makes them easier to stack. Plus, there’s the whole “Teach your kid to kid their letters and numbers” aspect.
These wooden blocks will hold up well to even the toughest of little kids. And it’s a little easier to keep up with the blocks in the bag than the smaller set that comes in the wooden wagon. (We have both. My daughter likes the wagon, but it gets left out and acts like the proverbial banana peel.)
Another nice sturdy wooden set. These have the classic shapes that many of us played with as children. Kids will stretch their problem solving a bit more than with the previous set while they explore concepts of geometry and physics…especially gravity.
The set doesn’t come with a durable storage container, but that’s a minor drawback. Since these will mix easily with other wooden block sets, we just found a little tote for all our blocks and put them in it.
Little Bit’s absolute favorite blocks are the cardboard ones. They provide great props for her dolls; they are easy to stack, and best of all it’s incredibly satisfying to build an enormous big wall and knock it down. I’ve noticed they tend to be the top toy in my Sunday School class of 4, 5 and 6-year-olds as well.
The biggest drawbacks of these types of blocks are storage (they’re bulky), but some parents complain about assembly as well. The blocks come flat and then the adult in the house has to fold the cardboard and put them together. I might have found that a nuisance but I think Jon thought it a bonus.
While we have a different set (the Imaginarium Deluxe Set), the Melissa and Doug set had very good reviews and was less than half the price.
If you loved playing with Legos as a kid and wanted your toddler to get their start, Mega Bloks and Duplo are both solid choices. And while we have a ton of Duplo sets that include princesses and bunny rabbits, Little Bit keeps going back to the cheaper and more generic Mega Bloks. Maybe she feels they give her more options since there are fewer “suggested” builds. Maybe she just finds it easier to find them since they’ve stayed in their sturdy plastic bag for 5 and a half years.
You can get the same set in pink and purple, but like so many products aimed at girls, you may pay as much as 25% more to get it in “the right colors.”
However, I’m a big believer in traditional Legos over Lego Star Wars, Lego Princesses, Lego Minecraft, etc. Buy a kid one of the specific sets, and they’ll build from the directions and the pictures on the box. Buy a kid one of the classic sets, and they’ll try to construct whatever they want to build, not what the child thinks they are supposed to build.
I like this set because it has a lot of pieces and a nice sturdy box to put them in. That’s important because parents can tell you what happens when you step on Legos.
(We bought a different set that has been discontinued, but this is a close match.)
As Little Bit’s gotten older, she likes games as well as blocks, and Jenga combines both. While we’ve adjusted the rules a bit to let her play (she gets to use both hands), she enjoys both winning and losing (because losing means you knock the blocks down!) Best of both worlds!
Plus, Jenga ages up well and is just as much fun for Jon and me to play as it is for Little Bit.
For Replay Value, Buy Blocks
This list barely scratches the surface of the sets of blocks available (or even the sets we have in our house), but for replay value per dollar spent, they are all hard to beat. They all stand up to a lot of use, take no batteries, and don’t make a ton of noise…except when a kid dumps them out to enjoy them.
So if you have a kid or two on your Christmas list, consider some blocks. Maybe they’ll even let you play with them!
What type of toy do you think has the best replay value for the money?