Thursday 17 January 2019

10 Of The Best Construction Toys For Future Engineers #YearOfEngineering

It doesn't take much to spot that here at The Brick Castle we are huge fans of construction toys and we like to try everything. Construction is brilliant for encouraging imagination and confidence. It develops problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination. finger strength and it's a brilliant way to learn some of the skills needed to become an Engineer.

2019 has been labelled as the Year Of Engineering and it's about time because the other STEM subjects (science, technology and maths) get a much better press. What we don't always realise though, is just how much relies on engineers. They are the people who decide what we can safely and sensibly build or make, what quantities of materials we'll need, how we should start and how to test the end result.

The people who built the railways were engineers, the people who designed and built your car are engineers. Your Nan was an engineer when she made up her own recipe for biscuits. We really need engineers....

Here, in no order at all, are 10 of my family's favourite construction toys to support Engineering Skills and STEM Education...

1. LEGO (DUPLO 18m+/LEGO Age 3+)
Sets start around £3. LEGO reviews.

The obvious construction toy for children and adults alike, with a beautiful progression from chunky, easily-built models at 18 months through to amazingly intricate and beautifully engineered designs for age 14+. LEGO offers the freedom to explore and learn building skills and techniques, then take them and create something entirely of your own design, and it can be as complex as you want.

A fabulous example of just how clever LEGO creations can be is the recent LEGO Ideas model - The Pop-Up Book (set 21315). Yes, it really pops up when you open it. It's so beautiful and works so well. Engineering genius. This isn't it, this is one of my children's favourite sets - and they'll demonstrate some great engineering...

2. Magformers (Age 3+)
Sets start around £17. Magformers review.

Magformers are plastic geometric shapes with a very safely encased rotating magnet inside each edge. Simply placing them side by side creates the join and it's amazing just how strong you can make your creations, as in this Sky Track set.

Magnets make attaching and detaching elements so incredibly simple that they are a joy to work with. Your model may not withstand being carried about, but it goes up and comes back down in seconds, so there's no real chance for frustration, even for younger engineers.

3. Simbrix (Age 3-5+)
Sets start around £20. Simbrix review.

We first discovered Simbrix a couple of years ago and they are brilliant fun. Small specially-shaped plastic bricks which slot together on 4 sides really easily. They're brilliant for fiddlers because of the scale. You can make a 2D image of almost anything and 3D is even possible, although really tricky.

There are loads of colours available now and you can keep your creations, but you don't need a peg board or glue or an iron or anything like that, the bricks just hold together really well because of the slot-in fixing system. This makes them very portable...

4. Meccano (Juniors 5+/ Regular 8+)
Sets start around £20. Meccano reviews.

Everyone recognises Meccano. Those tiny nuts, bolts and plates which can be used to create just about anything. It's actually quite tricky and a great one for building dexterity and hand strength. It even comes with it's own tools - which teach children skills they'll use their entire lives.

Meccano have been very clever because it's a classic that has also moved with the times. There are loads of traditional non-powered sets to suit all budgets, as well as some really amazingly intricate models and models which are full of technology.

5. Plus Plus (Age 3+)
Sets start around £20. Plus Plus review.

We were again some of the first people in the UK to play with Plus Plus and it's been used regularly for years now. Specially shaped plastic pieces which fit together like a jigsaw. You can use it to create 2D and 3D shapes and there are now lots of sets with lots of colours available in the UK.

Ideal for fidgets because of the size, although it does really need a table to create larger models, Plus Plus is great for anyone to play with because it still offers a challenge whatever your age. This is an olden days little blurry video from early 2013, but it still gets the point across... The Toadstool though is sadly no longer with us.

6. Engino (Age 8+)
Sets start around £20. Engino review.

I really was smitten by Engino as soon as I spotted it, and the STEM Heroes Greenhouse particularly took my eye. A very different build system which uses chunky, heavier duty parts and very few small fixings, to create larger working models that children can continue to use and learn from.

Designed by a genuine time-served engineer and teacher, these models are really sturdy and the thought that goes into each ongoing project is massive. We are growing chilli peppers in ours!

7. Sticklebricks (Age 18m+)
Sets start around £15. Tami's Sticklebricks review.

Sticklebricks are an absolutely brilliant tool for very young children to start their engineering skills. The pieces slot together really simply and your child doesn't need advanced fine motor skills or a brilliant eye for design to create something awesome. It'll still build their hand strength and teach them loads of valuable techniques though...

I don't have any Sticklebricks, so Tami from Mummy Of 2+1 has kindly allowed me to use her photos. Unlike a lot of the construction toys listed here, it will be pushed aside for more complex construction and my boys stopped playing with it a while ago. It does last for years though, so it can be passed on or put away for Grandchildren...

8. Clementoni (Age 8+)
Sets start around £30. Clementoni review.

Clementoni are another company just arriving in the UK, but hugely popular abroad. The models use smaller and slightly more delicate pieces to build really complex models that can be easily adapted in all kinds of ways.

Combining electronics and construction, these kits have alternative builds in various difficulty levels to teach new skills and grow with your child. They make working, powered models that are exciting. This Educational Robotics Laboratory Kit has the parts and instructions to make a robot who can walk around and find the correct box, pick it up and bring it to you. We really like the Preying mantis though...

9. GraviTrax (Age 8+)
Starter sets around £50. GraviTrax review.

Our 'Toy Of The Year' last year and ridiculously moreish, GraviTrax takes your marble track in a whole new modern direction. This is so much fun that we had it on the living room table for about 6 weeks and EVERYONE wanted to play.

The clever card baseboard ensures distances are correct and keeps everything in place, all the other parts just drop into position, so assembly, repairs, rebuilds and tidying up take moments. Changing your track is infinite fun, and there's even an app. to design before you build. The price of GraviTrax is fantastic - only around £50 for the Starter Set, which frankly gives you plenty to play with.

10. Technokits: Interplay (Age 8+)
Sets start around £8. Interplay reviews.

Interplay have a brilliant range of card based Technokits which quite quickly create powered vehicles your child can be proud of. The prices are fantastic for what you get and the little vehicles work really well.

At that price you really don't mind your child embellishing the model or just taking the whole thing apart and using the parts to create something entirely different...

Here are some Amazon UK links for the ranges above. All links are affiliate, which never costs you anything*.

Most of the products shown were sent to us originally for review. I was under no obligation to include any of them and simply chose our favourite 10. *Amazon links are affiliate because no-one pays me to write this and I have to feed the cat somehow! I earn a few pence if you buy through my link, but you don't pay any extra.

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