When I was growing up, I definitely had a thing for construction toys. We had a set of plain wooden blocks that worked their way into almost every game I played. They were houses, garages, ramps, forts, walls, beds and more. Construction toys allow for open-ended play, which is extremely important for kids to maintain their innate sense of creativity. But they also help with spatial reasoning, logic, and a spectrum of other math and engineering skills. And if you want to talk about self-esteem, it doesn’t get much more empowering than building something recognizable from a jumble of bricks, connectors or other materials. There were some very cool construction toys at Toy Fair this year, ranging from old favorites to new twists. I’m going to share a few highlights here and hope to do more in-depth coverage of them in the future.
Girder & Panel
One of the first booths I stepped into belonged to a family business that was built on a father’s own sense of nostalgia for his childhood. Bridge Street Toys manufactures Girder & Panel, a building set that allows you to create a variety of buildings based on your imagination. The sets, as the name implies, are made up primarily of girders and panels of different sizes, but there are also specialty pieces including roads. Girder & Panel kits come with instructions to make trucks, bridges and buildings, and you can purchase extra pieces as a replacement or to set your imagination free. If you have a budding engineer in your house, and don’t mind the possibility of some wet floors, you should also check out their Hydrodynamic deluxe set, which comes with tanks, valves, pipes and a pump.
My preferred way to see Toy Fair is to wander around and see what I discover. You know never know when you’re going to find a very cool toy from a company you’ve never heard of. Bloco Toys is one of those discoveries. These building sets are colorful, cute and creative. Made out of foam, each of the sets come with multiple creatures to build or you can mix and match to create your own. The set in the picture includes a velociraptor and a pterosaur. Both dinosaurs can be built at the same time.
I didn’t really learn about Tegu at Toy Fair. They’ve been all across the blogosphere with their magnetic blocks and so I added a set to Bug’s wish list. He received them for Christmas from his grandparents and the kids have been enjoying them ever since. Tegu is the type of business I love to support. The blocks are manufactured in Honduras, providing some much-needed and quality jobs to the local economy. And the wood is harvested with responsible practices. The colored blocks are created with a non-toxic, water-based stain, making them safe for even the youngest family members. But a great company isn’t much without a great products and Tegu has that one mastered as well. The blocks add a whole other dimension to building. The magnets inside the blocks allow kids (and adults) to push past some of the gravitational limits of traditional blocks and to create sculptures. My kids pair them up with their regular blocks for some interesting designs. Since Tegu has been known for their live sculpture builds online, I thought I’d share a video instead. This is “The 12 Days of Christmas”, Tegu-style:
One of the best ways to find new products at Toy Fair is to ask friends. I learned about Nanoblocks when another writer insisted that I visit the Ohio Art booth to check them out. Nanoblocks are, for lack of better description, like micro LEGOs. These aren’t your preschoolers blocks, folks. When someone suggested (to me) that they might be a choking hazard, I replied that I thought they might be too small to choke on. That may or may not be true, but the fact is that these are better suited for adults, teens, and older kids who have the find motor skills needed to assemble something so small. The set designs include a variety of animals and some intricate building replicas, among other things. Can’t wait to get my hands on these… for me! This “giant” panda measures a mere 1.5 x 1.625 x 2.625.
Sometimes the best information comes from strangers. While on the bus back to my hotel, I was seated next to a manufacturer’s rep. I asked if he had any must-see clients and he insisted that I check out Laser Pegs. These clear plastic blocks taking building one step further as each block has an LED inside. Connect them together, plug them in and you’ve got a colorfully lit design. The available kits come with instructions to make a variety of designs but, like any quality building set, you can build whatever comes to mind. I read on the Laser Peg website that LEDs are supposed to be good for 100,000 hours (that’s more than 11 years of continuous use), so there’s no worry that they’ll all burn out after a few play sessions.
I would be remiss in my construction toy lineup if I didn’t mention LEGO Bricks. LEGO hosted a lovely event for bloggers in their booth, giving us the chance to see the upcoming 2011 line, as well as to hear what’s new with the company (such as LEGO DUPLO music on iTunes!). I am partial to their newest Ninja toys, but I was also excited to see Cars 2 LEGO sets that aren’t DUPLO. Those are going to be a must-have item for our kids once the new movie is released this summer. There are also some fun new Star Wars toys, some DUPLO Winnie the Pooh sets, and more cool Harry Potter sets.
Disclosure: LEGO hosted a cocktail party and provided some gifts to attendees. There was no promise of coverage, and the opinions contained in this post are my own. I have no relationship with any of the other companies mentioned above.