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Blocks, Gears, Gadgets & Magnets

For little ones hands-on play begins with blocks, while older children can explore hand-made creations using gears, gizmos, gadgets and magnets. No matter what their age, these award-winning products will help promote inventive thinking while providing a greater understanding of how things work.
Maxville Blocks Maxville Blocks
Ages: 0 & Up
ALEX, $43.95

The Maxville Block Set includes thirty double-sided wooden blocks with brightly-colored artwork, patterns and glitter. The attractive, well-made blocks feature faces, arms and feet so that children can create people and creatures of their own design. The blocks' appealing decorations as well as their interesting and unusual shapes are sure to grab the attention of any toddler. In addition to building an infinite variety of structures, many of the shapes are interlocking and double as basic puzzles for curious minds and hands.

Baby Walker Baby Walker
Ages: 10 months & Up
Plan Creations Co., Ltd., $50.00

This sturdy attractive all-wood cart holds wooden blocks of various shapes, sizes and colors. An adjustable handle and rubber wheels allow children to walk behind and push the cart around. For early walkers or those learning to walk, the cart offers stability, which in turn allows them to improve their mobility skills. The blocks help develop motor skills—construction, spatial relationships.

Build ’n Learn ABC Spell! First Builders from Mega Bloks Build ’n Learn ABC Spell! First Builders from Mega Bloks
Ages: 1 - 5 yrs.
Mega Bloks, Inc., $9.99

Mega Bloks Build 'n' Learn ABC Spell includes thirty brightly-colored building blocks with over one hundred letter and beginning word stickers in a sturdy vinyl carrying case for travel and storage. The picture stickers, which are of beginning phonetic words such as dog and cat, are designed in such a way that the correct number of letter blocks fit above or below them. For example, the block with a picture of a dog has three spaces so that a child (or parent) can place the corresponding letters above or below the picture. The set, which can be used alone or in conjunction with other Mega Bloks sets, helps children with letter recognition and early vocabulary development as well as fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, creativity and imaginative play.

BRIO Colored Blocks BRIO Colored Blocks
Ages: 1 & Up
Brio Corporation, $26.99

Playing with blocks is no longer just for preschoolers. By simply adding color, the timeless wooden blocks immediately transform to stylish, broadening their appeal to an older crowd. Parents confessed their temptations to move the blocks from the playroom to the home office.

CitiBlocs Little Builder Rattle Blocs CitiBlocs Little Builder Rattle Blocs
Ages: 2 & Up
CitiBlocs, LLC, $35.00

A clever take on a traditional favorite. Simple design additions to a tried and true toy-the wooden building block-give it a whole new dimension. As a city dweller, my child instantly recognized the simple colorful squares on the blocks as windows and doors. He jumped right into building skyscrapers and whole villages, putting the steps in front of the buildings and adding the roof. The rattle inside of the blocks made for a fun addition to our play. "Instruments!" exclaimed my son when he heard the rattle.

Green Start Stacking & Nesting Blocks Green Start Stacking & Nesting Blocks
Ages: 2 & Up
innovativeKids, $19.99

Made entirely from Earth-friendly materials, the Green Start Stacking & Nesting Blocks are remarkably sturdy-and colorful-for what basically amounts to recycled cardboard. Each of the five sides of the blocks (the sixth is open for nesting) uses colorful illustrations to teach something different: letters, numbers, colors, shapes, and even the names of baby animals. It's pretty impressive just how much they've fit onto the sides of these things. Plus, the nesting / stacking / building aspect teaches the concepts of size and spatial awareness.

Tegu Blocks Tegu Blocks
Ages: 3 - 10 yrs.
Tegu, $125.00

Tegu won the hearts of our parent testers. Its simplicity accounted for this, as the toy combines basic wood and magnets. The set also promotes a clear message of "create, capture, share", while also providing clear support for sustainability. Tegu products are made in Honduras from recycled hardwood. When building is complete, children can take a picture and upload it to the Tegu site. The website mirrors the product's simplicity - it is easy to use, clean, and functional. The discoveries with this toy never end.

Beautiful Building Blocks Beautiful Building Blocks
Ages: 3 & Up
Timberworks Toys, $79.00

The Timberworks block set is a simple set of wooden blocks. The simplicity is what we enjoy the most about this toy. It immediately captured the attention of testers. They played with it for several hours on the first day, and even very young children enjoyed attempting to make structures with them. They came with an attractive tote bag for storage, a definite plus. The price was reasonable for such a durable set of blocks. These blocks are not colorful, noisy or flashy, just good, old-fashioned fun and we glady recommend them.

SmartMax Stunt SmartMax Stunt
Ages: 3 & Up

The SmartMax Magnetic Discovery set might seem too pricey. However, after opening it up and watching my children play with it, the price seems justified. The packaging is creative and inviting, the parts are solid and easy enough to manipulate that a toddler can have as much fun creating a simple shape as a pre-schooler or older child can making a complex 3d shape. The full color instruction manual helped me deliver a basic lesson on magnetism to my boys. The manual then gives full color photos for shapes that can be copied by kids at each developmental level.

Superstructs Makin' Tracks Superstructs Makin' Tracks
Ages: 3 & Up
WABA Fun, LLC, $44.95

Build an off-road vehicle to explore the backcountry, a freight train to transport cargo, a dragster, or a tow truck to take the vehicles in for maintenance. Durable plastic and soft foam pieces (160 in all) make this colorful 21st century version of Tinker Toys&#trade; a highway of fun and playful learning.

Playshapes Playshapes
Ages: 4 & Up
Miller Goodman, $150.00

There is a power in PlayShapes, a toy that inspires free expressiveness and artistic exploration through its modern and playful design. While these are in its purest interpretation a classic building block set, the primary colors on a few pieces resembles eyes, and asymmetrical shapes really bring this toy a cut above the other building block sets. These very things make it an artistic architectural toy rather than just another set of blocks.

Quadrilla Basic Set Quadrilla Basic Set
Ages: 4 & Up
Hape International Inc., $49.95

This heirloom-quality, marble run set offers hours of creative thinking, open-ended play, not to mention some primary lessons in the laws of gravity and physics. This basic set includes 50 marbles, one wooden helix, 4 solid wood tracks, and an assortment of colored blocks, small ramps, and connectors.

TikeStix Clubhouse TikeStix Clubhouse
Ages: 4 & Up
MGA Entertainment, Inc., $49.99

The Little TikeStix Clubhouse will be a welcome addition to a home's collection of building toys. It includes fifty large, multi-colored building pieces that snap together via connector pieces. Kids love that they can make and create structures big enough and sturdy enough to be used as play forts for days.

See Inside Inventions See Inside Inventions
Ages: 5 & Up
$13.99 (Hard Cover)   

With text by Alex Frith and illustrations by Colin King, See Inside Inventions lets readers do just that. The book explains who invented the engines, flying machines, electrical systems, medicines and other technologies used today. It explains that there are different types of inventions, too. Some are a combination of existing ideas, some are inspired by recent discoveries, some are improvements on existing inventions, and others are totally new. Each page of the book has flaps that reveal engines inside of planes, the history of the Kodak camera, and the design of Edison's lightbulb. Children will learn the date that important inventions came to be, who invented them, and the scientific reason that they work.

The LEGO Ideas Book The LEGO Ideas Book
Ages: 5 & Up
Author: DK Publishing  
DK Publishing, $24.99 (Hard Cover)   

The LEGO Ideas Book offers six chapters: Planes, Trains, & Automobiles; Town & Country; Out of this World; In Days of Old; A World of Adventure; and Make & Keep. Children will learn to build helicopters, homes, trees, robots, castles, pirate islands, mosaics, board games, and more. The book does not provide step-by-step instructions, nor does it shy away from using hard to find LEGO pieces. As noted in the introduction, the book doesn't "show building steps or brick lists because it's unlikely you will have all the bricks for each model." That's OK, though, because the images here serve to inspire rather than provide specific instructions.

Lego City Forest Police Station Lego City Forest Police Station
Ages: 6 - 12 yrs.
The LEGO Group, $79.99

In this terrific LEGO set, the scenes (a forest police station with 3 police officers, a crook, a bear, and other fun aspects) encourage imaginative play rather than the reenacting of a familiar storyline. No guns or other types of weapons are included. Testers role-played good-guy, bad-guy, and the set prompted many discussions about what police officers do when they find a bad guy, and how to handle the situation. Each building, character or mini-environment is bagged separately, with its own set of instructions,

7744 Police Headquarters 7744 Police Headquarters
Ages: 6 & Up
The LEGO Group, $89.99

The Lego Police Headquarters is a large building set, with supplies to create a multi-story police office and prison, a prisoner van, a car, and a motorcycle. The set includes seven male mini-figures and dozens of tiny accessories for cops-and-robbers play sessions. The construction phase encourages mechanical skills and spatial relations; the details (such as keys next to the prison cells, and toilets in the cells) delight the children as they build.

OgoBild Nexus OgoBild Nexus
Ages: 6 & Up
OgoSport LLC, $29.99

OgoBuild makes it easy for kids to concoct inventive creatures, sculptures or whatever other wacky contraptions they can think of using durable plastic parts. Shapes in this set include a bouncy spiral, orbs, silly hands and feet, paddle-like parts and a number of connectors. Pieces attach by locking into place using a ball and joint mechanism that is easy for small hands to manipulate. For additional creativity, children can place the reusable stickers on their objects giving them eyes, mouths or other designs.

Gizmos & Gadgets Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why) Gizmos & Gadgets Creating Science Contraptions That Work (& Knowing Why)
Ages: 7 - 14 yrs.
Author: Jill Frankel Hauser   Illustrator: Michael Kline  
Williamson Publishing, $12.95

Using simple household items to create toys that spin, fling, collide, and whiz, kids will grasp the basics of concepts of gravity, inertia, balance, and energy. Every page is jam-packed (in age-appropriate vocabulary) with factoids, fun facts about famous inventors, and inspiration for science lovers of all ages.

Electricity & Magnetism Electricity & Magnetism
Ages: 8 & Up
Thames & Kosmos, $44.95

Electricity and Magnetism is an excellent science learning and experiment kit designed to teach some difficult concepts. The kit includes 64 connectors, switches, lights, wires, magnets and other components necessary to conduct 62 activities described in the 64-page experiment manual. Readily available household items (scissors, ruler, tape, etc.) are necessary to conduct some experiments.

LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean
Ages: 10 & Up
Disney Interactive Studios, $39.99

If you're familiar with Lego's previous movie-to-videogame adaptations you know that, despite the predominance of Lego blocks everywhere (including the speechless characters' heads), these games rise above typical action-adventure, puzzle-solving, collecting-stuff platform games. This one, based on Disney's Pirates of the Caribbean series, is no exception. Mixing gaming entertainment with a little educational value and the popular Pirates of the Caribbean characters, this is a fun kid-friendly videogame that, like the films and previous Lego titles, has a playful touch of blockhead violence and mischief. It is a pirate adventure, after all.

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