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9 Toys Similar to Tinker Toys

This is a close look at a bunch of wooden vintage tinker toys on the ground.

When our little bundles of joy sit up, babble, crawl, and play with their toys, we watch in amazement at how accomplished they are. The science of child development has advanced quite a bit in recent years. Child care professionals can tell us what a child is learning at any given age.

When you put toys like tinker toys into little hands, they’re learning several different things at the same time. To parents, tiny people are just connecting the dots, so to speak. What is actually happening is:

A toddler playing with big colorful building blocks.
  • the child is learning to be creative. If they can imagine it, they can make it happen or build it
  • the child is learning thinking skills and problem-solving. When s/he’s building with blocks or other toys, they see a structure in their minds. They play around until they see what fits and what doesn’t fit into their mental picture. The trial and error of construction give the child a chance to figure out the best way to make the structure work. They will learn about its weaknesses, learn to identify why the weaknesses won’t work, and learn how to rearrange the toys to make them work
  • the child will develop spatial skills. When s/he learns how the pieces fit together, s/he will learn their place in the space in which s/he’s working. His/her structure can tower upward in space or spread out in space. Critical thinking will tell the child if a building piece will fit, or if it will cause the structure to collapse or form the shape they see in their minds. They will learn if it doesn’t work, and how to adjust their method to achieve the outcome they wish
  • the child is unwittingly preparing for later learning in math and science. Will the structure collapse or remain upright? Will one large piece be the same as two smaller pieces? What if I have pieces left over? What causes the pieces to collapse or balance? What is gravity?
  • Hand-eye coordination and motor skills, both gross and fine, are developed as your child sits up, stretches to reach a piece, grasps it with the tiny muscles in his/her hand, learning how to see the piece s/he wants and to reach for it, and the awareness of what they’re doing
  • communications and working with someone is fostered when a small child works together in a group or one on one to build something. The child learns to speak, communicate his/her ideas, and work together to make their shared vision happen. This teaches the child confidence and self-esteem.

Toys Like Tinker Toys 

Building toys are everywhere; just go into the toy department of any store, and you’ll see a bewildering variety of building toys. Depending on the age of your little bundle of joy, if s/he can grasp the pieces, and if you have the room for him/her to create, then we have a list of toys like tinker toys for your consideration.

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LEGO DUPLO My First Number Train 10847 Learning and Counting Train Set Building Kit and Educational Toy for 2-5 Year Olds (23 Pieces)

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Made by the Lego company, Duplo is a bigger, wider building block for tiny hands. They’re harder to swallow, too. Although made specifically for smaller children, they can be used as kids graduate in size to other toys. Duplo and Lego fit together, so as the kids grow, they can build with both.

First appearing in 1977, the word duplo means double in Latin. Since the blocks are double the size of Legos, the name made sense. Duplo blocks can be bought wherever toys are sold.


A toddler playing with colorful Lego toys.

No list of toys would be complete without a mention of the famous building blocks, Lego. Beloved by children everywhere, they’re the bane of feet when they’re stepped upon, and a learning experience of budding engineers. Red, yellow, blue, green, and white, the blocks are meant to snap together into any shape kids can imagine. (Psst, kids: they make great airplanes!)

Lego is a toy company in Denmark whose building blocks have kept kids occupied since 1935. Although building blocks are good for small children’s learning skills, Lego builds muscle strength in tiny hands. This makes it easier for a small child to hold a crayon or pencil for different types of creativity.


ZOOB BuilderZ S.T.E.M. Challenge Moving Building Modeling System, 220 Piece Kids Construction Set

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There’s a lot of speculation about where the name came from. Some think it’s the nickname of Brigham Young University students, while their University of Utah cousins are called by another nickname.

Whatever the case, Zoobs are building toys for small children. They form joints in which the pieces can actually move and spin around. Want to build a horse that runs in a race? Want to build a helicopter that shoots down the bad guys? How about a T-Rex that eats up all the wild animals that destroyed your camp? Maybe the chopper can shoot down the T-Rex.

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These building toys fall even more firmly into the STEAM description: Science, Technology, Engineering, Art, and Math. Children learn fine motor skills, following directions (if the child is using the owner’s manual,) as well as creative thinking and hand-eye coordination. Even older kids love playing with Zoob as a creative outlet. And, hey, they’re fun.

Lincoln Logs 

This is a close look at vintage Lincoln Logs toys for building cabins.

This building toy has been used by children since 1916. The toys were developed by German educator Friedric Froebel, who also developed the idea of kindergarten. It was American architect John Lloyd Wright, son of the famous Frank Lloyd Wright, who manufactured and marketed his own version of the Lincoln Logs.

He and his father were working on Japan’s first earthquake-proof hotel. Wright took this idea and improved upon it, making his toys notched to withstand the rough and tumble ways of children. Among his many ideas for log cabins was the one in which Abraham Lincoln was born and lived. That’s how Lincoln Logs was born.

Erector Sets 

A young boy playing with colorful building blocks.

These toys were first manufactured in 1913 following inspiration from its originator. He envisioned little boys (little girls being house-bound in those years) building towering structures. In 1924, the toy was revamped to include motors. Kids could now build steam shovels, Ferris wheels, trains, and hot air balloons (at that time known as Zeppelins.) Erector sets were the first toys ever advertised. The toy was discontinued in 1980. However, you can find them online as well as in toy and department stores at holiday times as a special treat.

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Magnetized Building Sets 

Blockaroo Magnetic Foam Building Blocks 

Blockaroo Magnetic Foam Building Blocks - STEM Construction Toys for Boys and Girls, Soft Foam Blocks Develop Early Learning Skills, The Ultimate Bath Toys for Toddlers & Kids - Windmill Set

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Made to be used at bath time, children 18 months and older will have a blast fitting these magnetized shapes together to create wonders. The blocks float, so the child won’t have to search the bottom of the tub for their toys. Built with STEAM in mind, the child will learn shapes, colors, and creative thinking as well as engineering skills. Available online as well as in toy and department stores.

MagnaTiles And Picasso Tiles 

PicassoTiles 60 Piece Set 60pcs Magnet Building Tiles Clear Magnetic 3D Building Blocks Construction Playboards - Creativity beyond Imagination, Inspirational, Recreational, Educational, Conventional

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These magnetic building toys came out at roughly the same time. They each come in about 30 and 100 piece tiles. Consisting of different geometric shapes and basic colors, the child will learn design, architectural principles, and learn about magnetic divergence. Best suited to age three and up, a child will learn STEAM skills, spatial skills, and touch or tactile skills. Available online as well as in toy and department stores.

Magformers Magnetic Challenger Building Blocks 

Magformers Challenger Set (112-pieces) Deluxe Magnetic Building Blocks, Educational Magnetic Tiles Kit , Magnetic Construction shapes STEM Toy Set - 63077

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Meant for children aged three and up, Magformers can be used to build a ball, an animal, a Batmobile (well, that’s just me,) and dozens more imaginative things. As the child puts together the shapes, s/he’ll be learning plane geometry. S/he’ll be using hexagrams, pentagons, squares, and triangles. S/he’ll have wheels to put on cars. S/he’ll have just the right pieces to build a rocket to launch from a rocket launcher. Available online and at toy and department stores.

Other Building Toy Ideas 

One of the first things we do when our babies begin to sit up is to place wooden building blocks, wooden sticks, or plastic building blocks in front of them. I remember being amazed at what my little boy could do with my pots and pans, wooden spoons, and, believe it or not, the plastic scooper off the broom.

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It’s funny what small children will play with when their building toys sit abandoned in the middle of the floor. They don’t always need a tinkertoy set to tinker. Creative thinking and imaginative play can turn your pots and pans and wooden spoons into a marching band, a trap for a Road Runner, or even cooking at Mom’s favorite restaurant when you take him with you.

History Of Building Toys 

This is a close look at a homemade wooden toy truck.

Did you know that wooden alphabet blocks began in the 1600s? John Locke formulated them. Building toys evolved throughout the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries until the brand names we know and love today took their place in building toy history. The first combined language, spatial skills, and social development. This evolved into mathematical skills, creative thinking, problem-solving, and physical development.

Up until WWII, construction toys prepared little boys for their life’s work. Following WWII, however, building toys took on more personality. They came in vibrant colors, different methods of connection, and they were suitable for children of any age.


Are Building Toys Made In China Or In The U.S.A? 

As parents, the safety of their children is of the utmost importance to parents. That includes the toys they play with as well. Toxic materials and choking hazards top the list. It’s not always certain that building toys from overseas comes up to American quality standards. Thus, parents tend to look for toys made in America rather than shipped over from China, Taiwan, or Singapore.

Parents will therefore appreciate the fact that Lincoln Logs, Tinker Toys, Uncle Goose classic wood building blocks, K’nex, and Beka building sets, among literally dozens of others are still made in America. Check Amazon and Etsy for a real wooden building set of all shapes, sizes, and characters.

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Are Lincoln Logs Still Made Of Wood? 

Once made in America of 100 percent Redwood, they are now made using maple wood. Additionally, the toy was once made in China, but K’nex brought it back home. The building toys are now produced from real wood in Maine.


The Build It Workshop: The benefits construction toys have on children

Childhood 101: 15 Awesome Building & Constructing Toy Sets for Kids

VeryWell Family: The 10 Best Building Toys and Blocks of 2021

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