We’re not saying you need to leggo your LEGO (like your kids would ever let that happen). We’re huge LEGO fans! But this holiday season, we just want you to know about some really cool alternative building systems out there that’ll get little hands playing and little minds working.

As a bonus, some of these blocks and things are a little softer than LEGO bricks. Which might matter to you if you have a knack for stomping on them barefoot, like I do. Just sayin’.

Like wooden blocks gone through a major makeover, Twig blocks come in vibrant colors and cool shapes that work together to let kids build bright, modern-looking structures. We love that the shapes are easy for even the littlest hands to maneuver. Plus there’s no “right” way to play or any rules to follow. (Except for the rule about no throwing wood blocks at your brother.)<

Plus Plus construction toy

Developed in Denmark–land of that other little interlocking building toy you may have seen before– Plus-Plus are little rubbery units that look like two “plusses” stuck together. In a heap, they’ll look like nothing more than colorful shapes, but they come together easily to make all sorts of cool designs. What my kids love most is that the light pieces really fit together snugly so that they can pick up their creations without it falling to pieces. Find them at Fat Brain Toys

Green Toys Blocks!

Green Toys Blocks are billed as “The World’s Most Environmentally Friendly Building Block,” which made them a 2010 Top Toy Pick of the Year by our editors. The oversized, lightweight blocks are made from recycled milk cartons. They’re totally safe for little dudes to chew on and, later, they can build eco-castles. Each set comes with 18 brightly colored blocks and is recommended for ages 6 months and up.

City Blocs building blocks

For kids who want more building precision, City Blocs have been tested and approved by one of our editors, whose kids were amazed at the many permutations that could be achieved by the precision cut, light-as-air wood blocks. When we reviewed them, they were only available in a natural wood finish, but now, you can also buy sets in cool colors, hot colors, and neon, not to mention trees and cars to add to your City Block city blocks.


Is your kid a future architect with insane attention to detail who enjoys playing with those single-dot LEGO blocks? Whoo, boy, will this kit keep him busy! Nanoblocks are ultra-teeny-tiny building blocks, and this set provides all the pieces (and complicated plans) necessary to build your own extra-small castle based on Castle Neuschwanstein built by King Ludwig in 1869. Keep in mind, it’s about the size of eight quarters.

Tegu magnetic building blocks

The Rolls Royce of cool building blocks are made by Tegu. These beautiful works of block art are magnetic, smooth, beautiful, great for all ages, and, as you might guess, pricey.

We’re all big fans of the company, which was formed to positively benefit Honduras, both economically and eco-consciously. And, yes, we really love these blocks, especially since magnets make creations actually stay together. Sets start at $30 for Pocket Pouches (which are great for road trips) and go upward until you reach the drool-worthy $1500 Ultimate Builders Set, with 480 blocks and wheels in delicious, shiny-candy colors.


If you’re looking for a building toy with an educational bent, check out Zometool which allows kids to stick together spheres and various-sized struts to make everything from bridges to DNA.

We love that this toy is out-of-the-box fun for elementary-aged kids who may just want to make cool 3D shapes or things they can incorporate into their everyday play. But it also gives older kids (and even adults!) a hands-on way to better understand such complicated concepts as fractal symmetry. Pieces are hard plastic, and those little spheres can roll everywhere, though the structures seem to hold together really well. For something totally different, Zometool models can even be dipped into bubble solution to create cool bubble shapes. Outside, of course.

Dado Planks!

From CMP favorites Dado Cubes to Dado Squares, Fat Brain Toys has now created Dado Planks with a different type of interlocking-piece shape. These lightweight planks can build tall and stay tall, thanks to interlocking pieces. Or they can make fences for toy horses or jails for LEGO people. And when playtime is over, they stack flat to store neatly.

And, again, flat things don’t hurt quite as much when you step on them on the stairs at midnight and fall and get wretched rug burns. Because yes, mommies sometimes hold grudges against tiny red bricks.