I know what you're thinking. Who would want to replace a child's Lego? It's the perfect toy inspiring creativity and imagination. Well, maybe you're raising your child to be a non-conformist? Or maybe you just have a vendetta against the Danish.
We're obviously big fans of Lego, but a little variety and change never hurt anyone, particularly kids. So here's a collection of building toy alternatives that I'm sure your kids will enjoy just as much as their plastic bricks.
If your goal is to replace Lego with something more stimulating than rectangle bricks, you're not going to find a building toy more unique than Reptangles. Each piece is shaped like a colourful little turtle, but thanks to strategically place connectors, two Reptangles can connect to each other in over 100 different ways. They probably can't be used to build a perfect replica of Hogwarts, but figuring out what you can create with a stack of turtles sounds like a more entertaining challenge to me. $US28.
Building dream houses and forts for miniature figures is one thing, but it can never quite compare to building something a kid can actually play in. So while these connectible panels aren't going to easily stash away under a bed in a container, they will let your little ones build actual structures they can climb in and on top of. Special clips provide reinforcement at the joints so the structures can actually hold a kid's weight, and while this kit includes 46 panels and a manual for building 12 different structures, there's nothing stopping you from combining multiple kits to finally build that garage you've always wanted. Err, I mean, playhouse. $US200.
The only thing better than building toys that can be played in is building toys you can ride. Looking like a combination of the classic Erector set mixed with Playskool's old Pipeworks, Berg's Moov kits include all the components kids will need to build everything from scooters to go-karts. There's always a certain thrill to sending a Lego vehicle down a ramp towards an inevitable crash, but even moreso when a child is behind the wheel. Or maybe that was just me, living out my Hollywood stuntman dreams that never came to be. $US190.
It was the BuckyBalls that first re-introduced the world to how much fun one could have with a simple magnetic building toy. But for my money the BuckyCubes provide a better basis for building tiny houses, forts and other creations. At the least, thanks to their cubic shape when you drop one they're not going to immediately roll off onto the floor and disappear forever. That fact alone makes them a better investment than their spherical predecessors. $US35.
When you're a kid there's nothing as exciting as your family getting a new fridge, because it means you'll be given the huge box to convert into whatever your imagination needs. But these plastic rivets let you turn any box, even boring old cardboard sheets, into everything from castles, to spaceships, to locomotives. Unlike duct tape they're completely re-usable, and they're considerably easier to work with. All you need to do is punch a hole through the cardboard, and then push the rivet halves through each side until they click together. Who knew that constructing a time machine could be so easy? $US18.
They're certainly not designed for children still at the Duplo stage, but if your teens have shown an affinity towards Lego's Mindstorms, you might want to introduce them to the Cubelets. They might look like simple building blocks, but each one is a self-contained robotic component that can be assembled to build a more complex creation. And there's no programming involved. As you build, your robot slowly comes to life with new functionality, movements, and capabilities with every piece added. Just be aware that your child's aspirations of building their own R2-D2 could end up costing you quite a few expensive birthday gifts. $US160.
If I had to name the heir apparent to the Lego throne it would certainly be K'nex. In recent years it's managed to snag a few pop-culture properties which have kept Lego popular. But at its core it's the only building toy that lets you easily build full-on functioning rollercoasters. The building style is completely different to Lego, using a girder and connectors approach that allows kids to build larger structures that could easily reach the ceiling if they had enough parts. As an added bonus, the pain is no where near as intense when you step on a K'nex piece compared to the sharp corners of a Lego. $US60.