We talk often on Fair Play about just how important spatial play is for early development. Spatial skills built in early play are associated with math and science achievement in school as well as later in life. We’ve also talked about how most of the toys that are meant to teach those skills are marketed to boys — and we’ve talked about important it is that boys and girls play with spatial toys including LEGOs, K’NEX, puzzles, and so on. We’ve even reviewed some of the spatial toys marketed explicitly to girls, like LEGO Friends and Goldie Blox. But, one of the issues that comes up over and over in our own research with children and early play has a lot to do with what children can or cannot successfully manipulate with their tiny hands. If they cannot put the pieces together, they cannot play with it, it won’t be fun, and they might not learn anything. Today’s post is about the best toys for the tiny-handed builders in your life.
Any discussion about construction toys starts with LEGOs. Classic LEGOs snap together well but are very small. They are not well-suited to the tiniest hands (younger than about 4-5, depending on your child’s dexterity). Most of the LEGO Friends sets also fall in this category, and are designed for children 5/6 and older. It should go without saying that the LEGO Architecture sets (rated 12+) are not for tiny hands. They use extremely small pieces. Duplos, on the other hand, are great for tiny hands and come in wonderful gender-fair sets as we’ve discussed previously.
K’NEX are another popular construction toy, especially because of the appeal of the moving parts and the neat, gender-fair sets like the carnival rides. But, these also require some serious fine-motor skills. We’ve recommended them in the past in a Gift Guide for a six-year-old. The small hands alternative are Tinker Toys. We’re actually using a few of these sets in our dissertation with the 4- to 5-year-old crowd and even smaller hands could handle them. You can buy themed sets, like animals, or as with most of these spatial toys, just a big tub of the pieces.
Finally, my favorite construction toy for tiny hands…Lincoln Logs! I hear they are very popular with the Fair Play Twins these days. Lincoln Logs are easy for tiny hands because the pieces stack over interlocking joints, without needing to snap together. There is just enough wiggle room in the attachment process to accommodate a range of motor skill. Although these tend to be in the “boys” aisle at the store, they are fairly gender neutral in packaging. As well, they can be built large enough to accommodate dolls or figurines for make-believe play, making them a flexible additions to you child’s every day play repertoire. You can see in this photo that the Fair Play Twins did exactly that, building a house together and then adding doll house furniture to play make-believe for a while:
Lincoln Logs haven’t changed much since I was a child although some of the roof pieces are now plastic and the cost has gone up. Maxim Tumble Tree Timbers are equivalent, entirely made of wood, and much more affordable (and ship free with Amazon Prime).
We’re giving these Tumble Tree Timbers 5 pinwheels for being gender fair, available, affordable, and no plastic in sight:
We’re giving Lincoln Logs 4 pinwheels for becoming so darned expensive and adding in that plastic…
A word about puzzles…
Puzzles are another toy that are great for spatial development. Of course some puzzles are better suited to small hands than others. For small hands (and small attention spans) look for puzzles with larger pieces. Another facet of spatial development is the ability to use an image as a reference (e.g., the box) so be sure you are getting a puzzle where the picture on the front is actually an image of the puzzle you are building. Shoddy puzzles (or those cool mystery puzzles) aren’t going to have this feature. Just be sure that as your child ages, you replace the simple puzzles with more complex puzzles so that the challenge increases and you retain their interest in solving puzzles.
All of the toys we rate are available in our Amazon Store, along with other toys. If you purchase from the links in our posts or from the Amazon Store, Fair Play receives a very small percentage which helps to offset the cost of hosting this site. Are you looking for a recommendation for something in particular? Request a Review or leave a comment on our Facebook or Twitter!