Toys for Building

Block Party

To paraphrase Wallis Simpson (no relation to Homer) the Duchess of Windsor, you can never be too rich in toy blocks or too thin in excuses for wanting more. So here are a few last minute suggestions for the obsessive-compulsive builder on your list.

toy block colosseum

I don’t know about you, but under our living room couch — ready for immediate action — is a collection of toy wooden building blocks. My children and I like to make cityscapes on the rug — perfect for a way to work off holiday meals! My current favorite set of blocks is the Haba Colosseum (available on — given to me by my older daughter (I guess all that early play time paid off!).

You can build the Colosseum (remember the old adage, “Rome wasn’t built in a day” — well this approach is a lot quicker), as well as many other architectural landmarks of your own invention, like amphitheaters or grand staircases. The set has 110 pieces  in 7 different shapes. The blocks are natural untreated beech wood and smooth to the touch. The age recommendation is 3 years and up — well I am definitely “up.” And now I want to turn my Colosseum into a station for the Brio train set that’s also under that couch…Other Haba block sets  include Egyptian and Mayan, so you can travel the world without leaving the rug.


Speaking of movement, adding a few marbles (I could use a few extra!) is a simple way to animate toy blocks, and some sets like the Quadrilla Roundabout Building Block and Marble Run (shown above and available from HearthSong) incorporate this idea. The marble drops through towers, crosses bridges, and spins around the spiral in the Rube Goldbergian contraption you build — showing just how mesmerizing gravity can be — at least to me.


Some structures get more interesting with water. The Deluxe Hydrodynamic Building Set (from Home Science Tools) allows your child, or the child within you, to build a pumping station, refinery, or other gurgling factory. It comes with electric pump, tanks, water wheel, and various valves along with the plastic interlocking girders for supporting everything. Once you get a scaffold up and one tank filling another through the clear plastic tubes it’s hard to take your eyes away — is it a water treatment plant or a distillery? Only your engineer knows for sure.


2 responses to “Toys for Building

  1. Toy blocks when I was a child is what formed my fascination with house plans. When I was ages 6-12 or so I played with them all the time and also searched out floor plans in the newspapers… this was in the 1950s. By age 12 or so I started drawing plans myself, complete with the families’ names & ages listed, lots of bedrooms and secret doors. I got into trouble at school by paying more attention to my own floor plans than to the teacher… Catholic school, the nuns and I was a girl. Ultimately, sadly, the criticism was too strong and the fact that I found out that girls did NOT become architects is what discouraged me and sent my life in other directions. (This, despite the fact, that my dad was an engineer who worked on buildings.) I ended up choosing retail marketing, then a nursing profession. But my love of house plans, never any other type plans, has brought me to NOW where I spend most my days playing with floor plans on a computer program. And avidly pursuing any mention of plans to study while I’m online. Which brings me to your site and the Eichler info. Weirdly enough, I’m now living in a similar-to-Eichler design in Lompoc, CA. built in 1964. Thanks for the reminder of my youth, playing with blocks.

  2. Terrific commentary, and thx for the Colloseum link.

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