When it comes to building and construction sets for 5-year-olds, let’s say that LEGO and their little sidekick, Duplos, are king. Lego has been producing some of the best building blocks since 1949, and they’re still going strong today.
To stand a chance against Lego, toy manufacturers have to differentiate. They do that by offering more than one type of block or making them smaller than standard LEGO bricks.
Another distinguishing feature is the use of alternative materials. As parents become more mindful of sustainable manufacturing and sourcing, we see an increase in eco-friendly products with no toxic chemicals such as BPA, phthalates, formaldehyde, and PVCs.
If you want to look beyond the Swedish market leader, there are indeed a couple of other options out there.
Wooden construction sets
Those sets have the benefit of being made from renewable resources. That’s why wooden construction sets are so popular among parents who want to give their children a head start on learning about sustainability. And let’s not forget about the sentimental value. Millennial parents still remember the wooden blocks they played with when they were kids.
The downside? The cost can be higher than traditional plastic ones. But then again, you get what you pay for!
1.iPlay, iLearn Wooden Building Blocks
Based out of Minnesota, iPlay, iLearn was founded in 2016 by a young mother and teacher. This children’s toy company offers a 72-pieces building set of hardwood blocks that are sturdy and safe for kids.
- Beneficial to All Ages: Inspiring classic creativity and improving dexterity, this classic wooden block set and carry case includes 13 different shapes for your children to build to their heart's content. Their imagination will run wild creating unique masterpieces with the variety of shapes. Each the perfect size for children to handle including: square, rectangle, circle, half-circle, triangle, cylinder, arch and more! This toy can also serve as a "communication tool" for the young and old!
- High-Grade Quality: Hardwood blocks are sturdy, solid and safe for kids. 72 naturally finished and smooth-sanded hardwood blocks. Case size is 13” L x 12” W x 2” H. Packaged in a handsome, wooden storage crate for easy storage. Suitable for children ages 3 and up. Highly durable set for indoor or outdoor use including: lawns, patios, living rooms, preschools, kindergartens & anywhere else. Make your own dream castle anywhere!
- Development: Block play helps promote creativity, independent play, cooperative play, fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. When building, children must consider proportions, symmetry, size and more, which benefit early cultivation of concepts. This product is conducive to your child's imagination, allowing various kinds of combinations to be built.
2.Brain Blox Wooden Building Blocks for Kids
By building with this wooden block system, kids can learn physics, math, and engineering concepts. An excellent, all-natural STEM toy for kids of all ages! The kit helps develop problem-solving skills, supports logical reasoning, and improves agility and spatial awareness.
No magnets or connectors are needed for Brain Blox building planks: only Balance, Friction & your imagination. Build, stack, balance & have fun! Whether it’s a castle, a ship, a tower, a robot, a flower, a house, or a train, Brain Blox can do it all. The set contains a Building Ideas Booklet with detailed instructions and a Drawstring Backpack for easy transportation.
- 100% ALL-NATURAL, precision-cut, chemical-free NEW ZEALAND PINE wood. Montessori approved. Earth-friendly, NON-TOXIC toys are safe for kids! Each plank is crafted sustainably with renewable resources.
- TURN SCREENS OFF and engage in constructive, imaginative, open-ended play that is FUN!
- BUILDS HEALTHY BRAINS! Wood building blocks can help kids learn math, physics, & engineering concepts through hands-on building. Perfect educational STEM toy for ALL ages! Develops problem solving & reasoning abilities, supports logical thinking, improves dexterity & spatial awareness.
3.ONCE KIDS Wooden Eco-Bricks
Wooden Eco-Bricks by ONCE KIDS come as close to replicating real LEGO-brand interlocking blocks as possible.
Eco-Bricks are rectangular like LEGOs and have eight prongs at the top to interlock with other Eco-Bricks.
Imagine, build, stack, and create just as you would with an original LEGO set, all while helping the environment.
- 100% natural wooden bricks
- Compatible with plastic bricks
- Use with paint, stain, or markers
4.ROY TOY Classic Log Cabin Building Set (Lincoln Logs) for kids
The log cabin builder spirit is alive and well in this American toy company, which manufactures modern log cabin sets with the vintage wooden builder appeal. ROY TOY is an environmentally friendly and kid-safe brand that utilizes food-based dyes and pine wood.
- A LINCOLN LOGS CLASSIC, JUST THE WAY YOU REMEMBER IT – Inspired by one of the original LINCOLN LOGS builds, the "Meeting House," this 100th Anniversary Tin will evoke nostalgia in older generations and bring happiness to children. The manual offers three building ideas: a tall tower, two small houses with a bonfire, and a large cabin. Children can follow these guides or mix and match to build their own structures.
- 111 ALL-WOOD PIECES – The package includes 111 pieces made of real, high-quality maple wood. Each has indentations that can be used to connect it with others. Pieces are included for the roof, roof facade, walls, chimney, porch, fences, bonfire, and bonfire seats.
- COLORFUL DESIGN – These exquisitely crafted LINCOLN LOGS are beautifully stained, like a true cabin’s finish. Each piece is colored with precision and careful attention to detail to evoke the nostalgia of childhood. Most of the log blocks are stained bright brown. The face of the roof is a muted red, and the rooftops are forest-green.Care- Spot or wipe clean
Hape is a German company that specializes in wooden toys and playsets. Hape began as a maker of wooden toys and now diversifies its raw materials. Alternatives such as bamboo, the fastest-growing plant on Earth, have recently been introduced to their product line.
- Praised by the Wall Street Journal as one of the top toys to teach kids code and STEM principles
- German Engineering Design Inspired by Da Vinci circles with Endless Creative Building Possibilites for Spatial Thinking Minds
- Each of the Seven Different Color Blocks has a different Function - Fun practice for logical and engineering thinking
Mixed-material construction sets
Mixed sets contain both plastic and wooden parts. These sets are great because they allow your child to learn how to put together two different kinds of materials at once.
K’Nex is another mixed-material product.
Their sets come in three categories: K’Nex Lite, K’Nex Plus, and K’Nex Ultimate. These sets feature either plastic or metal rods, along with wooden elements. The green manufacturing facility in Hatfield, Pennsylvania, produces K’nex rods and connectors in a landfill-free, zero-waste way. Sturdy suitcase-style packaging that makes clean-up and storage easy.
By building with K’NEX, children better understand STEM subjects while improving their developmental skills. In addition to increasing spatial awareness, they practice fine motor skills and strengthen their agility to put the pieces together.
- Easy build parts: new parts designed specifically for 5 year old builders allows them to build on a flat, 2D surface, then sandwich The flat builds together into a 3D creation!
- This beginner building set includes 141 parts, including K'NEX rods and connectors which are manufactured in a zero-waste, landfill-free facility in Pennsylvania
- Build & rebuild: instructions and ideas for 40 different models are included, like a car, a skyscraper, an airplane, a rowboat, and so much more!
2.Oddbods Eco Blocks
Oddbods Eco Blocks is a mixed-material toy that lets kids create anything they imagine. Its kits are made of recycled plastic bottles and bamboo sticks. This durable, 100% recyclable, and plastic-free product teaches our children and us the importance of making responsible consumer and producer decisions for a lifetime.
Several different types of kits are available, including the Animal Friends Series, Cars & Trucks, Dinosaurs, Robots, Spaceship, Train, and Vehicles.
- Plant-based building blocks for kids; Oddbods building blocks feature 41 toddler-friendly bricks displaying all 7 Oddbods characters; set the scene and create a richer play environment with 6 animal cards and a big background card; Eco Blocks are made from sugarcane plants, which is probably why the characters are so sweet; great starter toy for the holidays
- Compatible with other building block toys; they look like regular toy blocks, but they're made out of sugarcane; learn to build, imagine and create with the Oddbods; this 41 piece set includes all the colored blocks kids need to create their very own masterpiece; build an Eco Block jungle gym and anything else your little boy or girl can think of
- Durable, 100% recyclable and natural; teach them the importance of plant-based products for a lifetime of responsible consumer and producer decisions; Eco Blocks are incredibly fun and durable enough for decades of play, stacking and building, re-gift, and repeat
Metal construction sets
These sets are similar to the mixed-material sets, except instead of using wood and plastic, they use only metal.
1. Erector by Meccano
Invented in England in 1898, Meccano is one of the oldest construction toy systems in the world. In 1913, a similar construction set called Erector was introduced in the United States. In 2000, the two innovative brands merged under Meccano, becoming one global brand.
Meccano’s original values and objective remain the same after more than a century: to inspire builders worldwide to bring their inventions to life. Meccano offers everything from basic structures to high-tech robotics programming.
Erector Sets are primarily made up of individual pieces like nuts, bolts, and holes-filled metal girders varying in size. The other materials are pulleys, gears, wheels, and electric motors.
- 25 BUILDING MODELS: Let your child build 1 of 25 different construction vehicles (models can be built one at a time). Parts can be used to rebuild a helicopter, a buggy crane and much more or kids can mix match pieces for an original design.
- REAL WORKING VEHICLE: Build a motorized crane and bring it to life with the 6V electrical motor. Play with its rotary body and extendable hook!
- STEAM TOY: For over a hundred years, Erector has been promoting children's STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Art and Math) learning as they build and play
MALUVRIAN Erector Sets
- ROBOTS FOR KIDS TO BUILD: Build Your Own Robot or Excavator with this erector sets pieces. Great for so many ages. These models are like a 3d metal puzzle just waiting to be completed.
- GREAT GIFT IDEA: This is a challenging erector set meant for advanced kids, teens, and adults.
- DETAILED ASSEMBLY INSTRUCTIONS: They are easy to follow, but make sure to separate the like pieces before you start building. If you prefer, build your own different crafts and vehicles with the pieces.
Construction sets from cardboard or paper
Recycled cardboard has slowly been making its way into different industries and finally into toy products. The obvious appeal of sustainable materials, along with some truly original concepts, make for a great gift for young engineers. And then there is paper. Two millennials old, this material has proven itself time and again. It’s not just an alternative to traditional plastic toys; it also gives children the chance to learn about recycling.
Paper and cardboard toys are perfect for imaginative play, and they’re also environmentally friendly because they’re biodegradable.
1.Melissa & Doug Cardboard Blocks
Children today are less likely to use their imaginations due to the overstimulation and over-scheduling they face. This is a worrying trend. And it’s why Melissa and Doug, the dynamic parent duo with six children, are committed to making products that inspire creative thinking and encourage kids to see new possibilities.
Made of strong recyclable materials, the company’s cardboard blocks have excellent reviews. Large pieces allow for the creation of some truly unique structures. They are perfect for kids and toddlers.
- DURABLE JUMBO CARDBOARD BLOCKS: The Melissa & Doug Deluxe Jumbo Cardboard Blocks includes 40 blocks in three sizes. The blocks are made of premium, extra-thick red cardboard blocks that hold up to 150 pounds.
- BRIGHT AND COLORFUL GRAPHICS: Our jumbo blocks for kids are lightweight and easy for children to stack. They’re designed with bright and colorful graphics that spark creativity.
- EASY TO ASSEMBLE: The Melissa & Doug giant blocks include a step-by-step instruction set for easy fold-together assembly. They also feature a wipe-clean surface for simple clean-up.
2.Paper Nano building kits
Paper nano is an exquisitely designed, small-scale, highly-detailed papercraft that brings architecture and history together. Precision laser cutting technology, developed in Japan, the epicenter of paper arts and design, produces intricately detailed pieces. Children of 12 years and older can create world-renowned landmarks and artifacts with eye-catching detail.
- A classic example of Japanese architecture and design
- Paper Nano is small-scale, highly-detailed, elegant paper crafting where you can build flawless masterpieces with exacting detail amazing accuracy
- High-tolerance laser cutting technology creates the parts needed to build exact replicas of world famous landmarks and architectural history
3.HearthSong Fantasy Forts Indoor Building Kit
Imaginations are no limit when it comes to building and rebuilding a fort with Fantasy Forts. Kids can create their own fantasy fort, castle, village, city, or even a spaceship! Each kit contains all the necessary parts to build one’s dream structure.
The best part? No need for any glue, tape, scissors, or hammer.
- FORT-BUILDING KIT FOR KIDS: Fantasy Forts fort-building kits provide endless possibilities to build and rebuild the fort of your kids dreams! Kids ages four and up will love the fort-building fun!
- STURDY CONSTRUCTION: Durable 22" sq. cardboard panels can be connected on any of their four sides with the innovative double-sided hook and loop tape (13'L roll included, cut into 26 6"L strips, easy to fasten and unfasten).
- DO-IT-YOURSELF KIT: Comes with everything you need to build a fort-16 cardboard brick-look panels, 16 carton building clips to support two stories, and a 13'L roll of double-sided hook and loop tape. For ages 4 and up.