Last Updated: September 26, 2022
Building blocks are a classic children’s toy for good reason. Blocks have universal appeal from babies to toddlers to older kids. And as one of the best open-ended toys, they can be used for years – in many different ways. So whether your kiddo is more into animals, construction, active play, caretaking pretend play, or imaginative princess or superhero play – they’ll find a way to incorporate blocks into that type of play! So here’s my roundup of the best building blocks for toddlers – from wooden blocks, soft blocks for babies that are still fun later, building bricks like Duplos, magnetic blocks, and other interesting block finds.
Best Toddler Blocks:
Here is a quick list of my top picks when it comes to toddler blocks. And jump below for the full list and details!
- Best Wooden Blocks for Toddlers: Melissa & Doug Unit Block Set ($51)
- Best Colorful Wood Blocks: Grimm’s Pyramid ($200) or Lovevery Block Set ($90)
- Best Baby Blocks: Infantino Soft Blocks ($10)
- Best Building “Brick” Blocks: Age 1-2: Mega Bloks ($15+). Age 2+: Duplos ($16+)
- Best Magnetic Blocks: Tegu Blocks ($20+)
- Best Other Blocks: Plus-Plus blocks, Alphabet blocks
Best Wooden Blocks for Toddlers (Unit Blocks)
Wooden building blocks are one of the top open-ended toys for two year olds and toddlers. Whether you get a basic wooden unit block set or a colorful wooden Grimms blocks set, wooden blocks are usually exciting starting around 18-24 months.
What are unit blocks?
Unit blocks are simply wooden blocks of a standardized size or “unit”. Which simply means, they are proportional for building – which makes them the best building blocks for toddlers and kids. If you’ve ever tried stacking some of the adorable (but not unit block) blocks compared with wooden unit blocks, you’ve experienced the difference. While it might look like the only difference between the blocks pictured below are plain wood vs painted wood. They’re also unit blocks vs non unit blocks.
It may seem that parents are going bananas for expensive unit blocks (like the beautiful and colorful Grimm’s blocks). But spoiler alert, your kiddo is not going to be any more of a genius if you shell out hundreds of dollars on these blocks. Even though your brain might be telling you “god forbid if I don’t buy these well-proportioned shapes of wood, my three year old may never get into college or understand basic mathematical principles!” Teasing aside, I get the interest in beautiful toys and “fear” of not getting the right toys and learning items for your kid. We care. We want them to have the best, and not “behind”. But here’s the thing, I’ll guarantee you most of our parents were not out obsessing over $300 block sets with perfect mathematical proportions.
The good news? There are affordable wooden unit blocks from brands like Melissa & Doug and Kid Kraft for about $50. And if you decide to splurge on the Grimm’s blocks, enjoy!
Melissa & Doug Unit Blocks Set: Best Unit Blocks
This 50 piece set comes in a handled wooden box. The box itself has inspired so much play in our house. Around two years old, our toddler made ramps and tunnels and was always “excavating” within the constraints of his block box. Then as the year progressed, he moved more toward large scale building with the wooden blocks. These Melissa & Doug blocks are a nice quality wood with smooth corners.
Wooden blocks are great for open-ended play and child-led interest items (whatever they’re into: cars, animals, construction, princesses, superheros, Daniel Tiger etc) can help them be more interested in the blocks.
Grimms Blocks Wooden Blocks Set: Best Premium Blocks Set
Are Grimm’s Toys worth it?
Grimm’s makes some of the most beautiful wooden blocks. These blocks are beautiful, colorful, and well-made! The Grimm’s blocks come as a giant block pyramid set in a wooden tray. Yes, they’re worth it if you are going to use and love them. But they’re also still just chunks of wood. If I was gifted a Grimm’s blocks set, I would be thankful. However, I personally, can’t justify the cost of $2 a block. So if it’s not in your budget or you’re unsure if your child will use them enough, a set like the Melissa and Doug wooden unit blocks are an awesome Grimm’s alternative. We have used Grimm’s blocks at friends and preschool. And they are wonderful blocks. If you’re shopping in the $200+ range for wooden blocks – Grimm’s Blocks are the way to go.
*I don’t regret skipping expensive block for our home! Especially since I also made my own DIY outdoor building blocks.
Lovevery Block Set
Lovevery is a Montessori baby subscription box toy company that has really revolutionized the Montessori toy market. They offer quarterly “stage-based” play kits. And have helped bring Montessori into the mainstream with more budget-friendly options. If you don’t want to invest in their age-specific play kit boxes, you can still purchase a few of their toy offerings like the Lovevery block set. This 70 piece block set has a bit of everything – from unit block style, to ramps, shapes, and little people. For the price, this set may or may not be worth it to you. For example, if you were considering several different wooden Grimms sets (houses, people, pyramid blocks, planks etc) then this set might suffice and be a nice budget option.
Best Baby Blocks Set: Infantino
One of our favorite open-ended toys for 1 year olds and young toddlers are the soft block sets from Infantino (B. Toys makes a similar one). There are a few different sets to choose from. The original set we had included 10 blocks. This Infantino 20 Piece Block & Ball set with balls and blocks was great starting around 6 months when they’re learning to grasp things and also wanting to put everything in their mouth. If you get these early (before 12 months), you’ll get a lot of use out of them.
What I love about these soft blocks is it’s ok for babies to chew on them (they’re like teethers!), they won’t hurt themselves or others if they throw or drop them (versus a wood block at this age). And they can start to stack one on top of the other since they’re larger and easy to grasp. They’ll be super excited the first time they stack them. And of course will delight in you building a tower that they can knock over. Infantino Ball & Block Set Amazon $14.
- Pros: affordable, safe for babies
- Cons: some blocks smell when you open (let them air out for a bit first), more of a baby toy vs longer-term opened block toys.
Mega Bloks vs Duplos: Best Building Bricks
Mega Bloks are great for one year olds. And for small hands, they’re slightly easier to connect than Duplos. While I don’t consider Mega Blocks to be the best long-term open-ended toy investment (like Duplos are), there’s a window of time when they are a better option for younger toddlers! Mega Bloks are about twice the size of Duplos, so it’s easier for smaller hands to connect and build.
Around 12-18 months, most toddlers will start to enjoy Mega Bloks. But don’t go wild with purchasing these. I would recommend getting one bag of them for the early years. Like the Mega Bloks 80 Piece First Builders Set, will suffice! You can usually find these in great condition second hand or handed down from friends. And 6 months later, your kiddo will probably have zoomed on to using Duplos. We still get these out occasionally, but they’re not the prime play building blocks.
Mega Blocks 80 Piece Set: Amazon $16
- Pros: Cheap, Easy for younger toddlers and babies to build with, larger building block
- Cons: Plastic!, you won’t use these for very many years (compared to Duplos)
Duplos are great for the phase between the short-lived Mega Bloks and the later LEGO years. Duplos are our favorite “brick” building block and will be get a lot of use. Most kids will play with Duplos from 2 to 6, and even after they move on to real LEGOs, they often come back to Duplos as more of a larger building brick for a couple more years. Especially if you have more than one kid in your house. And with so many sets and price ranges your Duplo collection will grow over the years and are great gift ideas too.
By age two, Duplo play progresses from the basic “number train” etc to some actual building and creative play. This is when it’s fun to get some larger sets to add to your existing basic Duplo if you already had some.
Best Magnetic Blocks: Tegu Blocks
Check out my full write up about the best magnetic tiles and blocks for your family – Magna Tiles vs Picasso Tiles vs Connetix vs Playmags, Tegu Blocks and Magformers. As I mentioned in my full post on magnetic tiles and blocks, Tegu wooden magnetic building blocks are beautiful and well-made, matte colored solid wood with magnets inside. They’re really cool wooden blocks, but not really a replacement for magnetic tiles. So if you’re planning to do magnetic tiles AND magnetic blocks, then Tegu are really fun.
But Tegu blocks are also slightly harder for younger children to find the right polarized sides of the blocks so the magnets connect instead of repel. So I while these are great for building, they don’t top my list for toddler blocks. I think the sweet spot for magnetic building blocks and tiles is really around three years old, but they can of course be started earlier. So either opt for a small set as more of a travel or fidget type toy (the Tegu Travel Set – 6 Pieces – $20 ($3.33 price per block) is a good option.
Or wait until they’re a bit older, and just like Magna-Tiles, this is a category that you really do need to get enough quantity of blocks for it to be fun to play and build, or it can end up as one of those “my kids just never really got into those” type toys.
More Toddler Blocks
There are of course other block sets worth mentioning. So here’s some other building blocks we’ve enjoyed over the years.
The classic wooden alphabet blocks have such a hold on our memory and nostalgia, but are not the greatest option for building blocks. I’d say go for wooden unit blocks first, and if you happen to get alphabet blocks, there’s some benefit and fun to be had. But they’re much lower on my block priority list. Almost every family I know who has these, their kids don’t play with them. First the alphabet blocks are too small and too advanced. Then, when their ability is there, the child is like meh those are just square baby blocks. So your mileage may vary.
You’ll quite often find people buying these as baby gifts still, whether or not you’ve included them on your baby registry! The most used part of this block set is the little wagon pull cart! If you’re really after some alphabet blocks, I would recommend the LEGO Duplo Alphabet Truck set around three years old. As it aligns better with the intersection of age, interest and ability level for learning the alphabet and block play!
Bristle blocks are fun sensory type baby block. We were handed down a small set of these. And while they’re not an essential toddler block, they are fun to build with. I probably wouldn’t buy these new, but if you receive as a gift, borrow, or buy used, they can be a fun addition to block play or for toy rotation. But they don’t make our list for those always out and constantly in-use toddler blocks!
IKEA has a new blocks set called UNDERHÅLLA. It’s a 40-piece wooden block set for $12. It’s slightly different than the previous wagon blocks set. They are affordable and look to be more like unit blocks than the previous IKEA set – which was frustrating for toddlers to build with because of the sizes of blocks.
Lincoln Logs are probably 50% purchased based on nostalgia. But beyond the “retro” toy aspect, there’s still a great satisfaction in building with this style of blocks! Kids love it! And while you can get many different sizes and sets of Lincoln Logs now, this 83 piece starter set is a good place to start. And if your family is super into them, then you can upgrade to more sets later!
Melissa & Doug Architectural Set
After you try out life with the basic Melissa and Doug set, maybe add to your set with this architectural set. It comes with 44 blocks and has all kinds of neat features like Greek columns, and pieces to make all their castles, kingdoms and cathedral dreams come true. Plus, a great open-ended toy for 4 year olds is an “add-on” to upgrade an existing toy – like adding an architectural set to their regular blocks.
The other is a different approach of nesting stackable boxes. They can be used for stacking tall towers, many little garages, or even using the vehicles for different play. These boxes nest together for easy storage, are affordable, and are great for learning size sequencing, and are open-ended for other types of play. One drawback is that since they’re made of a cardboard type material they will eventually break down and they don’t do well with getting wet (and aren’t for babies to chew on!)
Plus plus blocks are interlocking building blocks for unlimited open-ended play. They’re a really neat toy and have a very different feel than other types of building blocks. It’s a very clever design for creative play. They also have baseplates that you can build on. The big plus plus blocks are for ages 1-6. There are also Plus Plus minis for older kids.
There are tons of adorable (and expensive) toddler block carts. As cute as these are, they really are kind of a half and half of what they’re trying to accomplish. You could just get a nice toddler push cart and a block set. Or you could buy one as a combo, but the blocks are kind of a secondary thought where you get like 25-30 blocks. That said, the Hape Block Push cart seems to be a happy medium in price, style and block selection.
Why is Block Play Important?
Blocks are one of the best open-ended play items. They can be used so many different ways and are wonderful for learning and play. Block play teaches our kids problem solving skills – weights, ratios, lengths, symmetry, physics, and language to describe many things they’re learning (above, under, in, out, beside etc). I also love that block play combines both imagination and creativity and physical and structural thinking. As they grow, they are learning how to stack and build and it’s so fun to see them become more independent and also have more resilience and perseverance.
There’s a great book called Block Play – The Complete Guide to Learning & Playing with blocks that discusses what block play helps our children learn and block activity ideas for different abilities and interests. The guide is geared for teachers, but it’s an interesting read for parents who want to know more about how block play helps our kids learn and problem solve. After first checking this book out at the library, I ended up buying it for the fascinating info on unit blocks and activity ideas.
Priority List for Buying Blocks on a Budget:
If you’re on a budget, here’s how I would prioritize buying different blocks sets available.
- Baby blocks (6 months old) – Infantino – 8 Block Set: $10
- Wooden Unit Blocks (age 2) – Melissa & Doug Wooden Blocks – 60 piece set: $51
- LEGO Duplos (age 2) – Duplo Number Train Set: $20
- Magnetic Tiles (age 3) – Picasso Tiles – 100 Piece Set: $48
Happy building! I hope you’ve found this list useful for the best building blocks for toddlers and young kids.