I was curious to find out how many kinds of building blocks existed, so I did a bit of research to find out.
There are four different main kinds of toy building blocks out there, divided either by material or by the type of connection. When divided by material, these are the categories:
When divided by connection type, these are the categories:
- No connection
Each material and type of connection has its advantages and disadvantages, so let’s have a look now at each specific kind to find out.
Kinds of toy building blocks classified by material
As I just mentioned, there are four different kinds of material used in toy building blocks. They are plastic, wood, metal, and foam.
Plastic toy building blocks
Plastic toy building blocks are the most common material for toy blocks. They are usually the cheapest option, but their best feature is their flexibility. Because of the way they are created, plastic allows for a wide variety of shapes and colors. As a result, the kind of toy that can come out of a plastic toy block is usually much more impressive than that of its biggest rival, the wooden toy block.
Wooden toy building blocks
Wooden toy blocks are also a very common kind of toy blocks. They tend to be more expensive than plastic ones and also less flexible in terms of shape. However, the lack of flexibility in the shape of the blocks can also sparkle the children’s imagination. Also, because wooden toy building blocks come from a natural material, they are more sustainable and safer.
Metal toy building blocks
Even though not as common as plastic or wooden toy building blocks, there are also metal toy building blocks. Metal toy building blocks are as flexible as plastic ones but usually more expensive. Their main advantage is the type of toys you can create. Because of the properties of the material, the end result is usually much more impressive. This kind of toy is usually aimed at older kids.
Foam toy building blocks
The last common kind of toy building blocks is the foam toy block. This kind is aimed at very small kids and its main advantage is safety. Because of its weight and texture, they are very safe toy building blocks, so toddlers would not get hurt even if the toy they are building falls on top of them. Because of their target market, foam toy building blocks are usually much bigger than their counterparts.
Kinds of toy building blocks classified by connection type
The other type of division for toy building blocks is by type of connection. In this case, there are also four kinds. They are with no connection, connected by studs, connected by notches, and connected by a sleeve.
Toy building blocks with no connection
This kind of toy building blocks is usually made of wood or foam and it counts on gravity to hold the blocks together. The main advantage of this kind of toy building block is its flexibility. Because there are no connections, you can choose how you want to place them. The main disadvantage of this kind of toy building block is its lack of stability. Because there are no connections, a small movement of one piece could make the whole thing fall apart.
Toy building blocks connected by studs
This is the most common type of connector. This is the type of connector that brands like LEGO use. Its widespread use is due to how easy and safe it is. With studs, children can connect the different blocks very easily. Moreover, once connected, the blocks together unless there is a conscious effort to disconnect them. The only downside is the lack of flexibility. If the shape of the stud does not match, then you cannot combine the different blocks.
Toy building blocks connected by notches
Toy building blocks that are connected by notches are usually made of wood, but also plastic or metal. In this case, instead of a stud protruding from one block that goes into another block, both blocks have notches with which you can interlock. This gives an extra degree of flexibility to the creation, but the connections tend to be a bit weaker.
Toy building blocks connected by sleeves
The last kind of connector is the sleeve. In this case, there is an extra piece (the sleeve) that connects two separate pieces. This kind of connector is the least common of all, mostly because you are adding an extra piece whose only function is that of connecting the pieces They are as safe as the studs and, depending on how they are designed, they can add some flexibility to the toy. As a downside, you need more pieces to build the same type of toy, which adds both difficulty and cost.
What is the best material for toy building blocks?
In general, I find that the best material for toy building blocks is plastic. This is because they are cheap and they can come in any shape you can imagine. The market doesn’t lie either. That is why, when checking for toy building blocks, you will see that most of them are made of plastic. There are two exceptions where I would consider another material as the best.
The first one is for toddlers. In this case, I think that the best material is foam. Toddlers do not need the shape complexity that comes from plastic blocks. On the other hand, safety is paramount. Because of its weight, foam blocks are basically harmless. Toddlers can fall on them, can throw them, or can be buried under them. No matter what the circumstance is, they will not get hurt.
The second exception is for older kids. In this case, plastic toy building blocks might feel too childish. If that is the case, metal toy building blocks are the best material. Their shininess and sleek look will make them attractive for a slightly older age. Also, the type of toys you can usually build with this material tend to be more complex in nature, which also appeals to older kids.
What is the best kind of connection for toy building blocks?
As for the kind of connection, the best kind is the stud. There is also a reason why almost all the toy building blocks use it. This kind of connection is safe. Once you fix two blocks together, they will stay together and you do not need to worry about it. Also, it is very easy to connect the blocks. Because of the predefined shape, the blocks will fit with each other easily and naturally. As with the material, though, there are exceptions when this type of connection would not be the best option.
The first exception is also for toddlers. In this case, the best kind of connection is basically no connection. This is because at that age, kids have not very good spatial awareness and they can become easily bored if they cannot fix the blocks together. In the case of having studs, they should be fairly big.
The second exception is when the challenge is, precisely, to keep the toy standing. There are certain types of toy building blocks whose main goal is not to build a spectacular shape, but more to make sure it does not fall. In this case, no connection is also the best option.
And with this, we have arrived at the end of this post. If you are curious about which specific brands I recommend, you can check my articles “Is LEGO better than Playmobil?” and “Is LEGO better than Mega Blocks?” to find out the comparison between LEGO and Playmobil or Mega Blocks.
If you would like to know how you can make your own toy building blocks, you can check our article “How To Make Your Own Building Block Toys”, where we go step by step in the process of creating your own building block toys.
If you are interested, here is a link to the entire Lego section found on Amazon.