Best Engineering Toys

Updated November 2020
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BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We only make money if you purchase a product through our links, and all opinions about the products are our own. Read more  
BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers. We buy all products with our own funds, and we never accept free products from manufacturers.Read more 
Bottom Line
Pros
Cons
How we decided

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

54 Models Considered
26 Hours Researched
3 Experts Interviewed
176 Consumers Consulted
Zero products received from manufacturers.

We purchase every product we review with our own funds — we never accept anything from product manufacturers.

Buying guide for best engineering toys

Engineering toys offer kids of all ages the opportunity to learn through play and have fun developing knowledge that will have value throughout their life. Parents often like to join in, too! It’s a rapidly developing market. Whereas electronics and coding used to be the preserve of older kids, these kinds of toys are now available for those as young as six.

Engineering toys help young kids develop hand-eye coordination and motor skills. If their interest develops, it can eventually lead to a full-time career. Engineers send people to space and to the deepest parts of the ocean. They build the internet and the devices that work with it. They fix your car and heat your home. Engineers are everywhere. With engineering toys, your children are learning a whole new language, and it’s one spoken by machines!

So, it should come as no surprise that the range of engineering toys is vast. Everything from simple mechanical puzzles and bottle rockets to hydraulic robot arms and vehicles controlled by smartphone apps. Where to begin? We’ve outlined a number of popular options above, which is a great place to start. For those who want more detail, we’re providing this buying guide.

Engineering encompasses many different disciplines. Try different types of toys to give your kids a chance to learn a broad range of skills.

Key considerations

STEM

Before we look at the toys, here is a quick look at the education concept known as STEM, and the increasingly popular STEAM.

STEM stands for science, technology, engineering, and math (STEAM adds art into the mix). While fun is a vital part of any toy, STEM toys are designed to pique a child’s curiosity by helping them create something that performs a function. In doing so, STEM toys can cover an incredible range of disciplines and sciences, such as the following:

  • Mechanics
  • Electronics
  • Avionics
  • Ballistics
  • Telemetry
  • Chemistry
  • Thermodynamics
  • Magnetism
  • Software/coding
  • Solar power
  • Optics
     

Engineering toys encompass such a wide range that it would be hard to think of a kind of play that doesn’t come within their scope, and chances are your kids will be having so much fun they won’t realize it’s educational!

Age range

Many manufacturers give you some kind of age guidance, and a quick look at components will also prove valuable.

Ages 4 to 7: For the youngest kids, the pieces are brightly colored and large enough for hands that are at the early stages of developing dexterity. Projects are designed to be completed quickly so boredom doesn’t set in. There’s movement and/or noise to stimulate them. However, the older kids in this range are developing their own creativity. Their engineering toys need to provide more than just easy-to-follow instructions. Ideally, the components should allow for some experimentation and a chance to discover what happens when they try different approaches.

Ages 7 to 10: These toys introduce more complexity, problem solving, and trial and error. Kids may be developing specific areas of interest, so you might want to involve them in choosing the toy. Although most of the engineering toys are mechanical in nature, small robots and basic coding start to show up in this age range.

Ages 10 and up: Here, the choice is almost limitless. For every child who wants to follow a particular line of engineering toys, moving from simple robotics to more complex software-controlled models, there is another who wants to try something completely different. You’ll doubtless want some control, but you may have to accept you’re now simply bankrolling their passion. That’s a good thing, right?

For your safety
Unfortunately, not all toys sold in the US are legal — or safe. If you see cheap engineering toys that don’t have ASTM certification, do not buy them.
STAFF
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Features

Choose the right toy

Engineering toy makers often excel at marketing their product but take a minute to evaluate whether it looks likely to live up to expectations. You don’t want to buy a toy that will only disappoint your child.

Also, before you buy, it might be worth having a chat with your child’s teacher to see if there’s an aspect of learning that could be enhanced. Doing it in a play situation, away from the classroom, could be beneficial.

Components

Completeness: Is everything you need in the box? It often is, but not always. Your child is probably going to want to get started as soon as it arrives, and there’s that disappointment risk again.

Quality: Many engineering toys are made in Asia, and the instructions aren’t always translated well. You might need to step in to help. We’ve often seen complaints of plastic hydromechanical toys that leak. The pressure created in any hydraulic system can cause problems, so it’s always worth checking buyer feedback. One or two instances is either bad luck or faulty assembly. Regular occurrences probably indicate a manufacturing fault.

Expandable: Is it a “one and done” or does the toy offer many possibilities? Some engineering toys are modular, so they can be expanded by adding other kits. Some have online resources offering hundreds or even thousands of projects from the same set of components.

Safety: If it’s for young children, there’s always a chance they’ll want to taste it. Are the components washable? Are they BPA-free?

"Looking ahead, figures from the Bureau of Labor Statistics tell us that they expect engineering jobs to grow by 140,000 over the next decade. "
STAFF
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Engineering toy prices

Inexpensive: We would avoid the cheapest engineering toys, which often look colorful but can be fragile and don’t actually function properly. Occasionally, you’ll find something for $10 to $15, but most quality kits start at around $20.

Mid-range: Between $30 and $50 there’s an enormous range of toys encompassing mechanics, hydraulics, and electronics. A few introduce robotics and coding.

Expensive: High-end robot building and coding kits and motorized construction sets can reach $200. These offer tremendous flexibility and multidisciplinary learning.

For your safety
Watch for the “choking hazard” warning. It means the toy contains small parts that are not suitable for very young children.
STAFF
BestReviews

Tips

Engineering toys, by their nature, combine fun with learning. They will challenge your child’s creativity and problem-solving ability. It’s tempting to be involved, but at what level? Here are a few suggestions.

  • Help if your child asks for it. Being around to keep an eye on things is great, but it’s their toy, not yours. Avoid the temptation to get involved from the get-go. Let them unbox the toy and discover.
  • Don’t do the project for them. Kids are smart. If they’re not enjoying themselves, they might try to get you more involved than you should be. Help them overcome challenges, but don’t do the job for them.
  • Find solutions together. If you don’t know an answer, say so. Then talk with your child about ways to find the solution.
  • Make sure your child takes breaks. When kids get tired, things can start to go wrong, leading to frustration and short tempers. Get them to take a break for a snack (all engineers stop for refreshment sometimes), or you might need to get creative yourself!
  • Don’t force it. If your child isn’t having fun, see if you can find a way to make the toy more interesting, but never force it. That risks putting them off the toy for good. Sometimes it’s just the wrong toy at the wrong time.
The engineering toys that older children play with often take longer to complete. If possible, set aside a dedicated area so the project can be left out if necessary. Trying to put a half-finished project back in a box is never ideal, and it can lead to frustration.

FAQ

Q. Is there a safety standard for engineering toys?
A.
Yes. In the United States, toys must follow regulations set by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The specific standard is currently ASTM F963-17. In Europe, it’s CE EN71. Other countries may have their own standards. There are also other significant regulations, such as the Consumer Product Safety Improvement Act (CPSIA) which also indicates toys of a recognized standard.
 

Q. Can electrical engineering toys give children an electric shock?
A.
It’s extremely unlikely, but when electricity is involved we would shy away from saying it was 100% impossible. Electrical toys for younger kids tend to be the click-together kind, which don’t require soldering or wiring and there’s nothing exposed. Those for older children may involve low-voltage batteries, so while we doubt it would happen, there’s the potential for some shock, but only the kind that would make you jump, not cause physical harm. Importantly, that’s only going to happen if they’re doing something the toy isn’t designed for and ignoring the manufacturers safety instructions!
 

Q. Is it important to stick to the age range given for the toy?
A.
It’s the sort of question that creates considerable debate, but here’s our view. When a manufacturer states an age range, you can bet that most of the time they’ve put a lot of research into making that definition as accurate as possible. The last thing they want is customers complaining about an engineering toy being too easy or too difficult.

However, few kids are “average”! Yours may be well in advance of their age range in some areas yet struggle with a particular subject or discipline. Only you can really make the determination based on watching and playing with your kids. We don’t see how there can be anything wrong with a toy in a different age range if it helps them learn.

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The BestReviews editorial team researches hundreds of products based on consumer reviews, brand quality, and value. We then choose a shorter list for in-depth research and testing before finalizing our top picks. These are the products we considered that ultimately didn't make our top 5.

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