Can you recommend simple but fun wooden toy kits?
April 20, 2021 9:41 AM   Subscribe

My 5-year-old niece loves building wooden things, but it turns out there's a million toy kits out there and I'm having trouble separating the wheat from the chaff. Can you recommend any specific old-school wooden toy kits that are suitable for a 5-year-old with assistance?

I'm looking after my niece for a little while and have struck gold with arts & crafts. We've built a race car (I can't find the kit online but it's a lot like the car from this set) and a birdhouse (this one) and I'd like to find more along these lines, but it turns out there's a million such things out there and I'd be grateful for some specific recommendations.

Skill-wise, she's fine with glue and paint, and can handle a screwdriver but not a hammer. She can assemble pieces together if they're not too small - she had a lot of fun with that birdhouse, where most of the pieces are large and grippable, but finds regular size LEGO a challenge.

She likes things that can be played with afterwards. So race car > bird house in this respect.

She is DEFINITELY into the building, not the painting, as a half-painted birdhouse will attest. So a kit that's mostly about painting (like this sort of thing) probably won't interest her much.

Finally, extra points for boats that can go into the bath when built.

Thanks hivemind!
posted by ZaphodB to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (13 answers total) 9 users marked this as a favorite
Go to the customer service desk at Home Depot and ask for the kids wooden toy kit. It's free, and changes every month. Totally appropriate for a 5 year old with some assistance.
posted by NotMyselfRightNow at 9:48 AM on April 20 [7 favorites]

Melissa & Doug is a good brand for wooden toys, sturdy and well-made. They are frequently available on Amazon on sale, and are almost never noticeably worn out even when you get them as hand-me-downs.

When my kids were 4 years old they greatly enjoyed this choppable fruits and veggies box that came with a "knife" and segmented fruit and veg that were attached with velcro. Another good pick for a kindergartener might be this shape sorting clock, or if this kid is a bit more advanced or likes a challenge, this shape sorter puzzle. And scrolling through those pages right now I must confess I really really want to buy this magnetic truck loader for ... someone. Dang. Where are the five year olds in your life when you need them?! Stupid grown up children and niblings, ugh.
posted by MiraK at 9:58 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]

Was just coming in to recommend you go to Home Depot and ask for their free monthly kits. We started our daughter on them when she was 4, and four years later she builds them all by herself now.
posted by saladin at 10:30 AM on April 20

Response by poster: Thanks for the tips about the Home Depot - I had no idea that was a thing. Unfortunately, I'm in a city and province that is getting smashed by the third wave of COVID right now (fine work, Premier Kenney) and in-person retail is not really an option. But I'll definitely remember this and will go when life's normal.

I'll stop threadsitting and back away. Thanks and keep 'em coming!
posted by ZaphodB at 10:40 AM on April 20

Popular Playthings' Magnetic Build-A-Boat is waterproof; see the company's other toy kits, including this plane. Lee Valley has a few "music box" wood kits (carousel, robot, ballerina, Ferris wheel) with pre-painted pieces. A neat-looking playable xylophone and this (more-complicated) hand-crank horse don't need paint. (Lastly, here's a book of paper vehicles). Speaking of HD -- the weather's getting nicer, and in 10 days, Lowe's will have a free DIY house as part of its "CAMP Butterfly Quest" kit, which "includes wooden pieces to assemble and decorate, paint, a paintbrush and milkweed seeds to help families create a butterfly garden."
posted by Iris Gambol at 11:01 AM on April 20

A little to the left, but my kids loved Automoblox around that age. Kind of lego like, but not. Essentially, the cars are modular and can be rebuilt into pretty much anything.

Stockade is a craft supply store, and has a ton of 'bits'. YOu could probably build a pretty cool craft kit by just adding a bunch of various things to it, and she could glue to her hearts content.

Also, popsicle sticks (that you can buy at stockade) make for awesome building.
posted by Ftsqg at 11:13 AM on April 20 [1 favorite]

My kids love Matador. It’s not exactly like the race car thing but it can be undone and redone infinitely. I get that you’re not in New Zealand but if you can find it where you are it’s a great choice.
posted by ohio at 11:49 AM on April 20

The construction of that birdhouse is basically the same design as Lincoln Logs, which were already old school when I had them as a kid, but I see they're still manufactured by K'nex to this day.

It's a whole system of compatible pieces, sort of like Lego or Meccano but more specialised, so you can get a set or two or three and build different structures out of them.

Oh and lots to be found second hand on eBay etc, unsurprisingly since they've been manufactured since 1916!
posted by automatronic at 1:17 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]

My son and his dad used to build 3D wood puzzles from kits like this one. Our son was about 5yrs when they did the first one, but could not do it on his own mostly because strength ist required to release the precut pieces. But assembly, sanding and glueing was no problem.

They mostly built vehicles and dinosaurs.
There are also kits for Doll Houses and furniture.

The kits claim no glue needed but they used to sand them for perfect fit and glue them so they can be used as toys.
posted by 15L06 at 1:17 PM on April 20 [2 favorites]

I just came across this

art kits
posted by Ftsqg at 5:20 PM on April 20 [1 favorite]

What about something more abstract but organic and 'artsy'?

I think I'm gonna order these for myself.

Not for the bathtub though.
posted by zenpop at 7:54 AM on April 21

in the us we have a chain of hardware stores called Harbor Freight , where everything is imported and very reasonably priced .. I recently discovered they have balsa wood 3d animal puzzles/kits. i got one dinosaur one and one airplane one. they were maybe 3 dollars each .. not sure if you have an equivalent shop but .. i was pleased to find them, fun and not a big investment if not a hit. maybe a google for "balsa wood 3d animal kit" or puzzle ?
posted by elgee at 8:02 AM on April 21

I would highly recommend Ugears. They have models suitable for 5+, with plenty of room to grow into more complex / small / fiddly models if your niece continues to enjoy them and wants a bigger challenge. None of the models require any glue or major tools, though a utility knife is used in the more complex models, mostly to cut round toothpicks (supplied) to length using a cool little gauge. I had a blast assembling one of the trains. It's rubber-band powered and actually runs several feet on the included tracks.

The site I liked to is the us site; you can search for UGears Canada and there is a site specifically for them, but I have seen Ugears models be a common front for Facebook scams so I personally would go to the US site linked above (which I know is legit as it's where I got mine) and ask them for their official Canadian site (or if you can order directly there and have it shipped to CA). Most models are also available on Amazon. While you're at it you could ask them their thoughts on whether the wood they use will hold up well to water (they have boats among many other things).
posted by SquidLips at 3:27 PM on April 21

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