Guided construction set
Open-ended toys are the best. That’s why construction sets like Lego, or the previously reviewed Kapla Blocks, or Zomes, are perennial favorites. Their simple, durable, reusable parts build an infinite number of complex creations, providing endless hours of play. The best construction systems will last many lifetimes and are generally worth their modest investment, unlike most toys.
Magna-Tiles are the best open-ended construction set for very small kids I’ve seen. Magna-Tiles are plastic tiles with tiny super magnets embedded in their edges. Even a very small child can quickly assemble a structure that won’t topple, since the magnets snap to form when you get them close to where they want to be. They come in a mix of squares and triangles that tend to “guide” construction towards recognizable building forms, which is okay since there are still many options to explore. But this small boost really aids the youngest toddlers who may have trouble with the go-anywhere blocks of Kapla. Also, the tiles are large, too big to swallow, so safe for wee ones.
We have a set on a our living room coffee table and I notice that adults love to build with them as well since you can erect a cool structure in only a few minutes. Everyone is an architect at heart.
Magna-Tiles aren’t cheap. With 8 rare earth magnets per piece, each tile costs about $1. They are pretty unbreakable, so they should outlive you. Get the transparent variety — they are like stained glass.