Review: Kid K’nex Building Toy for Preschoolers

What you see is not what your child sees. That’s especially true for Kid K’nex.

I saw awkward Tinker Toy-like building pieces for making abstract creatures. My daughter saw anything in her imagination. Consider her 3-year-old creations below.

Photo of seven sculpture-like K'Nex structures made by my daughter.

My daughter’s inventions in her own words, assembled and photographed together from two $10 sets of Kids K’Nex (with parts to spare). See an enlarged version for detail.

1. A Standing File. It’s a noise-making toy for a 1-year-old. [Yeah, this explanation perplexed us, too.]

2. One-eyed Little Tiny Guy that is a fireman. A fire predicted [sic] to his eye and his eye fell out.

3. Two-wing Bat [Umm, is there another kind?]

4. Small Tree

5. Pinwheel Monster

6. Two-eyed Fish

7. One Eyeball Fish

Digital rendering of what two K'Nex Kids toy kits can make, a mouse and a lobster.

Kid K’Next are colorful, ultra bright bendable plastic sticks that connect to joints for creating statue-style objects, accented by one or two realistic body parts.

A company rep offered to send over a review sample, so we gave the toy a spin. My daughter has been playing with them for more than a month.

Compare the creatures my daughter made to how a toddler paints pictures. At a young age, kids think in abstract terms. Ask your child about the blobs of paint she slapped on a sheet of paper and you may receive a
detailed account of a scene she painted in her mind.

A 4- or 5-year-old would, of course, create vastly different play structures.

The same principle held true for my
daughter building with K’Nex.

Her face turns serious as she attaches the many sticks and joint pieces. Unassisted, her creations are bizarre and minimalist, but always have meaning to her.

I asked her:

  • “Do you like this toy?”
  • “Yes.”
  • “Why?”
  • “I can make so much stuff with them.”

You’ve probably seen K’nex toys in various stores, but Kid K’nex is a special, simplified version for ages 3 to 5. They sell in themed kits where the contents in the box let you build the creature featured on the product packaging.

The two kits I’m reviewing are Country Friends and Undersea Pals. These sets let you build, one-at-a-time, a lobster, octopus, whale, penguin, mouse, pig, snail or duck. Sometimes the animal is fairly abstract, such as the mouse featured with a lobster in the marketing graphic above.

We quickly lost the printed diagrams that came with our kits that depicted the animals we could build. No worries though because I had no intention of building them with my daughter. The point of an open-ended toy is to build anything you want. So we mixed the K’nex pieces between the two carrying cases and didn’t look back.

What I Liked:

  • Open-ended creativity. Eyeballs included in both kits go with any type of creature. Fins included in one kit were intended as fins or penguin feet, but my daughter saw them as bat wings.
  • Scaled pricing. You can buy big expensive K’nex kits, or smaller ones like those in this review. The basic kits are ideally priced at $10 for birthday gifts, an easy way to build up your K’nex collection.
  • Although the pieces are plastic, they don’t feel cheap.
  • One $10 kit is enough to occupy a 3-year-old, making multiple creations before taking them apart to build new ones.

What I Disliked:

  • Not enough specialty body parts. One kit has two eyeballs and two fins. The other had only two eyeballs. When buying a kit, look carefully at how many body parts are shown in the product photo. This would be my primary influence in selecting a K’nex kit — am I getting one set or two sets of specialty parts?
  • If your child is still mouthing toys at age 3, don’t use this toy. Some parts are small.
  • If you amass a large K’nex collection, the plastic storage bins will become a hassle to keep. In real world situations, I expect all of your K’nex kits will get thrown into one box.

The next step up in the K’nex age group is to 5- to 7-year-olds. We sampled K’nex’s Wheel Action 10 Model Building Set. This one $10 kit lets you build 11 vehicles.

I was blown away by the complexity — 150 pieces (reminiscent of Lego and Kid K’nex pieces) and a step-by-step pictorial manual. You get a walkthrough for building 6 vehicles (quick car, speedster, flatbed truck, dragster, tow truck and plow) and single finished diagrams for 5 vehicles (mini car, airplane, 2 “funny cars,” and a forklift).

The preschool kits are not compatible with the kits for older kids, nor could they be because the objects older kids build are more compact and based around blocks that snap together.

Buy direct from the K’Nex web site, or Mail Order Express, or find smaller offerings at Amazon and The Construction Site.


5 Responses to “Review: Kid K’nex Building Toy for Preschoolers”

  1. lisa says:

    Does your daughter also have Duplo blocks, and if so, which does she prefer?

    August 30th, 2007 at 10:44 pm

  2. AJ says:

    My daughter never really got into Duplo blocks (the jumbo ones). If you mean the small bricks, I have an extensive Lego collection, but won’t be introducing that for a year or two.

    August 30th, 2007 at 11:03 pm

  3. Tracie says:

    Children are amazing! I love to hear what things they cook up! My daughter built a tower out of the Duplos recently and told me she had just built her imagination!

    August 31st, 2007 at 11:15 am

  4. STL Mom says:

    My 7-year-old daughter still pulls out her K’nex, which I believe she first received at age 3. My 4-year-old son also likes them, but has never been as crazy about them as his sister. She makes all kinds of weird creatures and then plays with them for hours. Great toy.

    September 2nd, 2007 at 8:03 am

  5. Jennifer says:

    This is by far one of my all time favorite toys for all children who are beyond the mouthing stage. There is so much to do with these. As they get older, it gets more complex. I’ve seen junior high children enjoying making things with these and using them to make exepriments with movement (roller coasters, cranks) I even watched a group of fifth graders make a HUGE ferris wheel that actually worked!

    September 2nd, 2007 at 10:19 am