When I was a little girl construction toys were very much a boys’ thing, but even though I had more than twenty dolls to play with, oh how I craved the Lego sets and Meccano sets that my (male) cousins had.

Engineers often cite early play with construction toys as being the spark that ignited their passion for building things and designing from scratch. Indeed previous reluctance to buy construction toys has been suggested by researchers in Purdue University as being as a factor for the comparative disparity in the numbers of high achieving women in science, technology, engineering and maths. Engineers are usually in high demand, command high levels of respect and correspondingly good salaries, so boy or girl you might want to encourage any budding engineers in your circle of family and friends.

These days construction toys are very much for every child and there has never been a more creative and absorbing array of toys to build with. You can make houses, vehicles, spaceships, farms, pirate ships. The list is almost endless, so I have picked out the ones I think have the best play value, the widest appeal or which have that ultimate wow factor.

First up – Lego and its companion for younger kids Duplo.

For me these are the ultimate construction toys. Rugged, in fact almost indestructible, brightly coloured plastic toys that go together to build just about anything. It is said that the specification of these is unwavering down the years so that Lego bricks bought fifty years ago are completely compatible with bricks bought yesterday. In an era when everything has built in redundancy and backwards compatibility is designed out after only a few years, the idea that you can have a collection and just keep adding to it over a long period of time has tremendous value.

Basic bricks and the occasional window piece or wheel and axle were all that were readily available when I was a child but, Oh, how times have changed. Now there are themed sets for every occasion. Pirate ships, farmyards, mansions, the Millennium Falcon and this oh so wonderful (only to be purchased when I have won the lottery) – Death Star from Star Wars.

My brother had the Millennium Falcon as a kid, and I am now confessing to the world that I opened it before him and put it together one Christmas morning.

I even found a guy with a whole YouTube channel of crazy mechanical devices that he’s made using Lego. Check this one out.

Lego Technic – Great Ball Contraption GBC – Speedometer

For younger children, Duplo has the same look and feel but the pieces are considerably larger (and hence do not present the same choking hazard as the smaller Lego pieces) and the themes are less complex. Brilliant for early attempt to make things join together and so perfect fine motor skills, also the animals and play people are usable as toys in their own right.

Somewhere I have a picture of my two sons (aged about two and four) standing next to a tower of Duplo bricks they had built which, quite literally, reached from floor to ceiling – they may have had some help standing it upright of course but they were chuffed to bits with this gigantic edifice.

But Lego and Duplo is not the entirety of the plastic construction toy possibilities. There are other stick together bricks that are made almost entirely of plastic such as Sticklebricks.

It’s slightly old fashioned and certainly quite expensive but something in me loves the genuine engineer vibe that comes with Meccano. The nuts and bolts, the metal struts and the complex electrical and mechanical add ons (motors, lights etc) that can be obtained for Meccano all add to the authentic, mechanic, engineer appeal. Like Lego it can accumulate over years and hold fascination from aged six to sixty plus.

And then of course there’s always good old fashioned wooden bricks for the younger child, though to be fair it’s more about knocking towers down than building them up.