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As we continue to work remotely or take online classes due to coronavirus, we may be looking for new and fun ways to spend time with our families. Maybe you're enjoying the last bit of summer sun by going on a socially-distant picnic or to the pool. Or perhaps you're streaming old movies on Netflix or playing traditional board games or more complex video games. Another thing you may want to consider is the decades-old Lego brand which has become increasingly popular in rather recent headlines. Whether for its blockbuster Lego movies or attempting to make Lego products entirely sustainable by 2030, the plant-based bricks in the Ideas' Tree House exemplifying that effort, Lego bricks are like beach sand. Once you get a little in the house, it’s never leaving. And with the holidays coming up, Legos offer an inclusive gift for the whole family to enjoy. However, the sheer volume of sets and options — from cute Brickheadz and Frozen 2-themed options to the Millennium Falcon from Star Wars and, of course, Lego Batman — might be a bit overwhelming. Thankfully, adult fans of Legos (AFOLs) have spent years thinking about Lego purchases and could help guide you through the toy aisle. I'm an AFOL myself: I wrote "LEGO: A Love Story" some years back, researching and profiling the AFOL community. Since then, I’ve become a dad of two children who are currently eight and 10 years old — naturally, our living room doubles as a Lego room.
And we're frequently looking for new additions to the family collection. We recently brought home a little bit of Star Wars with Anakin’s Jedi Starfighter and my wife surprised me for Hannukah with the Lego Ideas Voltron, inspired by a cartoon I loved as a kid and which Lego brought to life as a set I’m now building with my own children. If there’s one thing I’ve learned throughout writing my book and raising my kids, it’s that you only need to think about two things when it comes to buying LEGO bricks for kids: what do they like and how old they are.
You can’t expect kids to build the Empire State Building at seven — but they can build a house.
Joe Meno, editor of BrickJournal
Lego brick sets for every interest
The world of Lego has grown from yesteryear's simple bricks (like the Classic Lego Creative Brick Box, a bucket of bricks and wheels) to a wide variety of pop culture-inspired figures and kits. The company has even adopted fan suggestions via Lego Ideas, which places user-submitted set ideas in front of a LEGO panel for review and potential production). That initiative's given us themed sets ranging from The Upside Down in Netflix's Stranger Things to the International Space Station, the Firehouse Headquarters from Ghostbusters and the Central Perk coffee shop from Friends. The sky's the limit, really.
“These have been some of the most creative LEGO sets ever,” says Brian Korte, an artist with Brickworkz, a company that designs and delivers themed LEGO art and portraits.
One way to hone in on what your Lego giftee wants is to scroll through existing offerings as Lego "has a pretty good idea of what kids want to build," says Joe Meno, the editor of BrickJournal, a bi-monthly magazine for LEGO enthusiasts that launched in 2005. "You can key off that."
“The Lego Iron Man mini-figure has a helmet that opens. Kids love that," Meno notes. "Adults like display; but kids like to play and display.”
Best Legos to shop for every age group
LEGO gives you a hint about what to buy with each set. Each box has a recommended age group noted on it. “The age range is going to give you an idea of building competence,” Meno explained. “The younger a child is, the more unlikely they’ll be able to build something complex.”
Best Lego brick sets for ages 1-3
Lego Duplo sets are larger blocks that are easier to snap together and just right for toddlers.
This 23-piece set does a lot of work. The rolling wheels of the train allow for movement and play. The numbers let you work on counting. And a boy, a girl and a cat jump off an accompanying pretend story.
Best Lego brick sets for ages 3-5
With my own children, I only made the decision to move into the next age group of sets (with the standard smaller bricks) when I could trust they wouldn’t put the pieces in their mouth if they were playing by themselves.
The 59-piece set comes with a small motor and lets kids start or stop the train with a touch. There are also colored bricks that correspond to sounds, lights and action on the train.
“It’s a really intriguing set. It teaches cause and effect, and gives a basic look into coding,” Meno advised.
Best Lego sets for ages 5-7
Once kids move out of preschool, Lego roughly groups sets in two-year increments. The kits get slightly more complicated — and potentially a lot more expensive — with each subsequent age range.
“You can’t expect kids to build the Empire State Building at seven,” Meno says. “But they can build a house.”
A dog and ice cream scoops are part of the 200 pieces in the set. The vibrant ice cream truck is an easy build for beginners and offers plenty of moments of play after it is built.
“It’s a nice little self-contained set,” Meno says. “It’s a kid-friendly version of what we’re used to seeing.”
This 362-piece set is a mini bank heist with a big getaway vehicle. The monster truck even has a magnet arm, which allows the safe to be pulled away from the building.
“There’s a nice conflict of good and bad here. Kids are getting more sophisticated [at this age] and starting to look at their city and town,” Meno notes.
Best Lego sets for ages 7-9
Older age groups are exposed to more complex series like the Lego Creator series, which offers 3-in-1 sets, for example.
In this case, a child can construct a toy store, a cake shop or a flower shop. I recommend the 554-piece kit because it also introduces the concept of modular and scale building, wherein structures can be linked together in an imaginary city.
“I’m a geek. You make a rocket launchpad — what more do you want?” Meno says of the 837-piece set with a monorail and rocket. “But here you get to go to space. It’s accessible. It gives [kids] something to work with and we’ll see where we end up."
Best Legos for ages 9-11
The Lego Creator Expert series is the evolved form of the Creator sets, wherein builders begin to think about design and function.
The 1,471-piece Mustang set has a working hood and trunk and plenty of hot-rod modifications. But the big draw is that this one will delight kids and the adults who might be building alongside them (or after they go to bed).
“Lego is in the unique place of being able to create your memories," Meno says. "I had a Mustang, and by golly, this car just feels right and reminds me of my high school years."
Best Legos for ages 12 and up
Young teens and adult fans — along with those coming to the hobby because of limited edition Lego Ideas sets — will find a host of challenging and intricate builds that also bring with them a higher price tag.
This set has over 3,000 pieces. You’ll want to set aside a full day or two to build the treehouse with cabin roofs that can be removed and a working crane to lift a basket from the ground. Not to mention, some of the bricks are made of plant-derived plastic.
“The price is steep,” Korte says. “But considering it's so smartly-built, attractive for display and immensely fun-to-build, I think it's justified.”
If you're one to get ahead of holiday shopping, consider gifting a seasonal Lego set such as this festive gingerbread house. It has over 1,470 pieces and is marked as a "hard to find" item on the Lego website. The intricate set includes a candy-filled exterior, fireplace, candy-style furniture and more. It's also equipped with a gingerbread family to live in the house.
This set is meant for more advanced Lego builders ages 18 and up. If you've got a Star Wars fan or are up for the challenge, it comes with 647 intricate pieces. Once finished, you can prop it on a coffee table and leave it on display.