Building with blocks and construction toys is a great unstructured activity for kids, and Ollies Wooden Blocks are a superb new addition to the category.
Giving kids plenty of building materials and the space to explore their imagination can yield hours of creative play, and while construction toys like LEGO and Tinkertoy have been staples in this category for decades, there's a fairly new entry to the building toy scene that has the potential to be just as engaging as those standards.
Last year, I wrote about the crowdfunding launch for Ollies Wooden Blocks, saying that it was like "LEGO meets Tinkertoys meets Erector sets," and that Kickstarter campaign ended up being very successful for the company, with almost 600 people backing the project and lining up to pre-order sets of Ollies. My younger kids (11, 7, & 2 years old) and I recently got to spend some time with the 100-piece set of Ollies, and after hours of play, the consensus around here is that these builidng blocks "are really really fun" (says my 7-year old).At the core of the Olllies building system are precision-cut oak blocks and planks, which are sourced from surplus wood pieces from local artisans and carpenters in Israel, some of which have have been drilled to accept interlocking plastic pegs from other pieces, and some of which have pegs inserted in them.
The blocks and planks come in different sizes and peg/hole combinations, and can be joined together in standard block construction style (stacked vertically or horizontally) or at angles, thanks to the ability of the pieces to swivel around the plastic pegs to create movable joints. This also allows kids to build curved structures and to incorporate moving elements into their designs, and because some of the blocks also have holes in their sides, not just the top and bottom, it enables a greater variety of flexibility in construction. Whereas basic LEGO blocks are great fun, they're also predominantly for building static structures that conform to the standard right angle format, Ollies can be built into additional shapes and structures that break out of that mold a bit.
The wooden pieces are joined together with either the plastic pegs that are built into each block, or with the separate plastic pegs that can be used to join blocks or planks but still allow them to move freely. A set of 8 wooden wheels gives some additional mobility to creations made from Ollies, and the only drawback to the set we got was that all three kids wanted to use the wheels at the same time, which is an issue that comes up for us even when they play with our gazillion-piece LEGO collection, so it's hardly a big deal.
My kids and I have had a lot of fun building with Ollies, and even as my 11-year old and 7-year old were able to create intricate designs with them, my 2-year old also found it easy enough to build his own little structures that kept him occupied for hours. It's safe to say that Ollies has earned its place alongside LEGO and Tinkertoys at our house, and is a great addition to our building toys. The quality of the wooden blocks was excellent, and they are probably rugged enough to last for generations, especially since they're not painted or coated in any way. The weakest part of the set, in terms of longevity, might be the separate plastic pegs, just because little parts are prone to being lost or stepped on, in my experience, although your mileage may vary. The pegs built into the blocks are sturdy enough to stand up to just about any normal play activities, and we haven't broken any of them yet, but we (I) did crunch one of the other pegs on the tile floor.
Olliies Wooden Blocks are available at Amazon, where a 100-piece set sells for $119, but the founder of Ollies, Haran Yaffe, has created a special coupon code for TreeHugger readers, so use the code OLLIEBK2 to get 20% off the cost of a set.
[Disclosure: I received a review set of this product, and all opinions, errors, or omissions in this post are mine alone.]