What We Like
Open-ended and creative building
Satisfying wrench clicking noise
Sturdy container for easy storage
Lots of pieces
What We Don't Like
No hardcopy instruction book provided
Hard to fit the pieces back into container
When it comes to toddler toys, not much can beat a well-designed STEM building set. From learning math in a practical setting to expanding spatial vocabulary, toys like ETI’s Lil’ Engineers Set are designed to give your child a leg up in the areas of science, technology, engineering, and math. To see if Lil’ Engineers can help build up a child’s fine motor skills while keeping them entertained at the same time, we put them in the capable hands of our 3 year old son. Read on to see what we learned.
Educational Value: Learn something new every time
The ETI Toys Lil’ Engineers set is just brimming with opportunities to build awesome new creations. An 84-page ebook offers building instructions that are broken down into Easy, Intermediate, and Advanced. We like how the projects are rated by difficulty as it gives kids something to work on now and something to work toward.
We like how the projects are rated by difficulty as it gives kids something to work on now and something to work toward.
If you choose to make one of the Idea Book creations (animals, planes, cars, and more), prepping the project gives you and your child a great chance to reinforce counting skills and color identification as you choose your parts. We also loved how this process opened a dialogue about how the pieces are different and the same, how they might fit together and how amazing it was that these parts could turn into something completely different.
Design: Smart and space saving
This building set comes with 101 pieces all packed into a handy plastic case with two locking sides and a foldover handle. All those features make this set ideal for small spaces and tidy playrooms. Parts include rectangular building blocks with two, three, or five holes, two square blocks, two rectangular blocks, six wheels, various washers and screws, and two wrenches. The wrenches are perfect for younger children not only because of their size, but because of the clicking sound they make when a nut is on tight enough. Our son used that sound as a cue to stop twisting and really got a kick out of it, probably in part because it sounds just like a real socket wrench.
One downside in the design of this toy is that it’s challenging to get all the pieces back into the box. It required several tries and multiple reconfigurations of the parts to get the lid to close, even with several parts in-use and outside of the box. We’d love to see a slightly larger container for this toy.
The other issue we encountered was the lack of hard copy instructions. The kit comes with an 84-page PDF “Idea Book” that you can refer to while building, but we found it very distracting for our toddler when we kept looking at our phones to confirm our next steps. We’d recommend planning ahead and printing out the instructions for younger builders and perhaps using a tablet for older kids.
Entertainment Value: Great for building together
Our son loved making the animals in the Easy section, including the duck and the frog. We picked out the parts together and then counted out each of the pieces again before getting started. This first stage of the build was fantastic for comparing sizes, colors, and shapes. Once we had everything laid out, we built the animal together. With assistance, he was able to use the socket wrench style tool to connect each of the pieces and once it was finished, he was absolutely thrilled with what he’d made. So much so, that we still haven’t taken apart his beloved duck.
Our son loved making the animals in the Easy section, including the duck and the frog.
We also spent some time using these building tools in free play, without any particular design in mind and it was really fun seeing what our son came up with. Since he’s just recently turned 3, we didn’t expect this to hold his attention for very long, but we’ve had a few play sessions last upwards of 45 minutes which is a big win in our household.
Age Range: 3 to 6 years
With small parts and fine motor skills required, this set is decidedly designed for the 3 and up crowd. We appreciate that the manufacturer goes the extra step and suggests a maximum age of 6 for this building set, as it can sometimes be tough to select age appropriate STEM toys.
We didn’t expect this to hold [our son’s] attention for very long, but we’ve had a few play sessions last upwards of 45 minutes which is a big win in our household.
Ease of Cleaning: Just soap and soak
All of the ETI pieces are made of a durable hard plastic, so if you have a basket for small items, running the parts through the dishwasher is your best bet. If not, all the parts can be soaked in soap and water, rinsed clean, and then left to dry on a towel.
Price: Easily worth it
This set is well worth its $30 price tag. It’s rare to find a toy that promotes collaboration, imagination and one-on-one problem solving skills in such a fun way. We can’t wait to see how our son improves his building skills in the future.
ETI Toys Lil’ Engineer vs. KID K’NEX Build a Bunch Set
For about $5 less, you can get the KID K’NEX Build a Bunch Set. It comes with fewer pieces—66 in total—and no tools, but it’s a good introductory engineering set, especially if your child is still working on fine motor skills. Even without a wrench, the K’NEX set will help your child’s imagination and spatial reasoning skills soar. Not to mention, it’s part of a larger STEM line that also caters to older children.
- Product Name Lil’ Engineers
- Product Brand ETI Toys
- MPN FBA_ET1011
- Price $29.97
- Weight 2.35 lbs.
- Product Dimensions 10.4 x 7.1 x 4.2 in.
- Material Plastic
- Number of Pieces 101
- Manufacturer Recommended Age Range 3 to 6 years