Imitating the Real World construction for the budding engineers

Ever see your kids play with Lego and wonder "is that all there really is?" What do you do with the children who have "graduated" Lego or just had their fill with it?

The answer might be Meccano.

Now, don't get me wrong. I love Lego too. I think it's one of the best construction toys ever made.

So why do I bring up Meccano as a possible solution for kids who had their share of Lego?

Well, there are a few reasons. First, though some fans of Lego might disagree, Meccano seems to be made in general for more advance builders. But in reality, Meccano sets are just built for a different sort of construction toy enthusiast than Lego.

For example, a lot of Meccano sets include moving parts such as wheels and/or gears. With Lego, until you get into more complex sets, you get more of a simple brick based building sets.

Another big difference between Meccano and Lego is HOW they were designed to be built.

Most of us already know Lego. If you don't, read this page on Lego (a new window will open).

On this page let's get to the "nuts and bolts" of the Meccano sets.

The Nuts and Bolts…told you

One of the coolest elements of Meccano is its concept of tools. All Meccano sets include basic tools and some advanced sets with power tools.

Not only does the power tool make the ‘work’ easier and faster, it adds to the realism of the Meccano sets.

Unlike most construction toys that require only the use of hands, Meccano prides itself in allowing children to build more complex structures using real world kinds of tools.

The nuts and bolts idea combined with the metal beams and plates gives a child endless possibility for building complex structures that can move and "do things".

Gears and tools

Because using beams and plates leave a lot of room empty inside a structure, there is naturally more room to play with. So instead of leaving all that internal real estate untouched, the Meccano designers smartly decided to include other things in them.

What kinds of things?

In many of the Meccano sets, you’ll see various forms of gears that can be used to turn wheels, propellers and such.

Oh, remember the power tool that I mentioned just a little above? In sets called Speed play, the power tool can be used as a motor after the construction is finished. More bang for the buck and double the fun.

Two birds with one bolt? You bet.


Some people compare the new Meccano Speedplay to Lego’s Mindstorms. But the Meccano sets don't have an electronic component quite like the Lego Mindstorms (see bottom of the page).

I don’t even think this was a focus for them. Meccano did include a very basic form of electronic into one of the sets (the Interactive Robot set), but it’s only able to ‘play’ the downloaded music and preprogrammed movements from the Meccano website.

What is very unique about the Speedplay sets, even by Meccano standard is the way the units are constructed. The new power tool included in the sets is not only a power tool, it is a different types of power tool.

In fact, the whole construction system went under a face lift, you could say. The new system involves pins and screws instead of the traditional nuts and bolts kind of system.

Combined with the use of the power tool, this system claims to be faster and much easier to use, giving children quicker feedback on their efforts and keeping up their interests.

Another side benefit is that they are able to do more with the sets because they can now attempt more complex structures without worrying about how much longer the project is going to take them.

Though some Meccano fans have criticized the new construction system, from what I’ve heard, most of the feedbacks were very positive. So, I will make the statement that if you are a Meccano fan or know one who is, then you just might want to look into the Speedplay sets.

Last thoughts

Generally speaking, Meccano sets are built to mimic the real life machines and structures by their design. And because of their unique design, children can create sturdy pieces that function as they were designed.

Of course, being a toy, one of the biggest functions of the Meccano sets are playability. And Meccano sets deliver.

Due to their construction method, they won’t easily fall apart when played with and offer even more fun because of all the moving parts.

But always keep in mind that the creations are not limited to the photos shown on the box. It really depends on the imagination of the creator.

Encourage your children to push their imagination and to really have some cool fun with their Meccano sets because playing is learning.

“education at play”

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