this thing's incredible

This Take-Apart Toy Turns My Toddler Into a Would-be Car Mechanic

Photo: Lauren Ro

My 2-and-a-half-year-old loves “helping” us change the battery on his Thomas trains. As with all battery-powered toys for small children, this endeavor requires a tiny screwdriver to remove the even tinier screws from the plastic cover that keeps the battery securely in place. In other words, it’s not the most kid-friendly activity, but it’s one Augie relishes.

He also loves connecting his train tracks (and taking them apart), making structures with his Magna-Tiles (and destroying them), putting together his Duplo vehicles (and disassembling them), and meticulously repacking toys in their original boxes (and taking them back out again).

Given Augie’s penchant for putting things together and taking them apart, my husband and I started looking for toys that have that engineering spirit at their core. Sure, there are plenty of toolbox sets that come with hammers, wrenches, screwdrivers, and nuts and bolts, but we wanted something a bit more structured. Turns out there’s a whole genre of “take apart” playthings out there. These allow kiddos to assemble the entire toy from a pile of parts and screws into something they can actually play with. Then when they’ve had their fill, they simply take everything apart until the next time they get hit with the building bug.

As I mentioned, there is a ton of such toys on Amazon, but we decided on this Battat crane truck for its non-primary color scheme, chunky parts, and nicer design (plus the fact that we trust this brand — it’s the same one that makes one of our favorite gifts for 1-year-olds, the B. Zany Zoo activity cube).

When it arrived at my parents’ house in Los Angeles, where we were on vacation that week, Augie was immediately interested in examining all the pieces. There are 30 in all, including a chassis, a cab, wheels, a truck bed, a crane, and an excavator, plus all the necessary screws, nuts, and bolts — a dream come true for a little boy who’s obsessed with vehicles. It even comes with a power drill that turns in both directions and three different drill bits (while adorable and lifelike, this is slightly too advanced for his age).

Although Augie needed help from his grandpa for the first couple of goes, he quickly got the hang of puzzling the larger pieces together. Each part is a different color, which makes it easy to identify what goes where, and the hardware is oversize — good for toddler hands, even if it takes a little trial and error to figure out which way to turn to tighten or loosen. The trickiest section is definitely the crane, which requires snapping things together and threading multiple nuts and bolts. Augie can’t do that part on his own, but it’s such a small component compared with the rest of the truck that it doesn’t take away from his enjoyment of the toy.

Aside from the fun factor, we love that this toy is low-key educational: It teaches problem-solving, fine-motor skills, and shape sorting and requires sustained concentration. With a little assistance, Augie had a brand-new crane truck with functional moving parts. When he got bored, all he had to do was take everything apart — which is, I’m guessing, just as fun as putting it all together in the first place — only to do it all over again.

A few more take-apart toys from Battat

If your child prefers flying vehicles, here’s a 22-piece airplane that’s slightly easier than the crane truck.

Or try this little roadster with an open roof.

And a Hummer, if they’re into that sort of thing.

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This Toy Turns My Toddler Into a Would-Be Car Mechanic