A few years ago, toy companies vowed to focus on developing products that would keep kids playing with toys longer, says Adrienne Appell, trend specialist for the Toy Industry Association.
The industry’s effort may have paid off. Building and construction toys were one of the few retail growth engines in toys last year. Sales of hands-on building toys jumped 23% to $1.6 billion in 2011 from $1.3 billion, while toys overall fell to $21.2 billion from $21.7 billion, according to NPD Group.
But true tinkering is more than following directions to assemble prepackaged parts. Ms. Budnitz thinks the unstructured experience is being squeezed out of childhood. With most building toys, “you can’t fail,” she says. “It’s much more fun to tinker and fail and figure things out.”