Building blocks are considered one of the basic toys of childhood. Read on for some suggested sources and some novel building ideas.

Wooden Building Blocks

Buy your child some wooden blocks, and towers and bridges and cities are likely to rise up before your eyes. But there are many building block companies and some interesting and creative blocks on the market besides basic wooden block sets with a fairly standard set of shapes, with beginner sets often having about 5 to 11 different shapes. Providers include:

* Maple Landmark, which has 11-shape sets, but also 17- and 21-shape sets

* HABA USA makes plain wood and colored building block sets in basic shapes, as well as Play World sets to make towns and farms and including wooden people, animals, and trees, all made of wood. Their Master Builder collection features blocks shaped to build particular building types, including medieval castles, Mayan temples, pyramids, coliseums, Russian architecture, Japanese houses, and more.

* Melissa & Doug offer standard, colored, and architectural building blocks. The architectural set includes columns, doorways and doors, stairs, windows, and more.  They also have town and farm playsets with vehicles and trees.

* Kapla is a wooden construction toy that features identical wooden blocks that all have a 1:3:15 ratio. Some of the block sets include colored blocks, and many of them include instruction books with ideas for models to build. The basic idea is to build using gravity and balance, but a set with connection clips is also available.

* Brio offers natural wooden building blocks, colored wooden blocks in two styles, and a Hello Kitty wooden block set, as well as several sets of magnetic building blocks.

* Guildcraft makes multiple sets of "Rainbow" blocks and natural wooden blocks. The rainbow blocks have solid edges and interiors that may be solid colored "stained glass effect," or contain colored sand, crystal beads, mirrors, or "shimmering water." The natural wooden blocks come in sets ranging from 5 pieces to 390 pieces (suitable for classrooms), and special Greek, Castle, Arabian, and Oriental architectural sets, as well as people, traffic signs, and city blocks, as well as a set of 6 community buildings are available.

Plastic Bricks

Lego is one of, if not the, best known type of plastic building blocks, called bricks. Legos come in kits, with larger blocks for smaller children (Duplos). Some kits offer models of real world elements:

* Duplo, the larger block sets for smaller children, features kits that focus on town life, farms, trains, the zoo, emergency assistance, in the real-world category. It also has princess, Winnie-the-Pooh, and Cars (the movie) sets.

* The City kits provide models that include police, fire fighters, boats, airplanes, space shuttles, and trains.

* The Creator line has kits for vehicles, building--including a lighthouse, log cabin, and several house--and creatures, including a robot, prehistoric creatures, and a crocodile.

* Specialty lines, called Architecture, Technic, and Power Functions, focus on specialty uses of Lego bricks. The architecture sets provide materials to build famous structures, including the Sydney Opera House, Robie House, the Guggenheim Museum, Big Ben, the White House, the Empire State Building, and the Seattle Space Needle. The Technic sets are designed to create models that perform a function, which may involve swiveling, lifting, rotating, pivoting, etc. Power Functions brings models to life by powering Legos to perform chosen actions for them, and controlling the actions remotely.

* Additional sets tie to brands or popular themes. Branded Legos include those for Star Wars, Marvel and DC Universe Super Heroes, Pirates of the Caribbean, SpongeBob, and Harry Potter, with Lord of the Rings being prepared for release. Thematic sets include Dino, Alien Conquest, Kingdoms (medieval knights), Atlantis, and the soon to be released Monster Fighters, vampire fighters, who are trying to stop Lord Vampire from recovering six moonstones that can be used to put out the sun and bring eternal darkness.

There is, however, no reason that Legos, like other blocks, cannot be used in ways other than the things the kits were designed to build. For example,

* Birds. Thomas Pousom, a professional tree surgeon, has used Legos to create nearly life-size models of a robin, a kingfisher, a blue tit, and puffin, a goldfinch, and a wood pecker

* Large Hadron Collider. Sasha Mehihase, a physicist from University of Copenhagen's Niels Borh Institute built a model of the Large Hadron Collider

* Working Harpsichord. Henry Lim built a working harpsichord, entirely made of Legos.

* The Beatles. Lim also reproduced an iconic photograph of the Beatles

* Babbage Difference Engine. Andrew Carol built a limited working model of a Babbage Difference Engine with Legos. 

*European Map with Landmarks. Vanessa Graf, Tanja Kusserow-Kurth, Torsten Scheer, Bruno Kurth and Tobias Reichling built a map of Europe with appropriate architecture models built by a variety of people at key locations, including the Parthenon in Athens, the Eiffel Tower in Paris, a windmill in Rottterdam, St. Patrick's Cathedral in Dublin, the Colosseum in Rome, the Hagia-Sophia-Museum in Istanbul, Stonehenge in Amesbury, England, and the Yivli Minare Mosque in Antalya, Turkey.