The best gifts for 3-year-olds play to their existing strengths, while also helping them develop and master new ones. By age 3, kids are speaking in full sentences and thus are old enough to let you know if they like something — but too young to clearly and specifically articulate what they want. So that leaves the guesswork to you, as you try to decipher which gifts and toys will keep your 3-year-old challenged, entertained, and engrossed. The right educational toys for toddlers boost learning by rewarding discovery with delight.
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“Three-year-olds are eager to solve problems and will make their own if needed. That’s why blocks of all kinds are fun choices for 3-year-olds who want to explore, create, and figure things out,” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs at Zero to Three.
Look into “pretend-play props that encourage feisty 3-year-olds to tell stories and act out roles, like puppets, pretend play costumes, and storybooks with simple storylines and vivid illustrations,” says Parlakian. “Finally, don’t forget that 3-year-olds like to move. Balls of all sizes, bowling sets, tunnels to crawl through, child-size rakes and shovels (so they can ‘help’ you), and wheeled toys to push and ride” all make great gifts for 3-year-olds.
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The Best Active Toys for 3-Year-Olds
A delightful building toy, this one has preschoolers building three different vehicles out of one set of colorful parts: A rocket, a train engine, and a helicopter. Great for kids just figuring out how those fine motor skills work, and needing a little practice.
A classic and beautiful climbing toy, this one is great for building motor skill development, developing balance control, and promoting muscle development and encouraging physical activity. The frame and rungs are made from bamboo; it folds flat for storage. The weight limit is 90 pounds.
The Best Creative Toys for 3-Year-Olds
It's magic! Actually, it's not, but it sure will seem like it to your 3 year old. These soft foam blocks are magnetic and rotate 360 degrees, allowing kids to engage in truly open-ended pretend play. Plus, they learn about shapes and colors, as they build weird buildings or bring bizarre creatures to life.
Little kids have been feelings. Make that very big feelings. And they don't yet have the words to articulate why they're upset. This pineapple helps them show you how they feel, using 26 face pieces ranging from smiles to frowns to grins to confused expressions.
This set helps your child be part of the food prep process, and it's made from 100 percent recycled plastic. This 18-piece meal set inspires young chefs to whip up succulent pretend meals using a cheese stamp, a sauce cutter, dough tubs, and myriad other necessities. Fantasy play at its best.
These are blocks in name only — a set of 16 beautiful stacking shapes, with complex edges and multiple faces, giving kids a renewable challenge and bringing something beautiful into the playroom. And because every block manufactured is unique, you can rest assured no one will have a set quite like yours.
The Best STEM and Educational Toys for 3-Year-Olds
There's absolutely no prescriptive way to play with this set. No stringent directions to follow. No way to do the wrong thing. And that's absolutely perfect. Kids build whatever they want, using nuts, bolts, a hammer, and a screwdriver. The set is ideal for boosting fine motor skills, hand-eye coordination, logical thinking, and task completion.
Going to the doctor can be scary. And this set puts kids in charge, empowering them to treat their four-legged patient, and understand that medical care is a good thing. The set includes a stethoscope, thermometer, syringe, ear scope, tweezers, clamp, cast, bandages, and ointments.
The scale is adjustable. The overhead exam light really works. And this is a pretty standout pretend play vet clinic for aspiring animal caretakers. They can give their puppy an X-ray, use the stethoscope and blood pressure gauge to check the animal's vitals, and finally, give the puppy a treat as a reward. Best of all, multiple kids can play together.
You don't need a lab to learn about science. Just take your kids outdoors. Talk to them about sun and rain, wind and slush, humidity and cloudiness, and document weather changes on this station. It gives them a stake in what's happening in the natural world around them.
Kids sort the products by color and put the veggies into the corresponding baskets. The set includes 25 foods, five baskets, and stickers to label them. The foods look like what actual people eat for actual meals, and it's one great real-world toy to help kids understand what they see in their kitchen at home.
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