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 complete 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.
“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. Based on the above criteria, here are some of our editors’ favorite gifts.
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The Best Active Toys for 3-Year-Olds
The thoughtfully-crafted balance board is a boon for pretend play, as it becomes everything from a see-saw to a boat. Each of these beauties is handmade, but above and beyond that, the balance board help kids find their center of gravity and work their muscles.
The textured edges of the Gonge Riverstones mimic the feel underfoot of the real river stones that highlight the illusion of jumping across a river. This brightly colored set gives your three-year-old that tactile feel safely and cleanly inside your living space and can act the base of some of the best “the floor is lava,” games of your year.
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.
The Little Tykes 3’ Trampolene is an iconic toy for good reason. It just might be the most efficient get-your-wiggles-out device for a small space ever invented. A three foot diameter trampolene can keep even the rowdiest three-year-old within its footprint while they are simultaneously jumping their little hearts out.
Hi Ho Cherry O is one of those games that delivers fun while being light on instructions, which makes it ideal for three year olds. It introduces counting in a lighthearted way that couples with an enthusiastic parent playing the part of a cherry-stealing dog or crow in a way that combines learning with play.
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
A play kitchen is a classic toy, but it’s also a large investment, so it pays to buy the right one. They’re large and draw the eye, so if you’re going to get one, make sure it’s not an eyesore. And the Chelsea from Pottery Barn Kids is beautiful. It looks like the clean mid-century modern kitchen of most parents’ dreams and its premium wooden build means it will last as some real kitchens as well.
This vibrant 18-piece wooden puzzle is only six inches wide, so it can fit into a hip pack and is engrossing enough to save a night out if placed in front of a three-year-old. While some kiddos might strive to create a clean star rainbow pattern, others may attempt a variety of the thousands of potential shape combinations within the sturdy pointed frame.
While it’s intended for younger children, the Ice Cream Counter can be engaging for kids all the way through elementary school. Its large age-appropriate run is the result of the cleanly-built stackable ice cream scoops, as well as the straightforward narrative of play that comes with the business aspect of the set.
This Harp will prove incredibly whimsical to the three-year-old that receives it as a gift because of the wide tonal range, thanks to its fifteen nylon strings and hollow wood interior. And for a musical instrument, the sounds coming from the harp are gentle and soft compared to, say, a drum set.
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.
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.
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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