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The Best Gifts for 3-Year-Olds, According to Child-Development Experts

Three-year-olds are interested in... everything, which makes them oddly hard to shop for. Here are a few ways to make a 3-year-old happy.

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 toys will keep your 3-year-old challenged, entertained, and engrossed. The best gifts for 3-year-olds play to their existing strengths, while also helping them develop and master new ones. 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.

The Best Toys for 3-Year-Olds

These 21 wood blocks let kids play architect, constructing leaning towers and tilted castles. They learn about shapes and patterns.

On their own, flamingoes are unique, glorious creatures. But this game ups the ante. This bird has removable wings, a culbuto base, and comes with 10 small chicks. The goal: Distribute the birds evenly, without anyone taking a tumble. Kids can play solo, or together, as they learn about gravity and balance.

Think of this as the chid of Botley, the original remote coding robot for kids. Botley 2.0 teaches kids to code and program — without involving a single screen. Kids can program Botley to do a sequence of up to 150 steps, and are rewarded with 16 complex interactions (as well as lights and music).

This set contains curated teacher-recommended activities, tips, and games to help your child meet their developmental milestones.

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.

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.

Kids use these wooden eggs to express just how they feel. Anything that helps toddlers express their feelings and connect with their emotions is a win-win. This set helps promote emotional maturity as children identify and articulate their feelings.

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Like Jenga for little kids, this game has kids racing one another to stack a variety of animals on top of one another. The game fosters hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills, and kids can play solo or together.

Using this open-ended magnetic tablet, children draw pictures, shapes, letters and numbers, and lo and behold, the tablet glows in the dark! It's erasable and endlessly reusable.

This ingenious Cubebot is a puzzle, an action figure, a robot and a transformer that really puts kids' problem-solving skills to the test.

Dressing up feeds into fantasy play. A gorgeous scarlet cape that's fully washable, and lets kids be a princess, a superhero, or perhaps just an oddball but awesome butterfly.

This gardening set keeps kids active, and has them 'helping' you rake the leaves and clean up the yard.

Here's a great gift for 3-year-olds that gets them to immerse themselves in pretend play, while also boosting their motor skills. This gorgeous trolly workbench comes with 26 pieces including a hammer, screwdriver, and wrench that fit on the magnetic front panel for storage. Kids pound things and twist things and build things. Endlessly.

Increasingly verbal kids imagine and act out storylines that are increasingly detailed and vivid with this vibrant puppet theater; it comes with two sets of hand puppets for endless creativity and a ton of fun collaborative play.

Dress-up is something 3-year-olds absolutely adore, and these butterfly wings with elastic straps are so simple yet so mesmerizing when it comes to fantasy play. Kids run and soar and flap them around.

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.

It's art-fueled imaginary play at its best: Kids color the animals, wash them off, and start all over again.

Yes, this doll is every bit as ridiculous as you would imagine. She's also really fun and totally uncomplicated. Kids feed her and she poops. And thereby, they mimic what they themselves do every single day. Eat and poop.

This non-genderized dollhouse is tailor-made for collaborative play, as kids create their families and act out scenarios like making beds and walking the dog.

The key to open-ended toys is that there's no one way to play with them. These magnetic blocks can be anything that kids dream up.

With gorgeous pretend foods like this set, kids act out the same things they see their parents doing. Like serving dinner. Or making lunch. It's pretend play that helps them understand the adult world around them.

Holding a toy train and learning how to push it around a track or along the floor requires hand and finger coordination, both crucial for kids this age to master.

Kids are trying to make sense of the adult world around them, so get this kit that they can use to pretend-treat their stuffed animals.

Truly, this is among the best open-ended play set you can buy. There's no limit to what kids can build, from castles to flowers to cars to whatever they think up.

This beautiful set includes a drum, metallophone (or xylopnone), guiro wooden block, and bell, as well as two mallets for playtime duets. Kids learn the basics of rhythm while honing their motor skills and learning to express themselves through music.

 

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