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 are all winners.”
The Best Toys for 3-Year-Olds
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.
Think of this son of Botley, the original remote coding robot for kids. Botley 2.0 teaches kids 5 and up 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 sorting and counting game for kids 3 and up lets kids 'crack' open a series of mystery boxes, using a plastic hammer and chisel, to reveal a hidden surprise in each one. A tiny plane, an itty-bitty robot... whatever they find inside, they can tuck back into a different numbered box, and start the unveiling again.
This unsinkable cork boat is ready to float, but needs rigging before it can set sail — kids can experiment with whatever materials they can find inside and out. Maybe an oak leaf sail, a pencil mast, and woven pine-needle deck? Needless to say the possibilities are endless.
Kids can load up this bear pack with everything they'll need to set off on some imaginary camping trip — the kit includes the raw materials for a glowing campfire over which to cook their virtual s'mores and hot dogs. Start in the kitchen, and launch an expedition to the den.
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.
Scooters are a great way for kids to be active and develop their motor skills. This one is stable, and has an adjustable T-bar accommodates children as they grow.
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.
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.
With this toy, kids mix and match facial features to create the weirdest-looking people possible, and use those faces to express their own emotions. To play, kids follow one of the 16 playing-card guides to create a face with the right accessories, out of the 58 included — but they’ll soon start to make their own creations too.
Here's a toy that gets kids 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 produce 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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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