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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.

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.

“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 2021

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.

Normalize pediatrician visits by giving your preschooler this lovely medical kit. It promotes imaginary play, as kids pretend to be doctors, with a wooden stethoscope, blood pressure monitor, thermometer, syringe and reflex hammer.

The goal: Catch the fish by attaching it to the magnetic pole. The challenge: To concentrate and stay focused, while using those motor skills. Best of all, two kids can play together.

Speaking of scales, this one introduces kids to the concept of numbers and greater than/less than. Plus, preschoolers work on their fine motor skills as they place nine larger weights and 11 small soft weights on the kooky scale.

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.

The goal: Knock the crazy monsters down by hurling a soft ball at them. The result: Total engagement of those developing motor skills.

Chopping up food takes skill and concentration. Kids work on both with this smart set, which includes a wooden knife, carrot divided into three parts, a beet cut in half, a tomato cut in half, an onion that is four parts, and a scallion that's in three parts. Everything is held together with Velcro.

Yes, folks, this is a working scale. It has an integrated spring mechanism on the display board that shows the weight of the product on it. Not only is this great for pretend play at the supermarket, but it also teaches kids numbers, and cause and effect.

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.

Kids work on their social-emotional skills as they cooperatively run a grocery store. As for the counting skills, they're put to the test when they hand out change. Thjs 70-piece set includes grocery store items, as well as an apron, a conveyor belt divider bar, a shopping bag, play money, cards, and even coupons.

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.

Kids learn about shapes as they use magnetic pieces to build elephants or rhinos or dogs or cats. They work with 43 magnetic geometric shapes, including triangles, squares, pentagons, and trapezoids, as well as 17 clip-in animal accessories.

Maybe your kid is the next Springsteen. Find out with this sturdy yet fully functional harmonica, which has numbered notes to help beginners out.

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.

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.

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.

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.

Scooters are a great way for kids to be active and develop their motor skills. This one is stable, and has a padded T-bar that's extra-supportive. It's for beginners and supports riders up to 45 pounds.

These cool bricks are precision-carved from bamboo; they're interlocking, so they're sort of like Legos, but much more manageable for little hands. They can build houses or cars or rockets, or or or.

Kids this age mimic what they see their parents doing, and chances are, they see you cleaning. So put them to 'work' with this child-sized set, which includes a play broom, mop, duster, brush, and organizing stand.

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

You know the timeless game, the floor is lava? The goal is to hop around without ever touching the ground. These six wood steps up the ante, while also helping kids work on their gross motor skills.

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.

Not only is this funky wood rocking horse a childhood staple that helps kids hone their sense of balance, but it also folds flat for easy storage.

This six-piece kitchen set is perfect for anyone short on space. It comes with one pot lid, one frying pan, one spoon and one spatula. The knobs on the stove make clicking sounds, so kids feel like they're making breakfast, for real.

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.

A workbench perfectly sized for 3 year olds, this wooden one has five tools and 16 accessories, as kids embark on fixer-upper projects around the house.

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.

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 cape that's fully washable, and lets kids be a princess, a superhero, a dinosaur, or perhaps just an oddball but awesome butterfly.

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.

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.

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. It is also a perfect birthdy gift for a 3-year-old.

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.

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.

If you're looking for that wow toy, the one that absolutely blows your kids away, this is it. Because there is nothing more fun than playing outdoors, in the mud, and using said mud to make pies. This wooden kitchen includes shelves for ample storage, as well as planters, metal kitchen utensils, pots and pans.

One of those ridiculously simple yet insanely beloved toys: This shopping cart is unbreakable and lets kids do what they love. Which is fill it up, push it around, and empty it back out. And it teaches them about spatial reasoning, as they figure out what three-dimensional object fits where and how.

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