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These gifts encourage 3-year-olds to be their best social, active, hilarious selves.
Medically reviewed by Lyndsey Garbi, MD
Turning 3 is a big deal as children transition from that terrible twos toddler stage to talkative preschoolers with wild imaginations and bodies. Whether you’re a parent to a newly minted threenager or buying a gift for someone else’s child, if you search for the best toys for 3-year-olds, you’ll be encouraging their development (and happiness) through play.
Parenting expert and child psychologist Reena B. Patel explains that at 3 years old, children typically experience significant improvements in their communication skills. “Their speaking and ability to communicate more words will increase. They start saying more words strung together, ask for items by name, and understand you and your instructions,” she says. "It is no secret that kids this age have a ton of energy and learn many new skills. Toys that help them learn something new are great!”
As 3-year-olds continue to grow, strengthening their problem-solving skills and encouraging pretend play is important. Doctor kits, dress-up costumes, play kitchens, tools, and other role-playing toys help children experiment as they expand their social skills. They can also gain a foundation in science and critical thinking with building toys and games, while honing their motor skills with toys that let them move (and burn off energy) safely.
Based on our own experience, a recent survey of more than 880 parents, and our expert interviews, we came up with a list to help you find the best toys and gifts for the 3-year-olds in your life.
KidKraft Farm to Table Play Kitchen with EZ Kraft Assembly
It’s hardly a half-baked idea to search for the perfect kitchen set for a mini master chef. Kids can (pretend to) heat things up by stirring the pot and whipping up many make-believe meals made in this KidKraft Wooden Farm-to-Table Play Kitchen, which features lights and sounds from the stove and faucet and comes complete with wooden veggies and cooking utensils. Based on feedback from our staffers who have tested this kitchen at home, the modern design is aesthetically pleasing for the adults who have to look at it, and assembly isn’t too painful for them either.
Price at time of publication: $300
Bluey Hammerbarn Shopping Center Mega Set
This popular playset is a delight for young Bluey lovers! For young fans ready to hit the shops, this Bluey Hammerbarn Shopping Center Mega Set offers tikes their first retail adventure with TV's popular pup. The towering hardware store stands 22 inches tall featuring four floors, a working elevator, lights, loads of stickers, 15 play pieces, and over 45 sounds activated by pressing the Paw Button. Just remember, “If your friend buys chippies, she has to pay for chippies!"
Price at time of publication: $90
Fat Brain Toys Pretend & Play Makeup Station
Mirror, mirror on the wall, who’s the cutest of them all? With this Fat Brain Toys Pretend & Play Makeup Station, littles can role-play like the grown-ups in their lives without actually messing with real makeup. This adorable wooden set comes with a pretty pink mirrored vanity packed with a perfume bottle, nail polish, handheld mirror, eyeshadow palette, lipstick, lip gloss, makeup compact, comb, and hair ties. Everything you need to get all dolled up for a fun playdate!
Price at time of publication: $30
Pottery Barn Kids Tool Box
As every handyman knows, the value of having a terrific set of tools simply can’t be measured! This Pottery Barn Kids Tool Box may not actually repair your faucet, but it will do wonders for a preschooler’s fine motor skills. It includes a wooden wrench, washer, bolts, rectangles, a screwdriver, and a hammer. You can even personalize it with the child’s name or initials for an added special touch.
Price at time of publication: $49
B Is for Bellies (A Celebration of Every Body!)
What 3-year-old wouldn’t be thrilled to celebrate themselves from A-Z—and head to toe? Little readers will love the bouncy, rhyming text and vibrant illustrations in this delightful picture book, B Is for Bellies: A Celebration of Every Body! by Rennie Dyball. This fabulous children’s book is about loving and accepting yourself exactly as you are. Grown-ups reading aloud will appreciate the body positivity reminders for both their kiddos and themselves.
Price at time of publication: $20
Fat Brain Toys Ladybug's Garden Memory Game
Baby geniuses can put their newly formed memory skills to the test while enjoying the thrill of playing with this family-friendly Fat Brain Toys Ladybug's Garden Memory Game. The educational wooden puzzle board game comes with five double-sided puzzle cards for picture matching and large ladybug pieces sized just right for tiny hands. It’s just as fun for kids to play on their own as with another friend or grown-up, too.
Price at time of publication: $25
Hasbro Gaming Candy Land The World of Sweets Game
There simply isn’t any need to sugarcoat it: When it comes to the sweetest board game for kids, this is a classic that can’t be beat! Preschoolers will have their first taste of victory as well as learning how to cope with defeat when moving their characters along the Candy Land board, just like most of us and generations before us. Family time playing this colorful board game is an absolute treat!
Price at time of publication: $13
Fisher-Price Sensory Bright Light Station Electronic Learning Activity Table
Looking for an activity toy guaranteed to light up your little one’s imagination? This super cool light station provides an interactive experience that stimulates all the senses, with textures, movement, lights, and music. Kids are in complete control here, customizing the colors and sounds on the board with textured buttons, dials, and switches. A fidget spinner and goo pack enhance the sensory play even more.
Price at time of publication: $50
Playmobil 1.2.3 Family Home
Little ones love playing house, but many traditional dollhouses require more dexterity than 3-year-olds possess. That’s where the Playmobil 1.2.3 Family Home fills the gap, as it’s specially designed for younger kids (18 months and up, so little siblings can join too!). We like that the fully furnished abode is durable and filled with quality accessories that small hands can hold and control. Dolls can make themselves at home while kids invent their storylines in this miniature dwelling. This set includes doll and pet figures, as well as fab furnishings for the home.
Price at time of publication: $55
Fisher-Price Medical Kit Preschool Pretend Doctor Playset
Is there a doctor in the house? If so, this Fisher-Price Medical Playset has everything needed to equip your mini-medic with the necessary tools to mend their patients. They can play doctor and provide the best bedside care with this seven-piece set, which includes a fabric doctor bag filled with a stethoscope, syringe, thermometer, otoscope, blood pressure cuff, and a plastic bandage to tend to any ailing dolls and stuffies. It’s also a really great way to alleviate any anxiety about upcoming real-life doctor visits.
Price at time of publication: $20
Disney Princess Dress Up Trunk
What could be more enchanting than watching a little one and their friends reign supreme in these delightful costumes inspired by Disney's most popular princesses? This Disney Princess Dress-Up Trunk is filled with a splendid 21-piece assortment of dresses and accessories, including looks from Sleeping Beauty, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, Cinderella, and Snow White that are sure to spark hours of imaginative play. “Dress up is great at this age,” notes Patel. “Costumes are wonderful to really allow them to tap into pretend play and actually BE what they are pretending to be.” The dresses in this collection are designed to fit sizes 4 to 6x.
Price at time of publication: $35
Klobroz Marble Run STEM Toy Building Blocks
Looking for a toy to tower above the rest? This safety-tested set of Klobroz Marble Run STEM Toy Building Blocks not only expands imaginations, it also helps develop practical motor skills and problem-solving abilities. The eco-friendly, educational set also strengthens hand-eye coordination and shape recognition. It’s time to let the good times roll!
Price at time of publication: $48
Magna-Tiles Classic Clear Colors 32-Piece Set
There’s hardly a question why we can’t help but be attracted to this Magna-Tiles Magnetic Construction Set. Building sets play a big role in boosting creative development, and this certified STEAM-approved collection also helps to connect your child with their imagination in open-ended play—and yeah, it’s fun for grown-ups too. This colorful kit comes with an assortment of 32 transparent geometric shapes in a palette of six vibrant colors.
Price at time of publication: $50
Gabby's Dollhouse Purrfect Dollhouse Playset
There’s no place like Gabby's Purrfect Dollhouse, an interactive, colorful cat-shaped abode full of lights, sounds, and super cute furniture. Your kiddo can spend hours taking Gabby and Pandy Paws on plenty of imaginative adventures inside the seven-room house, which measures 2 feet tall and comes with the coolest working “Cat-A-Vator” to elevate between each of the four floors. That’s what we call a home sweet home!
Price at time of publication: $59
Bixe Aluminum Balance Bike
Getting on a set of wheels is a significant milestone for adventurous preschoolers. Starting with this Bixe Balance Bike means they’ll start coasting around on just two wheels in no time, with no training wheels necessary. This awesome, aluminum balance bike features an adjustable seat to help them feel comfortable and steady while beginning to ride responsibly.
Price at time of publication: $86
PlaSmart PlasmaCar The Original
Littles can jump in the driver’s seat and see all the sights while joyriding through the neighborhood in this popular indoor/outdoor pedal-free car. We caution little racers to steer clear of any obstacles while taking a wild ride on this kid-friendly vehicle designed to develop balance, coordination, and motor skills while maintaining safe speeds of up to 6 miles per hour. It’s safe for kids 3 and up, and can even hold adults up to 220 pounds.
Price at time of publication: $100
Crayola Color Wonder Prehistoric Pals Mess Free Coloring Pages
For the dinosaur-obsessed kids in your life, these Crayola Color Wonder Prehistoric Pals Mess Free Coloring Pages are a peaceful but still engaging way to pass the time. This non-toxic, creative coloring book features a set of 18 dinosaur-themed coloring pages and a collection of five color wonder markers that only work on Color Wonder pages. Mickey Mouse, Paw Patrol, and other themes are also available. These are a big hit on airplanes, in restaurants, and other trips away from the house.
Price at time of publication: $11
Melissa & Doug PAW Patrol Adventure Pack
Looking for exceptional equipment to help a 3-year-old “ruff” it in the great outdoors? With the Melissa & Doug PAW Patrol Pup Backpack Role Play Set, mini hikers can explore imaginary and real trails with everything they need for their next big adventure. This set comes complete with a compass, working whistle, magnifier, map, binoculars, badges, and, of course, pretend treats for the rescue pups.
Price at time of publication: $38
Upbounders-Sports Go Fish Cards Sports Go Fish Cards
Do preschoolers have a poker face? Probably not, but that just means you’ll be able to see the glee on their faces as they play Go Fish with these cards from Black-owned business Upbounders. Youngsters will love this sports-themed card game, which features 52 sturdy, laminated playing cards made for up to six players. It even strengthens memory skills while teaching about fairness and good sportsmanship.
Price at time of publication: $10
Just Play Qai Qai Doll by Serena Williams
Tennis champion and mother of two adorable daughters Serena Williams created quite a racket when she first started sharing posts about Qai Qai, Olympia’s favorite doll years ago. And when she launched Qai Qai as a doll others could buy, it really took off. That could be thanks, in part, to Qai Qai’s stellar social media standing (she has 322K followers on IG!), but it’s also because the 14-inch doll is quite affordable, has captivating features, and comes in a frustration-free box that turns into a house that kids can color themselves.
Price at time of publication: $8
John Deere Sandbox Big Scoop Excavator Toy with Tilting Dump Bed
We all know the fun digging up a little dirt can be! This Fat Brain Toys 15-inch Deere Construction Excavator allows budding builders to pave new pathways—either imaginary ones indoors or real ones in the sandbox. It’s a great combination of pretend play and motor skills.
Price at time of publication: $26
Kinetic Sand Deluxe Swirl N’ Surprise Playset, 2.5lbs of Play Sand
This Kinetic Sand Deluxe Swirl N' Surprise Playset is great for getting little hands dirty—but not really!—indoors. The kit comes with two and a half pounds of moldable sand in six cool colors. It also includes sculpting tools for shaping. Kids can swirl the colors together to create beautiful designs or just squish it all in their hands for sensory-pleasing fun.
Price at time of publication: $30
Little Tikes 3-Foot Trampoline
What 3-year-old doesn’t have extra energy to burn off? Tiny jumping beans can hop to their heart's content while safely inside on this 3-foot trampoline. This version is a classic design, but we really appreciate that the handlebar folds down for more compact storage when jumping time is over.
Price at time of publication: $80
Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Cookie Set
If your precocious preschooler has a penchant for pastries, we're confident the Melissa & Doug Slice and Bake Wooden Cookie Play Food Set set will be a huge hit. The wooden cookies come in cylindrical “dough” form, which kids then play slice apart into perfect round disks and place on the cookie sheet. Then they can decorate the cookies with colorful pats of icing, using the included oven mitt and spatula for serving.
Price at time of publication: $28
Melissa & Doug Let's Play House! Dust, Sweep & Mop Set
We can’t come up with a better way to keep house than this Melissa & Doug Let's Play House Pretend Play Set. This colorful cleaning collection includes a mop, hand brush, broom, duster, and dustpan to promote imaginative play (and a spotless playroom) while teaching kids to be responsible as they strengthen their fine motor skills. What parents really love about this is that the brooms really do work, and for some reason, kids enjoy sweeping!
Price at time of publication: $43
Flybar My First Foam Pogo Jumper
While traditional pogo sticks are definitely too much for a 3-year-old to handle, this version is a safer way for them to hop around and practice their balance. The soft foam squeaks with every jump, and it’s even suitable to use indoors. Just be sure to clear some space before the bouncing begins!
Price at time of publication: $17
Our Review Process
To find the best toys for 3-year-olds, we first interviewed parenting and child experts Reena B. Patel, a licensed educational psychologist and board-certified behavior analyst, and Dana Oliver, CEO of Adventure Kids Playcare. We also conducted a survey of 774 parents and 101 Parents staffers to find out what their children’s favorite toys are and what they love about them. Our editors also spend all year learning about the latest toy trends and the newest toys from popular brands and smaller independent companies. Finally, we researched the top-rated and best-selling toys that most closely align with 3-year-olds’ developmental milestones.
Factors to Consider When Buying Toys for 3-Year-Olds
Think About Developmental Milestones: “While every child is different, by the age of 3 most children are beginning to develop emotionally and form stronger relationships with those around them and have much more energy than before,” notes Oliver. “Their memories are also getting stronger and their imaginations are running a bit wilder.”
Encourage Imaginative Play: “Imaginative play is when your child is creating any type of pretend scenario so there are so many toys that can be used to create this type of play,” explains Patel. “Playing dress up and having other props also helps them tap into these creative play scenarios.”
Encourage Associative Play: “At this age, many children are introduced to others to play, and sharing is a critical skill. Dolls, blocks, and crafts are all great toys to teach sharing,” Oliver says. “Games and sports are also great ways to have children interact with each other in a fun and friendly nature.”
Encourage Active Play: “Three-year-olds are very active. They have much more energy than 2-year-olds and are typically running, kicking, and playing all the time,” says Oliver. “They are working on coordination and balance, as well as depth perception. Great toys for this are kickball, balls with Velcro mitts, soft ring toss or bowling sets, and scooters or air hoppers.”
Keep Safety in Mind: “Make sure parts are size- and age-appropriate, so there is not a choking hazard,” cautions Patel. “This also includes watching for toys that have batteries or magnets, which can be extremely harmful if consumed.”
Your Questions, Answered
How much should you spend on toys for 3-year-olds?
Pricing can vary depending on the toy. The best thing to consider is the child's interest and whether the item falls within your budget. Above all, the quality and safety of the toy is what parents value most.
What skills should toys teach 3-year-olds?
"Three-year-olds are learning many new skills and are often proud to show off those skills and try new things," notes Patel. "They will love small bikes, building toys, coloring books, and crafting activities. Make-believe is also a milestone at this age, and kids will love these activities and may even start playing with others. Any toys that promote make-believe play are great as children learn to think creatively."
Who We Are
Samantha McIntyre is an experienced writer and PR professional specializing in the parenting space and self-proclaimed favorite "auntie" of two amazing nephews and a niece, who have all kept her on the top of her game when it comes to discovering the best products and toys for babies and kids.
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Read the original article on Parents.