The 9 Very Best Toys for Your 3-Year-Old
Three-year-olds are so ready to have their toy game taken up a notch! Unlike their easier-to-please 2-year-old selves, your growing 3-year-old is way more likely to have opinions on toys and super-specific interests that they’re excited to explore. Need help selecting the just-right present for your little one? Here, some helpful gift-giving guardrails to keep you on track to pick the perfect toy!
While jumbo knob puzzles are ideal for a 2-year-old’s wee hands, often, 3-year-olds are ready to step-up their puzzle game with chunky, big-piece puzzles that are easy to hold and peg puzzles with their thin knobs that require a more mature and precise grasp. Play experts often recommend having a small stash of different types of puzzles for little ones to play with, so feel free to open your gift-buying search to “big kid” floor puzzles with their larger pieces, jigsaw puzzles that come in a board that defines the puzzle space, and “tangram” puzzles that are comprised of geometric pieces that can be arranged in different shapes.
Toys to Get Wiggles Out
Three-year-olds need at least 30 minutes of adult-led physical activity and a minimum of 60 minutes of unstructured, active free play each and every day. Good thing most 3-year-olds are expert runners, jumpers, kickers, and skippers! Take advantage and find your naturally active little one toys that buoy their budding look-what-I-can-do confidence, hone their motor development, and bring them tons of fun! Some ideas include a T-ball set, pint-size basketball hoop, hopscotch rug, backyard bouncer, single-user trampoline, various sports balls, foam pogo jumper, balance steppingstones, three-wheeled scooter, backyard climbing structure, or balance board.
We all love a gorgeous, wooden car, but honestly, oftentimes, 3-year-olds really, really crave playing with realistic-looking toys! Research shows that children this age adore playing with what’s dubbed “replica play toys,” such as small people, animals, or vehicles that, well, look like the real deal—or at least, close-enough! When playing with these types of toys, children are more prone to create “elaborate, make-believe scenarios”—and these toys bolster their conversation and cooperative-play skills. Pair these with building toys and, boy oh boy, the play possibilities are endless!
You’d be hard pressed to find a 3-year-old who doesn’t go gaga for building toys. At this age, your child is really ready to expand their collection beyond the classic wooden building blocks (which will always be A+ gifts). There are so many toys in this category that work to help your tyke engage in creative, open-ended play that fosters problem-solving, planning, spatial awareness, and motor skills. And—best part—building toys are usually a solid investment since they can grow with your child well beyond their third year. Before you buy, know that research shows that the best building toys are not ones that require kiddos to make a specific thing—and they have enough pieces for kids to create many different designs. You can go the classic route with old-time faves like Bristle Blocks or a Tinkertoy set or consider toys like fort-building sets, rainbow stackers, magnetic builders, nuts-and-bolts toys, gear toys, interlocking tubes or discs, suction-cup connector toys, and marble runs.
Toys for Sensory Play
Sensory play, quite simply, is play that stimulates multiple senses, like touch, sight, and hearing, at the same time. This all-senses-activated kind of play promotes exploration, motor development, problem-solving, creativity, investigation...and it actually helps build connections in the brain. While there are for-sure active toys (like trampolines) and art toys (like finger paints), and more, that double as sensory toys, here are some other examples that your 3-year-old would surely enjoy: moon sand, slime, water table, sandbox, pop toys and beads, expanding fidget ball, calming glitter tube, music tubes, busy boards, wax craft sticks.
Can you even be a 3-year-old without a dress-up stash?! Whether dolled up as a superhero, a firefighter, a doctor, princess, or a kitten, tykes love this brand of imaginative play! That’s great because playing dress-up fosters creativity, role-playing, communication skills, problem-solving, and self-regulation. Plus, if some of the dress-up costumes include buttons, zippers, or snaps, then your child’s fine motor skills are getting a workout, too! When brainstorming dress-up toy ideas, feel free to mix store-bought costumes, stand-alone accessories (say, a fedora, silky scarf, apron, goofy sunglasses, or a boa), and even finds from your closet or the thrift store.
Don’t freak out! Your 3-year-old is in no way behind! In fact, most children don’t learn to read until age 6 or 7. But the books you read—and the types of toys your tot plays with—today, all help to set a solid ready-to-read / ready-to-write foundation. For kiddos this age, consider gifting toys like magnetic letters, ABC stamps, letter tracing books, bath letters and numbers, no-mess writing tools, stand-up easel, alphabet blocks, an alphabet abacus, or letter or number matching toys. When it comes to books, embrace simple stories with wow-worthy pictures or illustrations all about their current obsession, whether it be trains, dinosaurs, diggers, horses, sea creatures, or anything in between. (And if these interactive books aren’t already in your home library...consider them!)
Early Board Games
Once your tyke is 3, they’re ready to dive into Family Game Night...albeit without the cut-throat competition. The best board games for this age group are easy-to-learn and require zero reading. They should also encourage counting, matching, and/or memory skills...and work to boost social skills, like turn-taking, listening, and self-control, notes Zero to Three, a child development non-profit. Some perfect-for-preschoolers options include, classic memory and matching games, plus Count Your Chickens (work together to return baby chicks back to their coop); Feed The Woozle, (team up to help feed the fuzzy monster hairy pickles and furry donuts); Richard Scarry’s Busytown, Eye Found It (search for hidden objects throughout Busytown); and The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game (help woodland creatures find their acorns).
Doll Houses for All
Doll houses are classic toys for a reason! They’re what play experts like to call “open-ended toys,” which means your child drives the play, not the toy. And because of that, playing with a dollhouse advances imagination, creativity, role-playing, storytelling, problem-solving, vocabulary development, and fine motor skills. The doll house “sweet spot” is thought to be between the ages of 2 and 6, but so many children play with their doll houses significantly longer. (Investment!) When selecting one for your tyke, consider going the non-gender-specific route not only for versatility, but to allow for your child’s imagination to fill in all the blanks. But if a theme is more your kiddo’s speed, rest assured that castles, fire houses, and barns 100% count as dollhouses, too!
In the end, no matter how awesome you think a toy is, always check the toy’s packaging for age guidelines. A marble run designed for 3-year-olds, for instance, is not the same as one for school-age kids...and you need to buy accordingly. This’ll keep your child safe and free from out-of-their-league frustration.
More Great Toys for Toddlers:
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Disclaimer: The information on our site is NOT medical advice for any specific person or condition. It is only meant as general information. If you have any medical questions and concerns about your child or yourself, please contact your health provider.