April 14, 2024

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89 best Christmas gifts and toys for 3-year-olds, per experts

24 min read

Three-year-olds are just too cute, and yes — they deserve spoiling. Whether it’s for a birthday, holiday or a milestone of theirs, finding something to buy (that they don’t already have, no less) can be an incredible feat.

But, it doesn’t have to be. We turned to a handful of child development experts who know the ins and outs of the 3-year-old age group to recommend wonderful gifts and toys for you to reference. Almost all of their recommendations are available at easy-to-shop stores such as Amazon, Target and Walmart.

After conversing with seasoned experts, we understood one thing about 3-year-olds: they’re always learning and on the move.

“Three-year-olds are pretty smart human beings who are defined by curiosity,” Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, psychology professor at Temple University and senior fellow at the Brookings Institution — whose research centers on the development of early language and literacy, as well as the role of play in learning — told the New York Post. “They have mastered language skills to determine how the world works and, while we’re not interested in the slugs, bugs and worms that make up the ground, they are. They’re naturalists.”

With even more insightful knowledge about the 3-year-old age group in our in-depth FAQ section (including the ‘why’ behind their constant ‘why? why? why?’ questioning), you’ll have a better grasp into this adoring age, thanks to five childhood learning experts chiming in. Check out the expert-recommended toys below, and find toys for other age groups here: best toys for 1-year-olds, best toys for 2-year-olds, best toys for 4-year-olds and best toys for 5-year-olds.

Click to jump to a specific section:

Table of Contents

Meet the experts

  • Alice Cady, EdM, classroom teacher for 2- and 3-year-olds for 8+ years
  • Ali Mierzejewski, editor-in-chief at “The Toy Insider”
  • Caitlin Sanschagrin, occupational therapist specializing in pediatrics
  • Sonia Pruneda-Hernandez, PhD, Montgomery College acting education dean
  • Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, PhD, Temple University psychology professor
  • Keri Wilmot, pediatric occupational therapist, also known as the Toy Queen
  • Claire Diamonstein, child therapist and parent coach at Family Therapy Center of Bethesda
  • Dr. Jacqueline Harding, international child development expert and author
  • Yesim Kunter, child’s play expert and independent consultant
  • Dr. Lauren Loquasto, Chief Academic Officer at The Goddard School
  • Heather Barnum, Senior Librarian at the New York Public Library
  • Rachel Ritlop, M.Ed, mom and expert toy reviewer at The Confused Mom

Developmental & Educational Toys

Brand spotlight


A kid holding a tablet with kid learning games floating around him.
LingoKids

Help your child develop a love of learning by treating it like a game. Lingokids The Playlearning App has more than 1,000 fun and interactive activities to help them read, learn math, music and other useful skills like routines and mindfulness. Voted the number 1 learning app for kids, you’ll actually feel good about giving your little one extra screen time with this download in your parenting arsenal, and they’re enjoy learning something new each day.

New York Post may receive revenue from affiliate and advertising partnerships for sharing this content and/or when you make a purchase.

Stapelstein Special Rainbow Fusion


Colorful kid's toy
Stapelstein

This is the kind of toy that kids intuitively understand better than adults. Each piece is made from a firm foam and can be stacked to create chairs or steps, or used outside to play in the pool or at the beach. They encourage open-ended play and are great to use indoors and outdoors.

“These lightweight, colorful pieces can be used creatively in so many ways to help kids get sensory input that improves their developmental skills,” said Wilmot. “Scatter them to use like stepping stones, stack them up to serve as a chair or use them for sensory play in the sandbox or the bathtub.”


AMOSTING Color-Matching Mosaic Pegboard


AMOSTING Color-Matching Mosaic Pegboard
Amazon

“This pegboard has so many developmental skills to facilitate,” Sanschagrin shares. “Fine motor for putting the pieces in, visual skills to put matching colors in the right spot and problem solving to identify which piece goes where and how to locate it.”

Not to mention, the AMOSTING Color-Matching Mosaic Pegboard she recommends is less than $25, comes in vibrant colors and is on-the-go friendly.


Ladybugs Garden Memory Game


Ladybug board game
Amazon

Using five double-sided puzzle cards and 20 toy ladybugs, children work on their memory and recall skills in an intuitive and enjoyable way.

“Ladybug’s Garden Memory Game is a memory game that is fun for children and parents alike,” said Diamonstein. “The game offers an exciting opportunity for kids to practice taking turns and engaging in friendly competition.”


LeapFrog Slide to Read ABC Flash Cards


Children's flash cards
Amazon

Over a dozen double-sided flash cards give kids a clever introduction to letters, letter sounds, words and sentences — all the essential language building blocks. The device also makes music and has sound effects to accompany the cards, which helps to keep children engaged.

“These electronic flash cards teach kids the underlying concepts of reading,” said Wilmot. By prompting kids to use their finger to follow the information on each card, Wilmot said this toy also “reinforces letter sounds and vocabulary.”


Magnetic Creation Station


Magnetic toy for kids
Target

With 46 colorful magnetic pieces and a blank canvas (that doubles as a carrying case), this toy is an excellent way for kids to practice shape play and visualization.

Dr. Lauren Loquasto, Chief Academic Officer at The Goddard School, recommended this educational toy because she said it “challenges young minds with visual-spatial and geometric skills.”

“Engaging a child’s curiosity, children are challenged not only to replicate the images with the appropriate shapes but are then able to self-evaluate their success,” she said. 


Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Talking Kids Microscope


Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Talking Kids Microscope
Amazon

“This introductory microscope is perfect for curious kids and will encourage them to discover new things,” Mierzejewski shares. “They can explore close-up looks at different objects around the house or that they find in the backyard.”

The beginner microscope has big and chunky dials for them to focus, so it’s easy for little hands to maneuver and perfectly sized for three-year-olds, too.


hand2mind Tactile Turtles Math Activity Set


hand2mind Tactile Turtles Math Activity Set
Amazon

“This math activity set not only has the educational benefits of a learning toy, but also the developmental benefits of tactile play, so it’s a true two-for-one,” Mierzejewski adds. “It’s packed with tons of activities and facts for kids to learn about turtles, but also provides the tools for open-ended play as well.”

This STEM-based toy includes turtles of three different sizes, six colors, six shell textures and six belly shapes, adding to how it’s a wonderful sensory toy in addition to a learning-development aide.


Learning Resources Big Feelings Pineapple Deluxe Set


Learning Resources Big Feelings Pineapple Deluxe Set
Amazon

“Social-emotional learning is so important for 3-year-olds, and this adorable pineapple is great for helping kids identify, recognize and communicate their emotions,” Mierzejewski notes.

Aside from being adorable and unique, this toy helps develops important coping habits and communication skills that will serve as an important foundation for mental health, too, according to Mierzejewski.


Montessori Peg Board Toy


Kid's toy
Amazon

“For a three-year-old, the Montessori Peg Board Toy helps a three-year-old understand one-to-one correspondences, cardinality and subsitizing [the ability to instantly recognize the number of objects without actually counting them],” Cady highlights.

Be sure to note that pegs are choking hazards on this one, but they make ones with larger pegs as well, if highly concerned.


TOOKYLAND Hammer & Nails Game


TOOKYLAND Hammer & Nails Game
Amazon

“Hammer and nail toys are wonderful toys to expand creative play as well as fine motor skills like precision and bilateral coordination,” Sanschagrin adds. “Visual skills can be used by trying to match a visual model and example.”

Not to mention, a 3-year-old holding a hammer in their hands help improve their critical thinking skills, like how to allow for a certain piece to firmly grasp the included board.


General Toys

Soft Bowling Set


Toy bowling set
Amazon

The pins and ball in this kid-safe bowling set are made from a soft material that won’t scratch floors or cause any injuries — and because the pins are numbered 1 through 10, they double as a counting and number ordering exercise for children.

Dr. Jacqueline Harding, a child development expert and author, recommended this toy for hours of indoor fun. “When you are three years old, getting moving is one of the main activities on your mind,” said Harding. “There is hardly any time to sit still when there is a big world to investigate! This bowling set is simply great fun and offers a chance to recognize and name numbers and colors.”


Aizweb Wooden Burger Stacking Toy


Aizweb Wooden Burger Stacking Toy
Amazon

“Stacking and sequencing toys are a wonderful way to work on those fine motor skills as well as visual and sequencing skills,” Caitlin Sanschagrin, an occupational therapist specializing in pediatrics — specifically, feeding, sensory processing and regulation and neurodivergent-affirming care, told The Post.

What’s more, the addition of the imaginative play component allows your 3-year-old to serve your customers a burger makes playtime even more fun.


MindSprout Dino Blasters Kids Rocket Launcher


MindSprout Dino Blasters Kids Rocket Launcher
Amazon

Take aim and grow those gross motor skills by launching these dinosaur rockets into the sky! “This helps work on coordination and strength by making them go sky high!” Sanschagrin notes.

Plus, these interactive toys are just $20 on Amazon, making it a budget-friendly toy to snag.



A box of kids books with book board covers.
StoryCaptain

It can be difficult to know what to read to your child, especially when they’re young. Fortunately, the folks at StoryCaptain have you covered. The monthly children’s book subscription curates its selection, so your little one will always have age-appropriate reads that spark the imagination. Three board books arrive in every order, and each offer a chance to encourage curiosity, critical thinking skills and a love of learning.

If you have older kids that you need a gift for, StoryCaptain also has a book subscription for ages 4 to 7.


Hape Gourmet Kitchen Wooden Pretend Play Kitchen Set


Wooden toy kitchen play set
Amazon

“Play kitchens ignite children’s imagination and are such a great way to encourage unstructured, pretend play,” said Claire Diamonstein, child therapist and parent coach. “Adding play food to the set opens up even more opportunities for increased fun and creativity.”

Made from non-toxic materials that are easy to clean and easy to assemble, this kitchen set will delight any kid with hours of pretend play opportunities.


Educational Insights The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game


Squirrel board game
Amazon

“Educational Insights creates fantastic toys for preschoolers, designed to nurture and stimulate young minds,” said Diamonstein. “The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game is one of my favorites because it’s fun for the whole family. It’s easy to learn and makes a wonderful first board game for young kids. It’s also a great opportunity for kids to practice counting and color-matching skills while they play.”

This entry-level board game involves practicing color-matching skills and is interactive enough to keep young children engaged the whole time they’re playing. Plus, as an option for family board game nights, this is a toy that parents and siblings can also enjoy.


Learning Resources Primary Science Sensory Tubes (Set of 4)


Learning Resources Primary Science Sensory Tubes (Set of 4)
Amazon

“These tubes are amazing and open ended! I add them to my sensory bins, fill them with items to shake, roll them, use them to mix in, and explore volumes with them,” Alice Cady, EdM, an eight-year classroom teacher of two and three-year-olds told The Post. She has an education doctorate degree from the University of Buffalo’s Early Childhood Research Center, with a focus on computational thinking in early childhood.

“You can fill them with counting toys to ‘fill and spill,’ fill them with natural items to observe, fill them with spices to smell or even use them to blow bubbles!” she adds. Each tube comes with dual openings and twistable lids and also leaves you the option to create your own sensory tubes to help with self-regulation.


Crayola Color Wonder Mess-Free Coloring Activity Set


Crayola Color Wonder Mess-Free Coloring Activity Set
Amazon

“Crayola’s Color Wonder line is a great gift for kids, not only because of its affordable price point, but because it is a perfect, no-mess, creative art line,” Ali Mierzejewski, editor-in-chief at “The Toy Insider” and childhood play expert, told The Post.

The Color Wonder markers only show on the special Color Wonder paper, so it’s great for traveling on airplanes, roadside restaurant stops, or for kids’ independent playtime as well.


Chuckle & Roar Family Bingo


Chuckle & Roar Family Bingo
Target

“Family game night is super important for kids during this age window for social development, and games geared toward preschoolers like this bingo set are the perfect way for families to play together,” Mierzejewski adds.

This game in particular, aside from having cute artwork, also provides four ways for kids to learn, so it’s packed with educational value in addition to fun.


Creative Toys

LOYO Medical Kit for Kids


Kids toy medical doctor dentist play set
Amazon

This 38-piece play set includes a plethora of pretend tools, costumes and a convenient storage box that let kids play doctor for hours on end. It also has specialized dentist equipment, as well as a large set of plastic teeth to brush and clean.

“Role play, or sociodramatic play as it is sometimes called, is perfect for developing empathy and understanding the perspectives of other people,” Harding said. “Imaginative play with super-fun toys like a medical set does wonders for confidence and self-esteem.”


Play-Doh Fun Factory Deluxe Set


Play-Doh kit
Amazon

In addition to six containers of colorful Play-Doh, kids get a Fun Factory toy for pressing the Doh into different forms, as well as over a dozen cookie-cutter style shapes for creating animals and other objects.

“The world of creativity and imagination is at their fingertips with this flexible Play-Doh set,” said Harding. “Malleable materials can offer children deep emotional satisfaction as there are never ending ways to manipulate the substance, which is a rich source of sensory stimulation.”


Innorock Flower Garden Building Toys with Portable Storage Box


Toy flower garden
Amazon

These stackable building toys let children design their dream bouquets (and give you a convenient box to store all the pieces when playtime is over).

“Children absolutely love this flower-building kit,” said Diamonstein. “It nurtures their creativity and enjoyment while enhancing their hand-eye coordination and problem-solving abilities. With so many interchangeable flower pieces, this kit definitely keeps kids engaged and entertained.”


Boogie Board Magic Sketch


Toy drawing board
Amazon

Keri Wilmot, a pediatric occupational therapist who has over 24 years of experience helping children develop sensory and motor skills through play, recommended this doodle toy as a way to stimulate artistic exploration in kids. This kit includes four drawing tools and has a durable, water-resistant design.

“Three-year-olds are beginning to turn their scribbles into real pictures, and writing tablets can help foster their creativity without all the paper waste,” Wilmot said. “These boards are lightweight, portable and perfect for travel and trips to restaurants.”


WikkiStix Sensory Fidget Toy


Wikki Stix toy
Amazon

Infinitely reusable and entertaining, these colorful bendy sticks let kids build characters, animals, plants and anything they can imagine, then take pride in their creations.

Diamonstein said these are a favorite at her office. “They offer endless possibilities for creative fun,” she said. “There are a million different ways to use WikkiStix. You can use them for crafting, in imaginative play, as a fine motor activity and even as a fidget tool.”


The Very Hungry Caterpillar Sock Puppet Kit


Hungry Caterpillar sock puppet
Amazon

This puppet creation kit includes fuzzy socks, finger puppets and self-adhesive felt patches that bring characters from the classic children’s book to life — and let kids take a turn at telling their own stories.

Yesim Kunter, an independent play consultant who has worked as a designer for LEGO, Hasbro and Toys “R” Us, recommended this kit for 3-year-olds. “Storytelling tools like puppets are great for enhancing children’s imagination and creative thinking, and developing their language skills and future thinking,” she said.


Pretendables Nacho Set


Plastic nacho food toys
Amazon

“This set allows kids to use their imagination and fine motor skills to creatively design their own favorite nacho combinations,” said Wilmot.

It includes a variety of pretend ingredients, condiments and serving trays, all in vibrant colors. Kids can practice designing dishes for themselves, as well as friends and family members, and start engaging with super rudimentary concepts of food preparation and sharing.


Kinetic Sand


Bag of Kinetic Sand
Amazon

Made from natural sand and dyed a mesmerizing color, this hands-on toy encourages creative play and building. Since the sand particles stick to one another, this toy is also amazingly easy to clean up after and won’t stain hands or surfaces.

“Kinetic Sand is another favorite in my office because it can be used in so many different ways,” said Diamonstein. “Young kids love to play with it, create with it or just squish it between their hands. It’s also an excellent and versatile tool for sensory play and is a great addition to any sensory bin.”


Melissa & Doug Wooden Scoop & Serve Ice Cream Counter


Wooden ice cream shoppe set
Amazon

“This delightful toy is made of wood and is wonderfully calming,” said Harding. “As parents, it is exciting to discover that playing imaginatively has an impressive brain-building result for our children. The brain relishes the opportunity to be creative with play activities like this!”

The set includes an array of ice cream flavors and toppings that kids will enjoy combining (with the option to pile all the scoops together into one mega cone). The pretend dollar bills and menu also give kids the opportunity to role play with their friends, parents or siblings.


Outdoor Toys

Play22 12-Piece Kids Gardening Tool Set


Play22 12-Piece Kids Gardening Tool Set
Walmart

“With summer fast approaching, I would recommend gardening and insect catcher toys that parents can easily purchase at dollar stores, Walmart, or Target,” Sonia Pruneda-Hernandez, PhD, acting dean of education and social sciences at Montgomery College —and doctorate of education with a concentration in early childhood education and higher education — told The Post.

She recommended items like a bucket, shovel, trowel and watering can. Specifically, the Play22 12-Piece Kids Gardening Tool Set is one she brought to our attention for fun outdoor play.


Micro Kickboard Mini Deluxe 3-Wheeled Scooter


Blue children's scooter
Amazon

“The Micro Mini Scooter is the perfect toy because it offers a stable and fun ride to help young children hone their balance and coordination skills,” said Diamonstein. “It also boasts the remarkable feature of adapting to a child’s growth, allowing them to stay entertained and active as they gain confidence on the scooter.”

This scooter’s easily-adjustable handlebar lets kids set it at the most comfortable (and safe) height for themselves. Plus, some models have light-up wheels that add a real wow factor to this gift.


Kidoozie Sand ‘n Splash Activity Table


Children's activity table
Amazon

“Kids love sensory activities to play with water, sand and all sorts of slimy goo,” said Wilmot. “An outdoor sensory bin is a great way to offer sensory play while containing any messes.”

This comprehensive kit includes enough sand and a variety of tools to let kids explore their creative side. The two-bin system — one for sand and one for water — provides a sense of beachfront playtime at the convenience of home. Plus, the snap-on lid can turn it into a functional table when not in use.


Little Tikes Cape Cottage Playhouse


Kid's outdoor play cottage
Amazon

Wilmot said that “playhouses are a perfect way to bring a child’s imagination outside,” and she recommended this model because offers plenty of room for hours of pretend play.

The cute little cottage has a mail slot, swinging doors and window frames and even a spot to hold up a flag on the front. All the pieces snap together for easy assembly, and once it’s built, it’s designed to be sturdy and safe. Also available in a cute pink and purple color.


Europa Kids Adventure Nature Explorer & Bug-Catching Kit


Europa Kids Adventure Nature Explorer & Bug-Catching Kit
Amazon

“Parents can also add items for insect catching such as a net, magnifying glass and insect catcher,” Pruneda-Hernandez adds. The Europa Kids Adventure Nature Explorer & Bug-Catching Kit fits the bill at just $25, and one our expert recommends.

Do note that parents and caregivees should check and ensure that their 3-year old can easily hold and manipulate the items with their hands before use.


PlayVibe 40″ Tree Swing


PlayVibe 40" Tree Swing
Amazon

Saucer swings are great toys to have outside. “From a sensorimotor perspective, they facilitate various body movements through space,” Sanschagrin says. “You can even work on developing eye skills by tossing a soft ball to the kiddo while they are swinging!”

Of course, 3-year-olds may not be able to catch it, but being able to use their eyes to track the ball while their body is moving assists that development, per Sanschagrin. “You can even do bubbles so that your kiddo is looking in all different directions while swinging, teaching their nervous system and body how to accommodate with these new movement patterns,” she adds. 


Musical Toys

Piano Musical Mat


Piano Musical Mat
Amazon

“Piano mats can be used for similar skills to the musical sets but on a gross motor scale,” Sanschagrin says. “See if they can imitate different walks across the keys to make similar rhythms and sounds.

According to Sanschagrin, it’s also great for sensorimotor skills being able to discriminate between the keys and for understanding the way the mat feels different then the floor as they move across this interactive toy.


Stoie’s International Wooden Music Set


Stoie's International Wooden Music Set
Amazon

“Musical sets are a great way to facilitate those fine motor and bilateral coordination skills,” Sanschagrin notes. “You can practice different rhythms and see if your kiddo can imitate and join in!”

The Stoie’s International Wooden Music Set is less than $40 on Amazon, one that our expert recommends and is backed by more than 5,000 rave reviews. Plus, it includes a tambourine, a castanet, a hand drum, two hand bells, a maraca, a flute, a wooden block with a stick, a wood sounder with a stick and a chime bar with a stick.


Toniebox Audio Player Starter Set


Red Toniebox music player
Amazon

Give kids a screen-free listening experience that sparks their imagination and offers them a wide selection of music and stories. “By placing different collectible characters from their favorite shows and books on top of the Toniebox,” Wilmot said, “kids will love being in control of choosing the songs and stories they listen to.”

This device can be a great way for kids to wind down before bedtime, and its built-in interactivity keeps kids feeling engaged. Plus, once you buy this, you can pick up additional Tonie figurines to give as gifts for future holidays. The starter set, shown here, includes a Playtime Puppy Tonie with 52 minutes of popular children’s songs.


Loog Mini Acoustic Kids Guitar


Loog Mini Acoustic Kids Guitar
Amazon

“Preschool age is the perfect time for kids to start discovering what they’re interested in — including music!” Mierzejewski shares. “This Loog Mini Acoustic guitar is great for kids this age because it’s easy for them to handle and gives the look of a real guitar.”

With the Loog Mini Acoustic Kids Guitar, 3-year-olds can start learning the basics with this three-string guitar, and even have a jam session with the grown-ups in their life who play, too.


Taimasi 33-Piece Kids Musical Instruments


Taimasi 33-Piece Kids Musical Instruments
Amazon

“A variety of musical toys such as the kit above allows children to develop their fine motor skills and their hand-eye coordination,” Pruneda-Hernandez explains. “Kits such as the one above can also grow with the child.”

Whereas a 3-year old may enjoy using the maracas, a four-or five- year-old may be more interested in the xylophone or rhythm sticks. “The kit also allows for more than one child or for an adult to be involved in the musical play with a child,” she adds.

Right on the money, Cady also recommends this play bundle for musical fun.


Halilit Mini Orchestra


Halilit Mini Orchestra
Amazon

“Open ended music toys, like the Halilit Mini Orchestra, all offer chances to experiment and jam along to rhymes, rhythms and favorite songs,” Cady highlights. For less than $35 on Amazon, this four-pack is perfect for 6-month-olds and 3-year-olds alike, thanks to its musical, take-around-with-you nature.


Puzzles & Shape-Sorters

Learning Resources All About Me Sorting Neighborhood


Kid's toy
Amazon

These colorful toy houses may seem simple, but they’re a quite innovative way for children to intuitively practice both counting and identifying and matching colors. Kids can add and remove color-coordinated figures into their respective houses, engage in pretend play and even recreate their own family size by organizing a number of figures to match the number of people in their household.

Rachel Ritlop, a mom and toy review expert, recommended this toys for 3-year-olds. “Kids can use these with a train set, magnetic blocks or other building toys to create a little neighborhood in open-ended play,” she said. “Or you can work on color matching and counting.”


Melissa & Doug Farm Wooden Cube Puzzle


Melissa & Doug Farm Wooden Cube Puzzle
Amazon

“Cube puzzles are a fun way to address in-hand manipulation and fine motor skills as well as problem solving and visual skills,” Sanschagrin adds. “The borders along the outside of the puzzle can help give spatial reference while in the process of building the puzzle.”

To better help your 3-year-old learn about common farm animals they’ll find in preschool and kindergarten, we approve of this affordable toy that’ll keep your little one engaged for hours, too.


Upbounders Fun Outside 48-Piece Floor Puzzle


Upbounders Fun Outside 48-Piece Floor Puzzle
Amazon

“This puzzle features families of mixed races and ethnicities, encouraging diversity, inclusion, and representation,” Mierzejewski highlights. “This Black-owned company was founded by a mom who wanted her son to feel represented in the toys he played with, and now it expands that offering to all kids.”

Even better, parents can build along with their kids as they piece together this puzzle that stresses the importance of playing together and kindness.


Mudpuppy Kindness 4-in-a-Box Puzzle Set


Children's puzzles
Amazon

With four puzzles picturing different colorful settings and made of large, easy-to-grasp and easy-to-connect puzzle pieces, this box set is an excellent introduction to the kind of game that can grow into a lifelong hobby. It also gives parents opportunities to help kids figure out shape-fitting skills in real time.

“Puzzles are great at keeping young kids busy and entertained, with the added bonus of building their cognitive and fine motor skills,” said Diamonstein. “I love sets like this one because it includes four distinct puzzles, each offering varying levels of difficulty, allowing kids to advance as they conquer each puzzle.”


ThinkFun My First Rush Hour Brain Game


Children's car puzzle toy
Amazon

Kids practice all the fundamentals of setting up and playing games with this car-themed shape and color matching board game. It includes 15 puzzle cards of easy, medium and hard difficulties, so kids won’t outgrow this toy right away.

“This brain teaser for young kids helps them to learn about following instructions even just by setting the game up,” said Wilmot. “Activities like this one include cards that are graded, where kids can experience success and build to more challenging problems by starting off simple and getting more complex.”


Battat Lock & Learn Activity Cubes


Battat Lock & Learn Activity Cubes
Amazon

“Shape sorters have so many developmental benefits for kids this age, including fine motor skills, shape and color recognition, introduction to cause and effect and experimentation, and more,” Mierzejewski lists. “This set of activity cubes stands out because it is brightly colored and engaging — and kids can stack the cubes as well, in addition to just sorting the shapes, opening up more possibilities for open-ended play.”

Plus, there’s much variation with this Amazon toy. With four nesting cubes, three numbers, three letters and seven fun shapes, your 3-year-old will praise this stackable toy over and over again.


Melissa & Doug Mix ‘n Match Wooden Bear Family Dress-Up Puzzle


Melissa & Doug Mix 'n Match Wooden Bear Family Dress-Up Puzzle
Amazon

“The Melissa & Doug Mix ‘n Match Wooden Bear Family Dress-Up Puzzle is great for three-year-olds,” Cady recommends. Not to mention, we recommend nearly any toy from the brand as they’re (1) adorable and (2) always a hit with our nieces.

“This puzzle sorter helps build upon self-help skills and pushes toward dramatic play,” she adds.


Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads Educational Toy


Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads Educational Toy
Amazon

“The Melissa & Doug Primary Lacing Beads Educational Toy is wonderful for three-year-olds and older,” Cady shares. “It helps develop fine motor skills, patterning, counting and sorting.

For less than $20, you won’t find a more interactive or colorful toy, either. With an included play box, it’s especially perfect for neatly storing in your playroom.


Dreampark Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles (6-Pack)


Dreampark Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles (6-Pack)
Amazon

“Small puzzles are great for spatial orientation and fine motor skills,” Sanschagrin notes. “Having smaller puzzles makes it less overwhelming to see when your puzzle is ‘done’”

You can downgrade this activity by taking a picture of a completed puzzle and let your three-year-old use that visual model to complete the puzzle, she recommends.


Books

“Thank a Farmer” by Maria Gianferrari


Thank a Farmer book
Amazon

Heather Barnum, Senior Librarian in the Reader Services division of the New York Public Library, recommended this book for 3-year-olds. It’s an excellent way to introduce children to the farms and farmers that grow and produce all the food they love to eat.

“Vibrant illustrations connect foods and sources,” said Barnum, “while a simple refrain, ‘Thank a farmer,’ repeats from page to page and slightly more detailed, but still child-friendly, information is shared.”


“Kicks in the Sky” by C. G. Esperanza


Kicks in the Sky book
Amazon

Vibrant colors, active imagery and an intriguing artistic style make this storybook engaging for little ones. The story centers around everyday items that can become fantastical, inspiring kids to get excited about the world around them.

“A fun-filled, joyful, and magical read-aloud rhyming story,” said Barnum, “‘Kicks in the Sky’ will make readers want to lace up their sneakers and dance along through the psychedelic illustrations.”


“Pancakes!: An Interactive Recipe Book” by Lotta Nieminen


Children's book
Amazon

This book offers kids an introductory cooking lesson without any mess in the kitchen. The thick pages have hidden pull-tabs and moveable parts that kids can move around as you read to them, imitating the actual motions of measuring ingredients, mixing food and cooking dishes. Other books in the series include pizza, cookies and other recipes.

“The ‘Cook In A Book’ board books have great interactive recipes where kids can lift, turn and shift the pages to ‘cook’ in the book,” said Ritlop. “It also doubles as a real recipe, so when your three-year-old is ready to bring the fun out of the page and into the kitchen, they can follow along.”


Scissor Skills Preschool Activity Book


Children's book
Amazon

Containing more than 50 activities, this book helps children build their scissor-handling skills in a safe and fun environment. The pages are filled with simple line and shape art that kids — with adult supervision — can cut out. The slightly thicker-than-normal paper is easy for kids to handle, too.

“Three-year-olds are ready for a little more responsibility, and a scissor skills activity book is one of my favorites,” Ritlop said. “Kids can work on hand-eye coordination, hand strength and refine motor skills with each of the pages. Once your child is able to handle scissors on their own, parents will love the newfound independence of letting your kid cut open their snack bags instead of always having you open it for them.”


“Spidey and His Amazing Friends” by PI Kids


"Spidey and His Amazing Friends" by PI Kids
Amazon

What better way to play than with everyone’s neighborhood-friendly superhero?

“This set is awesome because it features look-and-find activities so kids stay busy,” Mierzejewski notes. “Plus, this Marvel-based story will deeply engage your little one, especially if they’re fans.


“Beyonce: A Little Golden Book Biography” by Lavaille Lavette


"Beyonce: A Little Golden Book Biography" by Lavaille Lavette
Amazon

“This book is just one of many celebrity biographies that will be available from this line,” Mierzejewski shares. “Parents will love sharing their love of Bey with their little ones and the nostalgia of the Little Golden Books that they had as a kid. It’s the perfect inspiring story for young readers.”

Not to mention, it’s a super fun gift for the Beyoncé-loving parents in your life.


“Milo Imagines the World” by Matt de la Peña


"Milo Imagines the World" by Matt de la Peña
Amazon

“Providing children books with pictures that include diverse people is critical,” Pruneda-Hernandez notes. “Regardless of the age, children should be able to visually see people in books that look like them and those that are around them.”

That said, our expert shares that “Milo Imagines the World” by Matt de la Peña as one of her favorite books for 3-year-olds.


“Carmela Full of Wishes” by Matt de la Peña


"Carmela Full of Wishes" by Matt de la Peña
Amazon

“Another one of my favorite books that I still keep in my own home for nieces that visit is ‘Carmela Full of Wishes,’” Pruneda-Hernandez shares. It also is wonderful to promote diversity and representation, infused with a unique hopeful tone that’ll help spread optimism to your 3-year-old.


“Too Many Tamales” by Gary Soto


"Too Many Tamales" by Gary Soto
Amazon

“One of my personal favorites is ‘Too Many Tamales’ because it brings back memories of my childhood,” Pruneda-Hernandez shares. Not only does it help explain numerical quantities and living in abundance but it’s also available in Spanish, so it’s especially ideal for ESL students.


“The Very Hungry Caterpillar” by Eric Carle Felt Learning Toy Set


"The Very Hungry Caterpillar" by Eric Carle Felt Learning Toy Set
Amazon

“Other books that I recommend are books include Eric Carle’s ‘The Very Hungry Caterpillar,’” Pruenda-Hernandez adds. And, according to Sanschagrin, we love a good storytelling set!

“You can incorporate so many interactive activities to engage with this Felt Learning Toy Set bundle, Sanschagrin adds, also recommending Carle’s best-selling read. “My favorite is putting the pieces away from where I’m reading the story and have the kiddo do a silly walk to go find the corresponding stuffed item.”

This way, you’re adding movement which can regulate their nervous system in a way that increases their ability to focus on the book or story, according to Sanschagrin.


“Melissa & Doug Poke-A-Dot: Who’s in the Ocean?”


"Melissa & Doug Poke-A-Dot: Who's in the Ocean?"
Amazon

“My occupational therapist heart adores these Poke-Dot books,” Sanschagrin adds. “It’s an interactive way to talk about animals while using that index finger to poke each dot.”

Much like reusable bubble wrap, this interactive book can help develop fine motor strength and coordination. Not to mention, our nieces deem this one of their favorite books to pull out of the bookcase.


Blocks & Building Toys

KIDWILL Toolkit for Kids


Tool kit for kids
Amazon

Get young ones interested in working with their hands at an early age with this wooden play toolkit. It includes easy-to-follow instructions so kids can use the provided wooden pieces to create different toy models in an engaging way.

“This comprehensive building kit can inspire children to get busy building their own models, [which is] great for developing early strategy skills,” said Harding. “Children can begin to think and plan ahead or just go with the flow. Another great feature is that all the bits and pieces can be popped away neatly in the transportable toolbox.”


LEGO DUPLO Classic Heart Box Building Toy Set


LEGO DUPLO set
Amazon

With 80 easy-to-grab pieces, this block set is a wonderful way to inspire kids to explore building and nurture an interest in LEGOs that they can enjoy for years to come. The pieces in the set can be used to spell out a heart-warming message of love, too.

“Virtually anything from the world of LEGO DUPLO can provide endless hours of fun and serve as a wonderful toy for a three-year-old,” said Diamonstein. “For a child inclined toward open-ended creativity, this brick set provides a canvas for free play, imagination and construction, all while enhancing fine motor skills.”


Ravensburger Bluey 35-Piece Jigsaw Puzzle


Bluey the dog puzzle
Amazon

Watch kids bring the popular animated children’s show to life with this large jigsaw puzzle that features Bluey and her family. The pieces are made to be extra durable and can be used over and over again as kids improve their shape-fitting abilities.

Wilmot recommended this puzzle because, as she said, “three-year olds can improve their visual spatial skills and motor planning while putting together scenes from their favorite show.”


hand2mind Numberblocks


Numberblocks toys
Amazon

This intuitive counting toy encourages young kids to practice fundamental math skills in a way that lets them focus on having fun.

“Numberblocks are a really popular show for preschoolers that helps teach kids about the concept of simple addition, subtraction and counting,” Wilmot said. Parents and older siblings can also engage with the characters to create learning and developmental opportunities for youngsters.


Magna-Tiles Downhill Duo 40-Piece Set


Magna-Tiles car racetrack toy
Fat Brain Toys

After building their own custom racetracks, children can race cars down them and learn first-hand some pretty elementary principles of physics. With 40 magnetic pieces, this set lets kids think creatively about how to make the toy cars gain speed, and it’s a smart buy for siblings because it allows multiple tracks to be built at the same time.

“Magna-Tiles are classic building toys that connect to each other to create structures using magnets,” said Wilmot. “The Downhill Duo set introduces fun roads that can be added to the blocks for added competition and problem solving.”


John Deere Build-A-Buddy Tractor Toy & Screwdriver


John Deere Build-A-Buddy Tractor Toy & Screwdriver
Amazon

“Kids love to mimic what they see grown-ups doing, and this little tractor is a great way for them to get their hands on some power tools in a very kid-friendly way,” Mierzejewski highlights. “The battery-powered drill and large, chunky screws are easy for preschoolers to maneuver and the Johnny Tractor’s face is so adorable!”

Sanschagrin also recommends this toy, as it’s great for cause and effect, executive functioning, motor planning, and bilateral coordination. “They can play around with spatial relationships outside of their body as well, like focusing on how far the car is from the wall rather than themselves as the reference point,” she adds.


CreateOn Sesame Street Coloring with Elmo Doodle Tile Set


CreateOn Sesame Street Coloring with Elmo Doodle Tile Set
Amazon

Kids can not only build with their favorite Sesame Street character, but they can also color with this set!

“Since there are multiple activities, kids will stay busy for awhile,” Mierzejewski says. “The kid-safe magnetic building pieces are fun for kids to construct with, helping them to hone their spatial awareness, motor skills and more.”


Melissa & Doug Standard Unit Solid-Wood Building Blocks


Melissa & Doug Standard Unit Solid-Wood Building Blocks
Amazon

Children’s blocks that allow for a variety of uses in play make great toys, and this Melissa & Doug Standard Unit Solid-Wood Building Blocks is recommended by our expert.

“Blocks should not just be squares but come in a variety of shapes to include spheres, rectangles, triangles and squares so children can build in many different ways.” Pruneda-Hernandez recommends. “Blocks not only provide children the opportunity to enhance their fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination, but allows them to problem solve and begin to use their critical thinking while building.”


Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! 100-Piece Deluxe Building Set


Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! 100-Piece Deluxe Building Set
Amazon

“Building sets that not only have blocks, but gears provide opportunities for cognitive development and opportunities to test hypothesis, make wonderful toys,” Pruneda-Hernandez recommends. That said, she recommends the Learning Resources Gears! Gears! Gears! 100-Piece Deluxe Building Set for an engaging, well-varied bundle that’ll keep your 3-year-old as busy as a bee.


Magna-Tiles House Set


Magna-Tiles House Set
Amazon

Building toys are a staple toy for toddlers. And, Magna-Tiles can teach 3-year-olds spatial relationships, problem solving, bilateral coordination and creative play.

“The open-ended-ness expands their imagination on top of the motor skills developed,” Sanschagrin adds. “You can even practice working on emotional regulation if the structure they build doesn’t work out (i.e. falling down or can’t figure out how to build how they want) by talking through different strategies for calming enough to solve their problem.”


Picasso Tiles 120-Piece Bristle Lock Tiles STEM Building Set


Picasso Tiles 120-Piece Bristle Lock Tiles STEM Building Set
Amazon

“Bristle Lock Tiles are similar in their skill building as the Magna-Tiles, however they require more strength,” Sanschagrin explains. “There’s also more flexibility for tile assembly rather than depending on the magnet attraction.”

Additionally, this toy adds an interesting sensory aspect with different textures to explore.


Cars, Trucks & Vehicles

VTech Go! Go! Smart Wheels 4-in-1 Zig-Zag Raceway


Car toy raceway
Amazon

“Kids who love cars, trucks and vehicles can use their problem-solving skills to modify the tracks on their own, using one of four builds, then race to see whose car is fastest,” said Wilmot.

The multiple setups give this toy excellent replay value and encourage experimentation. Plus, this gift offers kids an opportunity to play with siblings and friends, which makes the toy doubly engaging.


Melissa & Doug PAW Patrol Rescue Mission Wooden Dashboard


Melissa & Doug PAW Patrol Rescue Mission Wooden Dashboard
Amazon

This interactive dashboard from Melissa & Doug provides ton of tactile and imaginative play for preschoolers.

“They’ll love to pretend to drive as they move the steering wheel and engage with all of the other interactive features,” Mierzejewski adds. “Plus, it’s PAW Patrol, so it’s a guaranteed hit for your little one.”


CatToys Construction Vehicle (2-Pack)


CatToys Construction Vehicle (2-Pack)
Amazon

“My recommendation for vehicles for three- and four-year olds are those that allow them to experiment with,” Pruneda-Hernandez says. “Bulldozers, excavators and dump trucks all can be used in many different ways, providing young children opportunities to experiment, explore and manipulate with their hands.”

For a two-pack that’s less than $30, it’s a wonderful unisex toy as well, especially for sandbox play.


Beestech Construction Toys (4-Pack)


Beestech Construction Toys (4-Pack)
Amazon

Contrary to popular belief, vehicles do not have to have sounds or need to be battery operated. 

“Vehicles without batteries should be durable to be used indoors and outdoors in dirt or sand,” Pruneda-Hernandez shares. “Vehicles provide children more opportunities to use their imagination to make their own sounds.”

Not to mention, parents, teachers or caregivers can enhance the play opportunities by interacting with the child while they play. Pruneda-Hernandez recommends that the adult gets on the floor or grass, play with the child and converse with the child during play.


Pull-Back Animal Toy Cars (6-Pack)


Pull-Back Animal Toy Cars (6-Pack)
Amazon

What better way to work on grading muscle force and motor planning than a pull back toy car?

“Your three-year-old will get to think through how their movements will impact the future of the car’s path,” Sanschagrin adds. Oh, and they’re quintessentially adorable.


Push, Pull & Ride-On Toys

Radio Flyer Deluxe EZ Fold 4-in-1 Stroll ‘N Trike


Radio Flyer Deluxe EZ Fold 4-in-1 Stroll 'N Trike
Amazon

“A durable tricycle that will last for several years and can even be passed down to another child is my recommendation,” Pruneda-Hernandez says. “For children just turning three, parents or caregivers should be able to push the child when taking the child out for walks.”

However, the push handle should easily come off when children no longer need that support. Tricycles build children’s gross motor skills, too, according to our expert.


Retrospec Cub Kids Balance Bike


Retrospec Cub Kids Balance Bike
Amazon

Three words: balance, coordination, and body confidence.

“Balance bikes offer a chance for children to rely on their own sense of balance to navigate the use of a bike,” Cady explains. “Without pedals, children can focus on balancing and coordinating both sides of their body while using the bike, building skills and muscles to have eventual success with a future two-wheel bike.”


Yvolution Y Velo Balance Bike


Yvolution Y Velo Balance Bike
Amazon

Sanschagrin also recommends balance bikes for 3-year-olds, namely the Yvolution Y Velo Balance Bike that comes in a wealth of vibrant colors.

“Balance bikes are great beginner bikes to work on bilateral coordination — using both sides of your body, arms and legs to work together in a coordinated manner — as well as core strength and overall balance,” she adds. “This is a great way to introduce beginner bike skills!”


Kid Trax Unicorn Quad Ride-On Toy


Kid toy car
Amazon

Push button ride-on-cars are so much fun (and are great at keeping your 3-year-old entertained for hours on end).

“They help develop those bilateral coordination skills by steering correctly and even hand strength by maintaining that push button to GO!” Sanschagrin explains.


Little Tikes Cozy Coupe


Little Tikes Cozy Coupe toy car
Amazon

“I really like the Cozy Coupes because they do have a push option for parents but they also give the kiddo the option to use those feet and develop leg muscles and overall gross motor coordination,” Sanschagrin says.

Of course, parents and caregivers all need a break from time to time, so having the option to push your 3-year-old around the neighborhood when they need a little rest is a great option to have. “It also can help with their body awareness for when they are climbing in and out of the car while maneuvering the door,” she adds.


Stuffed Animals & Dolls

Sloth Warmies


Sloth stuffed animal
Macy’s

While other stuffed animals are nice to hug and to hold, this Warmies doll can also provide warming or cooling relief that can help children relax. The doll can be warmed up in the microwave or chilled in the fridge or freezer, depending on what feels best for your child.

“Great for kids to develop social connection, empathy and soft skills,” said Kunter. “It is scented with natural lavender to sooth and calm children.”


Disney Princess Royal Collection 12-Piece Shimmer Fashion Dolls


Disney Princess Royal Collection 12-Piece Shimmer Fashion Dolls
Amazon

“Disney toys are always wildly popular, but they are this year especially with the Disney100 anniversary celebrations,” Mierzejewski adds. “Classic fashion dolls allow kids to engage in creative storytelling and imaginative, open-ended play, and these allow kids to do so with their favorite Disney characters!”

At a great value, kids can build up a whole Disney squad to create their own adventures.


Terra By Battat Wooden Animal Barn Toy


Kid's farm animal barn toy
Amazon

When going to a real-life petting zoo isn’t an option, the next best thing is this farm-themed barn that comes filled with animal figurines. This toy offers a lot of room for creative, imaginative play, and does a good job of familiarizing children with some of the most common animals they’ll read and learn about in school.

“The Battat barn comes with 20 pieces to recreate a fully functioning farm,” Ritlop said. “The top lifts up to where you can use a pulley to crank the bales into the loft on the upper part of the barn. It’s great for reining motor skills and engaging in pretend play.”


Schleich Farm World Starter Set


Barn animal toys
Amazon

Animals can be fascinating to young children, and this set of four friendly animals allows kids to study their barnyard friends up close. These are a great hands-on educational toy for helping kids learn to name and identify different animals, and after you get the barnyard set, you can try other options, such as the forest set.

“These work great with the Battat Wooden Animal Barn or on their own,” Ritlop said. “We’ve used them for animal matching games, in kinetic sand, in the bath and pretty much everywhere. They are a must have for every playroom.”


GUND Audrey Flamingo 12″ Plush Stuffed Animal


GUND Audrey Flamingo 12" Plush Stuffed Animal
Amazon

“Stuffed animals that are durable, easy to wash, and do not have parts that may become loose or fall off are the best purchases,” Pruneda-Hernandez explains. “Children may become attached to a stuffed animal and may want that toy at all times since it may provide them comfort.”

The stuffed animal or doll is going to depend on the child and, if a child becomes attached to a stuffed animal or doll, the child may keep that toy for many years. “”I still have a koala from my childhood that I was attached to and I just turned 50 this year,” she adds.


Viral Toys Dinosaur Weighted Stuffed Animal


Viral Toys Dinosaur Weighted Stuffed Animal
Amazon

“I love weighted stuffed animals for my kiddos that I work with,” Sanschagrin shares. “It can offer deep pressure as a tool to regulate and calm themselves, especially when they are feeling anxious.”

What’s more, the weight can also provide good feedback for where their body is in space, essentially helping them feel ‘ground’ to the world. It’s also perfect for imaginative play.


Squishmallows 10″ Hanna the Purple Hippo


Squishmallows Hanna the purple hippo doll
Amazon

Squishmallows can also offer a safe sensory experience.

“The texture often encourages squeezing of the toy which can also offer similar deep pressure benefits as the weighted animals,” Sanschagrin adds. “They make for great comfort items and sleeping companions.”


An FAQ on the 3-year-old age group, from experts


play background
iStock

Ahead, our team of child development experts provide insight into the 3-year-old age group and what defines playtime at this stage.

For more, check out our expert-backed guides to the best toys for 1-year-olds and 2-year-olds and 4-year-olds.

What child development skills come to light among 3-year-olds?

Three-year-olds are like 2-year-olds in the sense that they’re moving, but they’re noticing more, according to Hirsh-Pasek. Ahead, she details all of the wonderful learning stages three-year-olds — generally — are up to in age.

  • They can tell a story well and can run pretty fast (though skipping is far away).
  • They are much more coordinated, with their body proportions more formed.
  • They are very conversational and particular. If a three-year-old boy wants milk out of a dinosaur cup, he’s usually referring to a specific cup that you should know about.
  • They can live in fantasy worlds they create, as well as line up toys and tell a story with them.
  • They’re “not bad” toward the end of the third year but “great” as they move toward year four.
  • They are glued to characters like Elmo who serve as conversational agents for them.
  • They’re pretty dexterous and can put small pieces into large puzzles.
  • They’re interested in putting crayons on paper.
  • They like when you read stories to them and can talk about the characters in a book in finer detail.
  • Their scribbles are becoming more sophisticated and symbolic. To them, things stand for something else: the rocks symbolize the tower they want to build; the drawings begin to turn into family portraits. They start to symbolically represent, and that’s one of the best human development skills — the move toward language and symbolism.

What are the best toys for 3-year-olds?

Of course, every 3-year-old has a different imagination and a different view of play. However, it’s most important to find a toy that suits their needs as they’re becoming more curious by the day.

“I highly recommend toys that allow children to explore, use their imagination and will enable them to hold or use their hands easily,” Pruneda-Hernandez says. “Children should not become frustrated with toys that may not be age-appropriate such as providing a 3-year-old with a fifty-piece puzzle.”

What’s more, parents, teachers and caregivers should always review the manufactures age range for a toy. “Three-year-olds may put toys or items in their mouths, so toys with small pieces that children may swallow are inappropriate,” she adds.

There’s a multitude of evidence recognizing the importance of play in children. According to Sanschagrin, at age three, one of their primary occupations is play which is a massive facilitator of their learning.

“Toddlers are much more likely to absorb new information when using the modality of play. Play is also a great way to process emotions that they might be unable to express or even understand. It encourages creativity and even problem solving!”

Caitlin Sanschagrin, an occupational therapist specializing in pediatrics — specifically, feeding, sensory processing and regulation and neurodivergent-affirming care

Overall, staple toys for the 3-year-old age group would include building toys (like Magna-Tiles and LEGO), shape sorters, drawing and coloring toys (like MagnaDoodle), and open ended pretend play toys (like Little People sets), per Sanschagrin.

How do toys facilitate learning in the 3-year-old age group?

“Toys introduce kids to the foundations of storytelling, coding, creativity, dexterity and more thorough fun and engaging play patterns, so they spark curiosity for a future love of learning,” Mierzejewski explains. “Through play, 3-year-olds can develop their motor skills, start to learn the basic concepts of STEM skills, flex their imaginations, and start to role-play what they see adults doing through pretend play.”

During this age, kids can also start to establish physically active and social-emotional habits early that they will carry with them as they grow.


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