April 14, 2024

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Best Toys For 3-Year-Olds 2024

9 min read

Finding the best toys for 3-year-olds means uncovering options that keep these young preschoolers entertained while also possibly helping them to learn something new.

“At this age, children are continuing to develop their fine and gross motor skills, language skills, cognitive skills and social and emotional skills,” says Emma Hubbard, pediatric occupational therapist and founder of Brightest Beginning. “It is through play that they develop these skills. Therefore, it is important to give them toys that promote the development of these skills,” which might include bikes and balls.

Hubbard also likes toys that provide open-ended play, whether that’s a veterinarian play set or a versatile dress-up trunk. “It’s really important to provide toys that promote imaginative play as this encourages interacting or playing beside their peers and will help them develop their language skills, problem solving and social and emotional skills,” Hubbard says.

The other great thing about 3-year-olds is that they’re less likely to put things in their mouths, which opens up a whole suite of new toys for them, aka, those with small parts labeled as suitable only for ages 3 and up. See below for the best toys for 3-year-olds in every category, and don’t miss our additional toy guides below this story, including the best dollhouses and play kitchens.

Best Toys And Gifts For 3-Year-Olds At A Glance

  • Best Toys For 3-Year-Olds For Pretend Play: Melissa & Doug Cutting Fruit Set, Hape Master Workbench, Purpose Toys Littlelistas Baby Doll
  • Best Arts And Crafts Toys For 3-Year-Olds: Ooly Lil’ Pods Watercolor Set, Pom Pom Pictures, Play-Doh Play ‘N Store Kids Play Table
  • Best Building Toys For 3-Year-Olds: Magna-Tiles Safari Animals Set, Lego Duplo Town Truck And Tracked Excavator, Educational Insights Design And Drill Take-Along Toolkit
  • Best Active Toys For 3-Year-Olds: Foamnasium Play Couch, Lily & River Rocker, National Geographic Stepping Stones
  • Best Educational Toys For 3-Year-Olds: Yoto Player, Mix It Up, Candy Land

This is often the age when kids suddenly become very interested in playing dress-up, pulling on all sorts of costumes, masks, wings and dresses. This Great Pretenders Firefighter Set lets them pretend to be the ultimate hero, a firefighter. We suspect your tot might want to wear this jacket daily. It comes with all of the right accessories for a day of firefighting heroics.

Melissa & Doug Cutting Fruit Set

Pretend food is a hot commodity for toddlers, and this Melissa & Doug Cutting Fruit Set takes it to the next level by handing them their own faux knife. I bet you’ve probably started to hear a lot of: “I can do it myself!” Well, this set lets them act out those “do it myself” food prep scenarios. It includes sliced pieces of fruit held together with self-stick tabs, as well as a wooden tray and knife. Kids can use the knife to “cut” the wooden fruit into pieces, something that helps with motor skills and introduces the concepts of part, whole and fractions.

Hape Master Workbench

This award-winning pretend workbench lets your little builder get super hands-on. It comes with 35 pieces, including realistic looking fake tools, such as a hammer, screwdriver and wrench. The height-adjustable workbench grows with your little one and makes an adorable gift for a 3-year-old’s playroom.

Melissa & Doug Examine And Treat Pet Vet Play Set

This Melissa & Doug Vet Play Set is a favorite among kids and parents alike for its attention to detail and commitment to pretend play. The 24-piece set includes a stuffed cat and dog and vet accessories to treat any injury or illness imaginable. A small bag is a good place to store all the items and the stuffed animals will quickly become new bedtime friends.

What 3-year-old doesn’t love ice cream? This LeapFrog Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Cart is not only adorable to look at, but it also provides hours of pretend play. There’s plenty of fake ice cream, cones and toppings, and a magic scooper to develop fine motor skills. It has wheels, so it’s easy to push around the house or playroom.

Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House Play Set

Toddlers love to be part of family activities, and they also often want to do everything they see their parents and caretakers do, including cleaning the house. We may find it a tedious task, but tots really just want to join in, and this Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House set is just their size. It includes a mini dustbin, broom and a mop to engage in as much pretend play as they want. It easily tucks into a corner and out of the way when not in use. I bought this set many years ago, and my three kids still use it almost daily to sweep and tidy up around the house.

For kids who constantly change their minds about what they want to dress up as, this Toiijoy Dress-Up Trunk is full of options. It includes 22 pieces, including outfits and accessories to dress as a mermaid, princess, fairy or ballerina (or something completely made up). This versatile kit allows them to pick and choose how they want to pair pieces and lets them add these fun accessories to otherwise practical outfits, so you both win.

This Hape Mini Band set comes with five instruments. It offers an adorable way for your toddler to play around with making music (or just making noise). It’s also a great toddler gift if you have two small kids in the house, because they can share the instruments to create their own little band.

This soft pasta set is so cute for the aspiring chef-to-be. It comes with a metal pan, colander, utensils and soft, colorful pasta shapes. It’s great for pretending to cook or using in their mini kitchen. The pot and colander have other pretend play uses as well, making this a versatile set they’ll use often.

The automatic water cycle system in this mini sink allows it to function as an actual sink, making it perfect for toddlers who love water play, which can be a soothing sensory activity. It comes with dishes and utensils that turn white if the water is too hot and a little dish rack for drying. This is cute for indoor or outdoor play.

Learning Resources New Sprouts Camp Out! My Very Own Camping Set

Camping at home has never been easier with this adorable set. Kids can set up their own campground whether they’re in a homemade tent in their bedroom or outside in the yard. The bag it comes with makes this easy to tote around and the lantern glows in the dark.

Hape My Baking Oven with Magic Cookies

This is one of the neatest pretend ovens I’ve ever seen. When kids bake their cookies in the oven, they change color to indicate they’re done. It also includes lights, a timer and sounds as kids interact with the oven.

With curly C3 textured hair, this doll helps many little kids truly feel seen and represented in their toys. She even comes with an extra crown for your 3-year-old to wear. Dolls can help kids practice activities of daily living like getting dressed or brushing teeth, and they also often serve as a comfort object.

Ooly Lil’ Watercolor Paint Pods

Painting finally starts to get a bit fun around 3 years old. This watercolor set from Ooly comes with 36 beautiful colors, so they’ll have plenty of options to find the perfect shade for their creations. Bonus: This paint is completely washable, so there won’t be too much worrying about clothes, the table or the walls.

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Art Easel

With a dry erase board, chalkboard and room for a paper roller, this easel has it all. There are clips to hold the paper in place, spots to store crayons, paint and paint brushes, and enough room for more than one toddler to play at a time. It’s sturdy and folds nearly flat for storage. Plus, working on a vertical surface can help strengthen muscles and improve motor skills.

A magnetic doodle board might seem too simple to engage a busy toddler, but I’ve found it to be an impressive distraction on car rides, at restaurants and in the airport. Given that it’s all magnetic (no glitter or melty crayons here), it also keeps things pretty mess-free. The slide eraser is easy enough for kids to use.

For parents who would rather not clean up the inevitable mess of crayons and paint, this fun arts and crafts kit is the perfect pick. Kids can insert pom-poms into pre-punched felt to create cool designs, from dinosaurs to rainbows. It’s an easy craft to master, won’t create much mess and is something they can do on their own, so it’s a win all around.

Kid Made Modern My First Arts And Crafts Library Kit

Have your toddler take a break from coloring and painting to make some crafts. This kit comes with everything they need to get creative, like fuzzy sticks, paper straws, foam stickers, googly eyes and so much more. This could lead to hours of creative, independent play. There’s no wrong way to create with this kit, so feel free to step back and let them go to town.

Play-Doh is a classic for a reason: It keeps kids occupied without making too much of a mess (usually). This play table set makes it easier to store all the Play-Doh and accessories while also offering a pop-up crafting table, so you can keep the sticky dough off your better furniture and rugs. It also comes with a lot of fun molds and shapes they’ll love.

Eliminate the frustrating and inevitable mess of coloring with this bundle of coloring pages. The markers included only color on the pages of these books, so you don’t have to worry about your curious toddler coloring on your furniture or themselves. These are also great to take on the go in the car, at the restaurant or on a plane.

Introduce 3D coloring to tots with this Crayola kit. It comes with three small figures that kids can decorate with the included markers and wash off in the little tub, so they’re ready to start again the next day. (It comes with a little brush for them to do it themselves.)

Melissa & Doug Go Water Wow!

These Water Wow books are my go-to toy whenever my toddler will need to sit for an extended period of time, like while traveling or during an older sibling’s sporting event. Once you fill the pen with water, they can use it to color the pages. After the pages dry, they can do it all over again, so one book can last for a long time.

Sensory kits are the ultimate open-ended toy that kids tend to play with endlessly when they get in the zone. To us, it might seem like a box of trinkets, but to our kids, it’s an engaging new world, calling them to immerse themselves into it. This Under the Sea kit comes with animals, shells, dough and more.

Magna-Tiles Safari Animals Set

Magna-Tiles is a magnetic building toy that has recently exploded in popularity—age 3 is when these blocks suddenly become safe for playtime. The concept is simple: Kids can build 3D structures with various geometric shapes that snap together thanks to the magnetic sides. It leads to tons of open-ended play as kids add on sets and characters. This animal-themed set is the perfect Magna-Tiles introduction for little ones.

Lego Duplo Construction Truck And Tracked Excavator

This 20-piece Duplo set is just right for beginning builders with minimal parts and a fun theme. Kids will be thrilled to play with the two trucks and figures after building the set. The blocks are compatible with other Duplo sets, too, if this is a hit and you decide to add to the collection.

Learning Resources 1-2-3 Build It! Robot Factory

This toddler friendly STEM toy lets them try out building a robot for the first time. They can mix and match the pieces, snapping the parts in to design their perfect model—or take it apart and start over. No batteries required—and the pieces are chunky enough for small hands.

Cenove Flower Garden Building Toy

This 130-piece kit includes everything your toddler needs to create a colorful garden in their own home. Not only is this a way to stretch their fine motor skills by putting pieces together correctly to build a flower, it’s also a great way to learn more about plants. As a bonus, everything comes packaged in a handy bucket for easy cleanup and storage. My daughter received this toy as a gift, and I was surprised to find that my twin boys play with it just as much as she does.

Educational Insights Design And Drill Take-Along Toolkit

One thing 3-year-olds love is taking part in all those mundane adult chores—at least for a few minutes. Let them practice their fix-it skills with this mini drill kit. It comes with 60 colorful bolts and a kid-friendly power drill. Kids can put the bolts into the grid any way they want, creating their own fun designs. They’ll love using the electronic screwdriver, though.

Fat Brain Toys Squigz Deluxe 50-Piece Set

Squigz almost seem too simple to be anything worthwhile, but that’s actually what makes them so great. These versatile toys have little suction cups on them that allow them to stick to each other and surfaces, so kids can build them into whatever they want. They can be used in the bath, at the table or on the go, too.

These award-winning foam blocks have magnets in them that make building anything a little bit easier, especially for young kids. They’re also an excellent bath toy, because the lightweight foam floats in the water. Even better? They’re dishwasher safe for easy cleaning. My kids use these blocks to build creatures of their own making.

Melissa & Doug Julia Magnetic Dress-Up Wooden Doll Pretend Play Set

These magnetic dress-up dolls are wooden, so they feel sturdy and durable. The larger pieces aren’t likely to get lost and everything can stay in the box it comes in when not in use. Melissa & Doug also sells so many different versions of this, from Disney characters to police officers, so they’re fun to collect and mix and match.

Ravensburger GraviTrax Junior

The junior version of a marble run offers 100 jungle themed pieces. It features a track built directly onto tiles and a larger ball to make it easier for young kids. They can experiment with building different tracks and adding various jungle elements.

Mudpuppy Dinosaur Park 25 Piece Floor Puzzle

Floor puzzles are a favorite for 3-year-olds. These oversize but chunky-piece puzzles make it easier for them to see the design, for example, and they’re just a bit different and special compared to the usual jigsaw. This dinosaur puzzle has 25 pieces, including some that are shaped like dinosaurs. The pieces are nice and thick, and it always holds up to my kids stomping on the puzzle after it’s complete.


Kids can easily manipulate the pieces of this play couch to create a fort, tent or other play area. Of course, it also works as a reading or lounge spot, too. It’s Greenguard Gold certified for cleaner air and made in the USA. Spot clean only but the cover is made from a performance fabric.

Little Tikes Jump ‘N Slide Inflatable Bouncer

For a big ticket item, you can’t go wrong with this Little Tikes Jump ‘n Slide Inflatable Bouncer for younger kids. It will make your backyard (or basement) feel more like a carnival. Kids will love the slide sized just right for toddlers with a lower profile, making it easier to climb in and out. It includes the heavy duty blower that you’ll need to make it work and inflate in just a minute.


This sweet self-propelling rocker will likely appeal to kids of every age, especially those who just seem to like to fidget. It’s made in the US of birch hardwood and offers kids endless open-play options. They can flip it over and climb on it, for example. It also makes a cozy hangout nook for reading. Some other kids might just enjoy some gentle self-rocking.

Some 3-year-olds aren’t quite ready for a big kid bike, but this Harley-Davidson trike might make them feel just as cool as their older siblings. The large pedals and easy-grip handlebars make navigating easier, while the cool biker theme might just encourage them to hop on. A handy secret compartment is perfect for stowing toys.

Little Tikes Easy Score Basketball Set

This starter basketball set is just right to get them interested in the game. It includes three balls for rapid shots with a hoop you can lower or raise, depending on their age and skill.

Flybar My First Foam Pogo Jumper

This is the perfect budget-friendly toy if you feel like your 3-year-old never stops moving. The soft, toddler version of a pogo stick allows them to bounce around as much as they want while practicing their balance. Use it indoors or outdoors whenever they need to burn off a little extra energy.

Eezy Peezy Monkey Bars Climbing Tower

My toddler is willing to climb anything and everything. This Eezy Peezy Monkey Bars Climbing Tower is great for keeping them off your couch, at least for a little bit. It’s easy to assemble and surprisingly lightweight, so if you have the space, you can move it indoors for the winter. Kids can climb to their heart’s content, and it allows them to explore their limits.

National Geographic Stepping Stones

These soft, foam stepping stones are simple but entertaining. Kids can use them to create mini obstacle courses indoors or outdoors. They’re great for practicing balancing and working on jumping and hopping, and they’re portable and easy to store.

This oversize swing is a draw for kids of all ages. It’s comfortable enough for lounging and easily fits several kids at once. Worth noting: With a weight capacity of 220 pounds, many adults can get in on the action, too.

Melissa & Doug K’s Bowling Friends Play Set

Three-year-olds might still be a little young for the actual bowling alley, but this Melissa & Doug set can prepare them at home. The lightweight pins are easy for them to knock down, and the carrying case makes storage simple and convenient. It’s the perfect rainy day boredom buster at home—and it makes a cute gift.

Toddlers often naturally love to garden and play in the dirt outside, and this sweet gardening set might help to keep them organized. It comes with kid-friendly tools, so they can dig and plant all they want. The adorable case comes in a variety of colors. I’m sure they’ll love watching everything they planted grow as the months go on.

This darling interactive book from artist Hervé Tullet sneakily teaches kids their colors while they’re having a blast pretending to smear, press and mix the paint color on the pages. Tullet also wrote another of my favorite books for this age group: Press Here.

KiwiCo subscription boxes are tailored to your child’s age and delivers science projects, arts and crafts, and imaginative play. Subscription boxes like this are great for kids because they deliver something new every month, ensuring your child continues to learn while they have something new and exciting to play with.

The Yoto Player is such a good way to give a 3-year-old some independence: It’s a screen-free entertaining toy they can play with on their own. The player has seemingly endless uses, from a story and music player to an alarm clock. It also has a built-in daily podcast just for kids. To play stories or songs, you place a card into the player. From Paw Patrol to The Chronicles of Narnia, there are stories and cards for every age and stage.

Melissa & Doug Shape Sorting Clock

This Shape Sorting Clock is excellent for teaching little ones more about time, clocks and numbers—and it’s also just a lot of fun for them. It’s like a puzzle with number pieces that fit into recessed wells. Kids can move the hour and minute hand to show different times. Let them play with this on their own or use it as part of a larger lesson.

An iconic and classic game, Candy Land is just right for 3-year-olds developmentally. While everyone has fun at family game night, your 3-year-old is learning counting, colors and turn taking.

Little Passports Early Explorers Subscription

The Little Passports Early Explorers subscription box is such a fun way for little ones to learn more about the world around them. Each month, your toddler receives a box in the mail with their own Little Passports suitcase, a map, stickers and other toys. Each box has its own theme, such as exploring the ocean or going on a safari. It’s one of our favorite subscription boxes for kids.

Tender Leaf Weather Watch Toy Set

This Weather Watch set is a creative way to get your little one interested in science, starting with the daily weather report. It opens up conversations about nature and what’s going on outside and is a fun way for them to learn more about seasons and temperature.

Melissa & Doug My Magnetic Responsibility Chart

Want your toddler to start learning how to participate in chores? This is an excellent way to make it seem fun. This magnetic chart is easy to use with realistic responsibilities and chores your toddler can keep track of throughout the day. The addition of beloved Disney characters makes it more fun.

Scissor Skills Activity Book

Learning how to cut with scissors isn’t always an easy skill to learn but practice helps. Grab a pair of toddler-friendly scissors (this is likely a thrilling move up for tots) and encourage them to start cutting on the lines offered as guidance in this activity book. For kids who shy away from fine motor play, this might offer just the incentive they need.

This educational tool is disguised as a game to keep little ones busy. They have to find specific items and circle them on the page, and these are all on dry erase boards, so they can easily wipe them clean to play with again later. It’s perfect for dinner at the restaurant or on the tray table on the airplane.

These sweet wooden puzzles are just challenging enough for a new puzzler with chunky pieces that are easy for little hands to grip. They’re made of eco-friendly wood in colorful primary colors and come in fun animal themes to intrigue your little one. Each one is small, but the four pack provides enough variety to keep them busy.

Why Trust Forbes Vetted

Forbes Vetted has extensive experience compiling toy guides for kids of all ages, from 6-month-olds to teens. We prioritize safety in our coverage of baby and kids gear, taking into consideration any recalls, health and federal guidelines and potential hazards before recommending an item. We use our firsthand experience as parents to look at what toys and gifts our own children have liked. For this story we spoke with two experts in the field for further guidance and recommendations. We also look at reviews of products and take note of any consistent positive or negative feedback.

We frequently review and revise this article and most recently did so in November 2023.

How We Chose The Best Toys For 3-Year-Olds

When looking for the best toys for 3-year-olds, we considered personal experience: I started writing this story when I was parenting a 3-year-old, and my coauthor also has three young children as does our editor, Rose Gordon Sala. Between the three of us, we’ve purchased, reviewed and watched our own kids play with hundreds of toys. I also relied on expert input from Hubbard and Dr. Jody LeVos, early childhood development expert and chief learning officer of Begin. We also looked at countless customer ratings and reviews on some of the most popular websites that sell toys for kids to see what other parents were loving and spoke with other parents to get their picks.

What Do 3-Year-Olds Like To Play With?

At this age, toddlers are getting more into imaginative play and are learning how to play with their peers instead of alongside them. “Three-year-olds often display what is known as ‘deep conceptual interests’ that go beyond a casual interest in things like dinosaurs and princesses,” explains Dr. LeVos. “That is, many children in this age range express a very strong interest and fascination with specific topics, such as trains, garbage trucks, or ponies, and this will drive a lot of their play and toy preferences.”

They also love acting out things that happen throughout their day, like shopping or putting a baby to bed. “Between 3 and 3-and-a-half, their play themes expand to include events which happen beyond personal experience, like pretending to be a fireman/woman or a police officer,” Hubbard says.

What Kinds Of Toys Should 3-Year-Olds Have?

Toys that encourage imaginative play and creativity and that help with the development of motor skills are ideal for 3-year-olds. Hubbard recommends toys like blocks, magnetic tiles, play dough or train sets to help further the development of fine motor skills and problem solving tactics. Boost creativity with craft sets that encourage them to paint and draw. She recommends imaginative toys like toy kitchens, doctor kits, dress-up clothes and baby dolls to promote imaginative play to develop fine motor, cognitive and social skills. For gross motor skills, she likes active toys like scooters, bikes and balls.

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