The Best Gifts for 3-Year-Olds That’ll Have Them Jumping for Joy
October 15, 2020
At age 3, playtime looks a whole lot different than it did in the early toddler years. With all the learning and growing they’ve been doing, kiddos naturally now have greater physical, cognitive, social and language skills that make for super-interactive fun. So when it comes to shopping for gifts for 3-year-olds, your little one may already make you aware of a toy or two they’d like to have (thanks to that expanding vocabulary and curiosity!). Even so, you’ll still need to noodle plenty of ideas on your own. Need some help? Here’s what toddlers’ developmental progress generally looks like at this age and which toys and other goodies make for the best gifts for 3-year-olds.
The key to selecting the best gifts for 3-year-olds is to focus on what they’re doing developmentally now. “Boredom is not your friend at this age,” says Christina Low Kapalu, PhD, a clinical child psychologist at Children’s Mercy Kansas City, Missouri. “Selecting toys that will keep your kid engaged and active will be helpful.”
Thirty-six months is the unofficial boundary between toddler and preschooler. “Your child will continue to make massive leaps in cognitive, social and physical development that you will take in with awe,” she says. “Combine their natural curiosity about their environment with their greater physical dexterity, and you have a recipe for very busy days!”
Your child is using language to help them make sense of their environment. “They can follow two- or three-step directions, name objects and have short conversations that are likely to make sense even to people who don’t know the child well,” Low Kapalu says.
Plus, your 3-year-old is showing off rapid cognitive development. “They are ever so proud of their ability to put together simple puzzles, turn the pages of a book, work age-appropriate toys and draw recognizable shapes or people,” she continues. Child-safe paint, crayons, paper and sidewalk chalk will provide hours of entertainment at a relatively low cost, making craft supplies among the best gifts for 3-year-olds. “Construction sets, such as Mega Bloks or Lego Duplo, are also likely to be favorites at this time and are durable and easy to clean,” Low Kapalu adds.
Any list of gift ideas for 3-year-old boys and girls should also include pretend play options. Your child is beginning to understand emotions, with pretend play coming into full bloom this year. “Encourage that imagination with dress-up clothes and toy home items like vacuums and kitchens,” Low Kapalu advises.
Ready to start shopping? Below are some of the best gifts for 3-year-old girls and boys.
Fisher-Price S’more Fun Campfire
A-camping you will go! To an imaginative 3-year-old, your living room may as well be Yellowstone. This adorable pretend play set even has a felt axe to chop wood and bear paws for the inevitable rousing round of “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” Telling stories around the “fire” is a bonus opportunity to give that creative little mind a workout.
Buy it: $20, Zulily.com
Lovevery Free Spirit Play Kit
A 2020 Best of Baby award winner, these subscription play kits come packed with playthings your toddler will love. Each box features different age-appropriate toys made from sustainably sourced wood and 100 percent organic fabrics. They’re designed to engage your child in exploration and brain development play, making them one of the best gifts for 3-year-olds. Bonus: The company was started by two parents with the goal of helping other parents feel confident in the development of their child.
Buy it: $40 a month, Lovevery.com
Play-Doh Kitchen Creations Popcorn Party
Play-Doh is the pontiff of creative pretend play. Its latest incarnation is as a movie-night treat. Crank out the pretend popcorn, then customize your snack by size of bucket, mix-ins and toppings. If you have a bunch of nieces and nephews and need multiple gifts for 3-year-olds, this is a great budget-friendly solution.
Buy it: $15, Walmart.com
Hape Toys Playful Piano
Musical instruments make for fantastic toys at this age—after all, what little kid doesn’t like to make noise? This cute and sturdy upright piano features 18 kid-size keys in the ideal width to encourage proper finger placement. If you’re shopping for the best toys for 3-year-olds, you may have just found the perfect one.
Buy it: $80, TheTot.com
Magformers Amazing Police Set
The beauty of Magformers is that the shapes stick and unstick together with magnets, making them good gifts for 3-year-olds who are mastering their fine-motor skills. This particular BPA-free playset has plenty of cool accessories, such as a siren, to thrill crime-stopping cuties.
Buy it: $60, Nordstrom.com
Colorforms Classic Set
Isn’t it the best when a toy from your own childhood makes an appearance in your kid’s life? Colorforms, the original no-mess, take-anywhere, creative toy, has been reimagined for modern tots. This set comes with 350 stick-peel-repeat pieces, making it a great gift for 3-year-olds. (We never had that many!)
Buy it: $37, Macys.com
Cubcoats Papo the Panda Zip-Up Hoodie
When it comes to gifts for 3-year-olds, this ingenious find is at the top of our lists. This adorable plush panda toy magically transforms into a super-soft, machine-washable hoodie your child can wear. The best part? Even when they grow out of their zip-up, their panda friend will still be there to play with.
Buy it: $30, Cubcoats.com
Kidkraft Modern Metallics Baking Set
No space for a full-on play kitchen? No worries. This sleek baking set with wood detailing will serve up just as many sweet servings of delight. The rolling pin really rolls! (You’d be surprised how many in similar sets don’t.) And the paddle on the mixer raises and lowers like the real thing. It’s among the best gifts for 3-year-olds to encourage imaginative play.
Buy it: $19, Target.com
Melissa & Doug Classic Card Game Set
Whether you’re celebrating your child’s latest milestone or on the hunt for fun Christmas stocking stuffers, sometimes you need a stash of little gifts for 3-year-olds. Grab this pack of three card games—Old Maid, Go Fish and Animal Rummy—and introduce your kiddo to old-school fun and fair play before screens become their constant companion.
Buy it: $10, OrientalTrading.com
Tubby Todd Beautiful Beautiful Me Gift Set
This book and bubble bath pairing is ideal for a fun, educational bathtime with your 3-year-old. The book, titled Beautiful, Beautiful Me, celebrates families of all colors and races, as well as encourages self-love and self-esteem. Just fill up the tub with the sweet-smelling soap and then settle in for storytime.
Buy it: $30, TubbyTodd.com
National Sporting Goods Pop Up Bowling
Bring the fun of bowling right into your home with this cute set. You won’t have to worry about setting up the pins over and over again—these lie flat when not in use and reset by themselves with one click. As those strikes are racked up, your child is building dexterity, balance and hand-eye coordination—not to mention confidence. No wonder it made our list of best gifts for 3-year-old girls and boys!
Buy it: $30, Maisonette.com
Wooden Doctor's Kit
This well-crafted wooden doctor’s kit features everything your little one needs to play pretend, including a stethoscope, syringe, thermometer and other medical accoutrements that store handily in a cute carrying case. Pretend play is great for encouraging imagination and cognitive development, making it one of the best toys for 3-year-olds.
Buy it: $36, BuyBuyBaby.com
Monica + Andy Printed Tee Bundle
This super-cute set is a gift for 3-year-olds and for you. If your family has a goldendoodle (or just love them!), outfit your toddler in this short-sleeve jersey tee and matching joggers and get ready to field allll the compliments. If doodles aren’t your thing, the set also comes in two other prints.
Buy it: $40, MonicaandAndy.com
Crayola Color Wonder Art Desk With Stamper
Do you know what kind of gifts for 3-year-olds parents truly appreciate? Ones that don’t make a mess! We love the Color Wonder line for one very good reason: The markers won’t work on clothes, furniture or rugs. This Art Desk comes with a drawing pad, five markers, five stamps and a convenient carrying case, perfect for travel.
Buy it: $29, Michaels.com
LEGO DUPLO Minnie's Birthday Party
A quality, age-appropriate building set is absolutely among the best gift ideas for 3-year-old girls. Think of this as a starter Lego set, with a twist. Aside from the hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness benefits that a traditional set imparts, this one brings pretend play into the mix, featuring classic character Minnie Mouse. A party celebration theme makes this a great birthday gift for 3-year-olds.
Buy it: $20, Kohls.com
Drake Dragon by Jellycat
This whimsical dragon plush toy will look adorable in your child’s nursery—if they ever let it go! Your 3-year-old will love playing pretend with this soft dragon during the day and falling asleep with it at night.
Buy it: $45, HannaAndersson.com
Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House! Pretend Play Set
Toddlers this age often love to “help” around the house and delight in mimicking the actions they see adults doing every day—which is why this broom, mop and dust set is one of the best gifts for 3-year-old boys and girls. It includes mini-sized (but realistic) wooden cleaning supplies that’ll keep your kiddo entertained in open-ended play.
Buy it: $30, Macys.com
Gonge Tactile Disks
We’re in love with this stunningly simple, active-play concept for toddlers. It’s like jumping from stone to stone in a brook, but without the risk of falling or getting wet. The disks are strategically designed with different angles and ridges and have no-slip surfaces and rubber edges to stay put. (There’s a game guide, so it’s not just random hopping.) Can you say cabin fever cooler?
Buy it: $95, Walmart.com
Schwinn Roadster Tricycle
This is one of our all-time favorite gifts for 3-year-olds. The image of a trike under the tree with a big red bow is impossible to resist. This model has a retro vibe that makes it stand out. The rear deck is made of genuine wood with a burnt-in logo; plus, the seat can be moved back as your child’s legs grow, while the low center of gravity makes for a stable, easy-to-control ride.
Buy it: $100, Kohls.com
Floss & Rock Mermaid First Puzzles
This pretty puzzle is one of the best gifts for 3-year-old girls. There are four different underwater options to play with—including two mermaids, seahorses and a narwhal—each of which progresses in difficulty from three to eight pieces as your little one continues to develop their reasoning skills and hand-eye coordination. A tub stores puzzle pieces when they’re not in use, and there’s even a convenient “to and from” gift tag.
Buy it: $13, Maisonette.com
Fisher-Price Think & Learn Rocktopus
Octopi are said to be surprisingly smart animals. Rocktopus lives up to his species’ reputation by teaching kids to count rhythms, mix and match instruments and compose their own music tracks. The mischievous mollusk then asks kids to swap out musical styles and coordinate colors.
Buy it: $30, Kohls.com
Born Toys Deluxe Dress-Up Trunk Set
With kids’ verbal skills, social interactions and creativity taking flight, dress-up trunks make for some of the best gifts for 3-year-olds, hands-down. The key is to offer a range of costume options to broaden their imaginations. We love this set, which includes not just outfits for a scientist, doctor and gardener, but corresponding accessories as well!
Buy it: $48, Amazon.com
VTech Mix & Match-a-Saurus
There are plenty of toys out there that help boost toddlers’ motor skills, creativity and critical thinking—but we love gift ideas for 3-year-old boys and girls that help teach emotional intelligence. After all, managing your feelings is tough at age 3. That’s where this toy comes in. One set of tiles each represent different emotions, and when they’re put on the dino’s back, he states what it is and how to deal with it the right way. Another set of tiles is dance styles; a third set is for different characters. So depending on the combo your child picks, they could get an angry robot hip hop or a sleepy monster ballet.
Buy it: $28, BuyBuyBaby.com
The Day the Crayons Quit Finger Puppets
If there’s a book that parents get as much of a kick out of as their littles, it’s The Day the Crayons Quit. (It was even The Bump Book Club pick!) The defiant but hysterical characters have been transformed into finger puppets, each with its own personality. The rainbow-colored rebels come nestled in a sturdy fabric box, which keeps them secure, and also can serve as a prop in your child’s original sequel.
Buy it: $20, store.metmuseum.org
HABA Peter & Pauline's Farm Magnetic Activity Game
Activity games are a good pick for kids of any age, but they’re positively perfect gifts for 3-year-olds, whose problem-solving skills are growing by the minute. This fresh take brings imagination to the party, allowing your kid to create unique scenes around the farm. Your little one can use the fridge or included background scenes to set up their animals and helpers. And with over 100 magnetic pieces, there are a seemingly endless supply of combinations they can make.
Buy it: $15, Nordstrom.com
Hape Master Workbench
Calling all aspiring handywomen and handymen! This awesome workbench with a working vise, gears and tons of tools will turn any kid into Mr. or Ms. Fix-It. Bonus: The completely natural wood construction makes this the rare pretend play toy you won’t mind having in your living room. Your shopping for the best gifts for a 3-year-old? Consider it a wrap!
Buy it: $110, BuyBuyBaby.com
Olaf Plush Toy
Does your tot love the Frozen movies? (Come on, who doesn’t?!) Bring a piece of the family- favorite film home with this plush version of the loveable snowman. As far as toys for 3-year-olds you know they’ll cherish, you can’t get much better than a stuffed Olaf.!
Buy it: $23, ShopDisney.com
Tender Leaf Toys Dinosaurs
Toddlers (and adults!) love dinosaurs, so a play set of colorful wooden dinos is one of the best gifts for 3-year-old boys and girls. It even comes with an eco-friendly wooden display case with shelves where your aspiring paleontologist can proudly display their dinos.
Buy it: $56, NeimanMarcus.com
Skip Hop Zoo La La Llama Microphone
Get your little one ready for rock stardom (or just future karaoke outings) with this microphone. It’s just like a real mic—shaped like a llama, for extra style points—that lets kids sing along to three classic songs: “Old MacDonald,” “Row, Row, Row Your Boat” and “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star.” Plus, it’s reasonably priced!
Buy it: $10, SkipHop.com
Candy Land Board Game
Introduce your 3-year-old to this classic board game from your own childhood. Your child will love the colorful illustrations and cards, and you’ll love that it teaches them fair play and cooperation. Plus, it’s a super-affordable and universally loved gift you can buy for all your family and friends with little ones.
Buy it: $8, Walmart.com
Tender Leaf Toys Fire Engine
Sound the alarm! This play fire engine and firefighters set is not only cute, but it can be used both indoors and out, is made of renewable rubber wood and nontoxic paint and encourages imaginative play. What more could you want from a gift for 3-year-olds?
Buy it: $65, TheTot.com
Boon Marco Light-Up Bath Toy
Bath toys are definitely one of the best toys for 3-year-olds, and we love Marco, a deep-sea diver who lights up as soon as his toes touch the water. Your child will love to watch as the light changes color, making bath time even more fun. He automatically turns off when the water drains—convenient when you’re busy getting everyone ready for bed.
Buy it: $15, Nordstrom.com
Bigjigs Toys Cash Register
This toy cash register is a great gift for 3-year-olds, whether they use it as part of a pretend shop or on its own. There’s a cute scanner, credit cards, cash and even a receipt machine that’ll help introduce your tot to numbers, counting and reasoning skills.
Buy it: $57, Maisonette.com
Bobby Roadtesta Pull 'N' Race Car
A toy car is one of the best gifts for 3-year-old boys (or girls!). Your little one will love zooming this colorful vehicle from the Disney movie Cars around the house. It has a pullback function that will shift the fun into high gear—plus, you can always get the rest of the characters to add to the pack.
Buy it: $8, ShopDisney.com
Finn + Emma Organic Pajamas
You’ll love dressing your 3-year-old in these pajamas almost as much as they’ll love wearing them. They’re made with soft organic cotton and feature a nice, comfy elastic waistband, so your child can wear them to bed and just lounging around the house. They come in a couple of different gender-neutral prints. Gift them to your own little ones or to friends and family.
Buy it: $29, FinnandEmma.com
PlanToys Musical Set
Kids love making noise, so a musical set is definitely one of the best gifts for 3-year-olds you can purchase. This set includes a xylophone, cymbal and a guiro (another percussion instrument) that’ll help enhance your child’s hand-eye coordination and boost their concentration skills. As far as the noise goes…don’t say we didn’t warn you.
Buy it: $50, TheTot.com
Rockin' Rider Durango the Rocking Horse
Your 3-year-old will love rocking around the house on this cute plush horse. You’ll love the classic, realistic design and the fact that it’s safe for your child thanks to its high-back saddle, stirrups, and bridle and reins for them to hold onto. Yeehaw!
Buy it: $95, BuyBuyBaby.com
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