The 20 Best Gifts for 3-Year-Olds
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. Thanks to that expanding vocabulary and curiosity, they may even make you aware of a toy or two they’d like to have—but when it comes to shopping for gifts for 3-year-olds, 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 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, 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.
And here’s the news grandma has likely been waiting for: She can finally buy that adorable tricycle, as your child is now able to really pedal! “Don’t forget a helmet,” Low Kapalu reminds.
Ready to start shopping? We’ve got plenty of gift ideas 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: $25, Amazon.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 Christmas gifts for 3-year-old girls and boys, this is a great budget-friendly solution.
Buy it: $12, Amazon.com
Schoenhut 25-Key My First Piano II
Musical instruments make for fantastic toys at this age—after all, what little kid doesn’t like to make noise? This classic first piano from Schoenhut features 25 keys in the ideal width to encourage proper finger placement. It even includes a play-by-color strip to guide small fingers from chord to chord. If you’re shopping for Christmas gifts for a 3-year-old, you may have just found the perfect present.
Buy it: $70, Amazon.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: $32, Amazon.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. (We never had that many!)
Buy it: $24, Amazon.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: $16, Target.com
Hoyle 4-in-1 Fun Pack
Lots of us procrastinate on picking out stocking stuffers. Avoid a Christmas Eve run to the closest store by thinking ahead. Grab this pack of four card games —Old Maid, Memory, Go Fish and Matching Four. Introduce your kiddo to old-school fun and fair play before screens become their constant companion.
Buy it: $5, Amazon.com
B. Toys Let’s Glow Bowling
You may have heard of glow-in-the-dark bowling at your local alley. Who knew you could have the same kind of fun at home? This bowling ball glows, creating a light show as it zooms towards its targets. 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: $20, Amazon.com
Green Toys Ambulance & Doctor’s Kit
Made in the USA from 100 percent recycled, chemical-free plastic, Green Toys takes the traditional preschooler’s doctor kit and turns it environmentally friendly. The stethoscope, syringe, thermometer and other medical accoutrements store handily in the back of the ambulance. And—the crowning glory for parents—all of it is dishwasher safe.
Buy it: $35, Amazon.com
Crayola Color Wonder
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 Ultimate Mess-Free Kit comes with a whopping 25 markers in a take-along case, perfect for travel. The pages are extra big, and stickers come included.
Buy it: $24, Amazon.com
Lego Duplo My First Shop
A quality, age-appropriate building set is absolutely among the best gift ideas for 3-year-old girls or boys. 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. Your sweetie will be working their way up to store manager in no time.
Buy it: $60, Amazon.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 has been hailed by thousands of Amazon shoppers as 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: $26, Amazon.com
Gonge River Stones
We’re in love with this stunningly simply, active-play concept for preschoolers. It’s like jumping from stone to stone in a brook, but without the risk of falling or getting wet. The “stones” are strategically designed with different angles and ridges, like real ones, 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: $63, FatBrainToys.com
Schwinn Roadster Tricycle
This is one of our favorite Christmas 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: $80, Amazon.com
Fisher-Price Think & Learn Rocktopus
Octopi are said to be surprisingly smart animals. Rocktopus lives up to his species’ rep 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, Amazon.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: $40, 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, Amazon.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
Janod Magnéti' Book
Puzzles 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 explore a bunch of fun personas, such as dancer, rockstar or magician. You’ll appreciate that the pieces corral neatly inside the book.
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 Christmas gifts for a 3-year-old? Consider it a wrap!
Buy it: $83, Amazon.com
Updated October 2019
Disclosure: This post contains affiliate links, some of which may be sponsored by paying vendors.
Plus, more from The Bump: