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The best gifts for 3-year-olds will include plenty of opportunities to explore as toddlers grow and develop into more imaginative play.
Finally out of the "terrible twos," many are entering school for the first time and interacting with friends. They’re becoming increasingly verbal and able to answer questions and follow directions. (Or not: There’s a reason people call them “threenagers.”)
“Three-year-olds are getting to be more social and have ideas of their own,” said Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive.” “Open-ended toys such as blocks and building toys allow them to explore, discover and carry out their ideas."
They are deep in the “I’ll do it myself” phase, so they enjoy things that help them master the fine motor skills that might help them dress themselves, said Marie Conti, the head of The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the American Montessori Society.
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- Bestselling gifts for 3-year-olds
- Best toys for 3-year-olds
- Best book gifts for 3-year-olds
- Best play sets for 3-year-olds
Bestselling gifts from this article
- Amazon Mudpuppy Puzzle Sticks, $13.59
- Amazon "What Kind of Car Does a T. Rex Drive?" by Mark Lee and Brian Biggs, $14.49
- Amazon Play-Doh Fun Factory Deluxe Playset, $29.93
- Walmart Kinetic Sand Sandcastle Set, $16.98
Best toys for 3-year-olds
The options are endless when it comes to the patterns and designs your child could make with these vibrant geometric blocks. Their problem-solving skills and natural curiosity will also be tested by shapes like hexagons, trapezoids, rhombuses and more.
With a little bit of water and a lot of creativity, your 3-year-old could create colorful masterpieces with just a flick of the wrist — plus some brush pens and markers.
Bath time just got so much more fun! Marco's helmet changes a multitude of colors once he hits the water, making his deep-sea explorations a lot easier.
Toddlers can control their own music and storytime with the Toniebox audio player. Add-on figures come with songs and stories from favorite books and movies.
With a magnetic stylus, reinforcing the ABC's and their handwriting becomes an easy task. It's perfect for the young learner that is still practicing their penmanship.
Whether they like to draw or write, they'll get to explore their artistic side with this interactive toy.
With a real working shower head, little ones will get to bathe the adorable Chocolate Lab and engage in pretend play to experience adopting their own dog.
This customizable cape is perfect for pretend play that’s not determined by a character from TV or books.
These real silk play scarves can be capes, wings, the roof of a fortress ... it's the ultimate in open-ended play.
The original mess-free way to draw is a perfect toy for travel or restaurant play.
As they start school, toddlers may become more interested in cozy friends who give comfort. These therapist-designed snugglers come with a story to help with stress management.
Scooters, tricycles and balance bikes all encourage coordination.
This car carrier helps with fine motor skills and imaginative play.
Klein and Conti both appreciate Thomas the Tank Engine and the stories that go with him.
Animals are of great interest at age 3 and these sweet wooden figures are perfect for pretend.
This chic wooden camera features a kaleidoscope lens to delight 3-year-olds as they mimic their paparazzi parents.
This unusual puzzle lets 3-year-olds arrange sticks to form a picture, a different kind of problem-solving than the usual notch-and-groove puzzle.
Best book gifts for 3-year-olds
Everyone should be sleeping, but bedtime hijinks get in the way, with escalating, rhyming silliness from the lead singer of The Decemberists.
In a city of letters that refuse to mingle, one little letter sees through a wall to start something extraordinary. This book about the alphabet has some important lessons about community, too.
Randy is bursting with the confidence of his child creator, until he sees his own reflection and has some doubts. But of course he's beautiful, because he's loved.
In this sequel to "You Don't Want a Unicorn," there's a new kind of warning: You definitely don't want a marshmallow-toasting, awesome dragon.
They'll swing, dance and get into the groove while learning about the history of jazz with this interactive book. The page-turner also comes with a dozen sound chips to expose your music-loving toddler to the rhythm section, scatting, brass instruments and more.
All the little wonders of nature send invitations to enjoy a new green day in this lovely picture book that celebrates the Earth.
When Mom and Dad go out, they leave behind a pirate babysitter who isn't sure what to feed the kids. Along comes his crew with a hearty stew — but it might be best not to eat it in this fun, rhyming tale from Neil Gaiman.
Mabel is different from other mermaids (she's missing a mustache), but she meets an octopus who is different from other octopuses and they discover the beauty in their difference.
Age 3 is when children are really starting to follow narratives for the first time, said Nina Lindsay, president of the Association for Library Service to Children. Oge Mora's story about the beauty of spending time with family is a great place to start.
This penguin has a dream and wants to achieve it himself (like many 3-year-olds), but discovers adventures are better with friends.
Waiting isn't easy for this little guy (or your little ones) in this funny new take on transformation.
Give little ones curated boxes full of books as a one-off gift or an ongoing subscription from Literati. Themes include "vibrant voices," a box celebrating diversity and inclusion.
Uncle Otto has a tough time finding the right car for a T. Rex — a fun combination for your dino and car-obsessed toddlers.
Crafty chickens make a break for it in this clever, rhyming, counting book.
Best play sets for 3-year-olds
With 100 pieces, this wooden block building set is meant for fun and play. They'll get to use the colorful blocks and shapes to build their own architectural creations.
Little ones are unleashing their inner artist at this age and this set lets them explore through touch and feel.
This Lego set helps kids identify emotions for social emotional development, something many parents are concerned about now.
“They can fit easily in your tote bag the same way an iPad could,” Conti said of this re-stickable set.
“Musical toys can form a big part of a 3-year-old’s day,” said educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.
Conti is a big fan of wooden magnetic blocks, like these, for easy manipulation with less frustration.
For the aspiring chef, this little kitchen can provide hours of play. (They may especially love it in the real kitchen, so they can "cook" with parents.)
Take kitchen play up a notch with this full restaurant set.
These blocks are a favorite in preschools everywhere. Various sizes and shapes let little ones problem-solve.
Train sets are great for your 3-year-old boy or girl's developing spatial skills, Klein said. Brio train sets are also compatible.
“The sandbox is one of the most popular activities on our playground, for all ages,” Conti said. This magic sand is a perfect indoor version.
Encourage early STEM development and fine motor skills with this interactive gear set that really works.
These magnetic tiles allow kids to create their own masterpieces and will captivate them for years to come. “Kids will play with those for hours,” Conti said.
Still looking for the perfect gift? Be sure to check out Shop TODAY’s Gift Guide to shop for everyone on your list, including:
- The best gifts for 1-year-olds, according to child development experts
- The 35 best gifts for 2-year-olds, according to experts
- Shopping for a 4-year-old? Here are 42 gifts they'll love
- 39 interactive gifts the 5-year-old in your life won’t want to put down
- 33 toys and games that will make your 6-year-old smile
- 37 gifts for the 7-year-old who’s ready to take on the world
- The best toys and books for third graders, according to professionals
This gift guide was originally published on Nov. 21, 2017.