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44 best gifts and toys for 3-year-olds in 2021

Know a 3-year-old who has some ideas of their own? These are the presents that'll help their imagination grow.
3 year old gift guide square
These perfect presents are a great option for your favorite 3-year-old.TODAY illustration / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

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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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Best toys for 3-year-olds

1. Fat Brain Toys GeoMagic Mosaics

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.

2. Chuckle & Roar Jumbo Aqua Draw Doodle Mat

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.

3. Boon Marco Light-Up Bath Toy

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.

4. Toniebox Audio Player

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.

5. Kid O A to Z Magnatab

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.

6. VTech Write And Learn Creative Center

Whether they like to draw or write, they'll get to explore their artistic side with this interactive toy.

7. Little Tikes Rescue Tales Scrub 'n Groom Bathtub Playset

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.

8. Color Your Own Superhero Cape

This customizable cape is perfect for pretend play that’s not determined by a character from TV or books.

9. Sarah's Silks Enchanted Playsilk

These real silk play scarves can be capes, wings, the roof of a fortress ... it's the ultimate in open-ended play.

10. Etch-a-Sketch

The original mess-free way to draw is a perfect toy for travel or restaurant play.

11.Slumberkins Alpaca Snuggler

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.

12. Janod Mint Balance Scooter Bike

Scooters, tricycles and balance bikes all encourage coordination.

13. Green Toys Car Carrier

This car carrier helps with fine motor skills and imaginative play.

14. Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Thomas

Klein and Conti both appreciate Thomas the Tank Engine and the stories that go with him.

15. AnaMalz Wooden Moose Figure

Animals are of great interest at age 3 and these sweet wooden figures are perfect for pretend.

16. Kiko+ Kaleidoscope Wooden Camera

This chic wooden camera features a kaleidoscope lens to delight 3-year-olds as they mimic their paparazzi parents.

17. Mudpuppy Puzzle Sticks

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

1. "Everyone's Awake," by Colin Meloy and Shawn Harris

Everyone should be sleeping, but bedtime hijinks get in the way, with escalating, rhyming silliness from the lead singer of The Decemberists.

2. "Every Little Letter," by Deborah Underwood and Joy Hwang Ruiz

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.

3. "Randy, the Badly Drawn Horse," by T.L. McBeth

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.

4. "You Don't Want a Dragon," by Ame Dyckman and Liz Climo

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.

5. "Welcome to Jazz," by Carolyn Sloan

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.

6. "A New Green Day," by Antoinette Portis

All the little wonders of nature send invitations to enjoy a new green day in this lovely picture book that celebrates the Earth.

7. "Pirate Stew," by Neil Gaiman and Chris Riddell

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.

8. "Mabel: A Mermaid Fable," by Rowboat Watkins

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.

9. "Saturday," by Oge Mora

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.

10. "Penguinaut!" by Marcie Colleen and Emma Yarlett

This penguin has a dream and wants to achieve it himself (like many 3-year-olds), but discovers adventures are better with friends.

11. "The Very Impatient Caterpillar," by Ross Burach

Waiting isn't easy for this little guy (or your little ones) in this funny new take on transformation.

12. Literati Vibrant Voices Gift Box

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.

13. "What Kind of Car Does a T. Rex Drive?" by Mark Lee and Brian Biggs

Uncle Otto has a tough time finding the right car for a T. Rex — a fun combination for your dino and car-obsessed toddlers.

14. "Chicken Break," by Cate Berry and Charlotte Alder

Crafty chickens make a break for it in this clever, rhyming, counting book.

Best play sets for 3-year-olds

1. Melissa & Doug 100-Piece Wood Blocks Set

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.

2. Play-Doh Fun Factory Deluxe Playset

Little ones are unleashing their inner artist at this age and this set lets them explore through touch and feel.

3. Lego Build Me Emotions Set

This Lego set helps kids identify emotions for social emotional development, something many parents are concerned about now.

4. Colorforms Re-Stickable Play Set

“They can fit easily in your tote bag the same way an iPad could,” Conti said of this re-stickable set.

5. Janod Music Instrument Set

“Musical toys can form a big part of a 3-year-old’s day,” said educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.

6. Tegu Robo Magnetic Wooden Block Set

Conti is a big fan of wooden magnetic blocks, like these, for easy manipulation with less frustration.

7. Hape Gourmet Chef Kitchen and Cookware Set

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.)

8. Melissa & Doug Star Diner Restaurant Play Set

Take kitchen play up a notch with this full restaurant set.

9. Melissa & Doug Standard Unit Blocks

These blocks are a favorite in preschools everywhere. Various sizes and shapes let little ones problem-solve.

10. Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Set

Train sets are great for your 3-year-old boy or girl's developing spatial skills, Klein said. Brio train sets are also compatible.

11. Kinetic Sand Sandcastle Set

“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.

12. Learning Resources Building Toy Gear Set

Encourage early STEM development and fine motor skills with this interactive gear set that really works.

13. Magna-Tiles Clear Colors 32-Piece Set

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:

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This gift guide was originally published on Nov. 21, 2017.