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The best gifts for 3-year-olds will include plenty of opportunities to explore as toddlers grow and develop 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 and 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-old boys and girls
- Best book gifts for 3-year-olds
- Best play sets for 3-year-olds
When we release our 2020 gift guides, we make sure all prices are current. But prices change frequently, so there’s a chance the prices are now different than they were the day of publication.
Bestselling Gifts for 3-year-olds
These magnetic tiles allow kids to create their own masterpieces and will entrance them for years to come. “Kids will play with those for hours,” Conti said.
“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.
“They can fit easily in your tote bag the same way an iPad could,” Conti said of this re-stickable set.
Take kitchen play up a notch with this full restaurant set.
Best toys for 3-year-old boys and girls
These are perfect for pretend play that’s not determined by a character from TV or books.
3. BlaBla Bunny
These dolls are a little less girly than most. “I’m a big proponent of toys that aren’t so gender-specific,” said Conti.
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.
Best book gifts for 3-year-olds
Crafty chickens make a break for it in this clever, rhyming, counting book.
In this wordless, black-and-white movie-style story, Spencer gets a balloon animal and has to keep it away from sharp objects, until a truly surprising twist ending.
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 child would like a dog, but perhaps she would accept an anteater, a lizard in a dog costume or any number of hilarious alternatives. Pet-avoiding parents may relate.
This penguin has a dream and wants to do it himself (like many 3-year-olds), but discovers adventures are better with friends.
Pokko's parents make a big mistake by buying her a drum, but when she takes the noise outside, she'll get the whole animal kingdom behind her.
Take a journey through daunting urban spaces with someone who knows what it's like to be small in the city.
Waiting isn't easy for this little guy (or your little ones) in this funny new take on transformation.
Uncle Otto has a tough time finding the right car for a T.Rex — a fun combination for your dino and car-obsessed toddlers.
Best play sets for 3-year-olds
“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.
These little figures let kids construct different play scenarios.
Pretending to cook is a favorite activity for 3-year-olds.
For the true gourmet, this little kitchen can provide hours of play. (They may especially love it in the real kitchen, so they can "cook" with parents.)
This dollhouse for little critters is a great choice for 3-year-olds.
This treehouse includes little figures, acorns and a working pulley.
Conti said specific brick kits are “taking away from their imaginative ability to create on their own,” so she prefers these more general sets. “I would make sure the kids have just a big tub of Legos.”
Blocks of 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.
Little ones are unleashing their inner artist at this age and this set lets them explore through touch and feel.
Finding the perfect present can be a challenge, but Shop TODAY's up to the task. Try our interactive gift finder to sort gifts by price, person and interest. And no matter who you're looking for, we've got gift guides for everyone on your list, including:
- Gifts for babies
- Gifts for 1-year-olds
- Gifts for 2-year-olds
- Gifts for 3-year-olds
- Gifts for 4-year-olds
- Gifts for 5-year-olds
- Gifts for 6-year-olds
- Gifts for 7-year-olds
- Gifts for 8-year-olds
This gift guide was originally published on Nov. 21, 2017.