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These gifts for 3-year-olds encourage development and are actually fun

These presents will help their imagination grow.
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/ Source: TODAY

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.” According to Klein, “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, 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

"It Will Be OK: A Story of Empathy, Kindness, and Friendship," by Lisa Katzenberger and Jaclyn Sinquett

Giraffe has seen a spider and is scared into a tree. Zebra patiently talks to Giraffe and shows how to overcome fears and be a good friend.

Melissa & Doug Pattern Blocks and Boards

The options are endless when it comes to the patterns and designs your child could make with these vibrant geometric blocks, but they can also build the patterns that are already included with the set. Their problem-solving skills and natural curiosity will also be tested by shapes like hexagons, trapezoids, rhombuses and more.

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.

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.

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.

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.

"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.

Learning Resources Building Toy Gear Set

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

Play-Doh Fun Factory Deluxe Set

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

Kid Made Modern My First Arts and Crafts Library

Small craft pieces like felt, pipe cleaners and googly eyes encourage creativity and fine motor skills as kids create mini masterpieces.

Best toys for 3-year-olds

3 Bees & Me Dinosaur Toy Set

if they're into dinosaurs, they'll love this set that will help them play out all of the Jurassic-style scenarios living in their heads.

Educational Insights Design & Drill Patterns & Shapes

They'll develop fine motor skills alongside shape and pattern recognition with this toy drill board. Each set comes with five reversible board cards that they can follow or they can use their imagination to get creative.

Great Pretenders Dragon Toddler Cape

This fun dragon costume is easy to put on and take off for 3-year-olds who want a quick change.

Manhattan Toy Playdate Friends

These dolls are huggable and machine-washable, and each comes with its own pet for extra fun.

Ada Twist Scientist Doll

Fans of the popular book and Netflix series can bring home their very own scientist for imaginative STEM play.

Sarah's Silks Enchanted Playsilk

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

Kiko+ Kaleidoscope Wooden Camera

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

Green Toys Car Carrier

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

Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Thomas

Child development experts Klein and Conti both appreciate Thomas the Tank Engine and the stories that go along with him.

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.

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.

Crayola Scribble Scrubbies Bath Set

For a more artsy bath experience, your 3-year-old can color in these little pets, then wash them off and start all over again.


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

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.

Loog Mini Acoustic Guitar

Prepare for hours of music play with this mini guitar that's just right for little fingers.

Haba Little Friends Townhouse Villa

A dollhouse gives toddlers room for creative play, and a space to work through issues around separation as they head to school.

Mobo Mity Sport

Scooters, tricycles and balance bikes all encourage coordination. This three-wheeled trike is low to the ground with extra zoom like a little race car.

Best book gifts for 3-year-olds

"Amos McGee Misses the Bus," by Philip C. Stead

In this follow-up to "A Sick Day for Amos McGee," Amos is a little too snoozy and misses his bus to the zoo — and perhaps his chance for a special afternoon with the animals. Fortunately, these animals are there to help a friend while he naps.

"Something’s Wrong! A Bear, a Hare and Some Underwear," by Jory John and Erin Kraan

In this funny picture book, a bear knows something is wrong but not quite what. (Hint, it's the underwear.) His friends come through in a silly, sweet way.

"Chez Bob," by Bob Shea

Bob the alligator opens a birdseed restaurant in a genius plan to lure prey, but when the birds become good friends, will he be able to eat them?

"Bloop," by Tara Lazar and Mike Boldt

An alien dog comes to Earth and determines, quite logically, that dogs are in charge. He'll have to rule on this planet before he can take over back home.

"The Tree in Me," by Corinna Luyken

This beautiful book celebrates the joy of nature and the roots that connect us to each other, with lyrical text and vibrant illustrations.

"Bodies Are Cool," by Tyler Feder

All different kinds of shapes are celebrated in this body-positive book that shows all sizes, colors, face types and more.

"Inside Cat," by Brendan Wenzel

Inside cat is king of his domain and knows every corner and window. There's surely nothing left to discover, until he gets a peek outside.

"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.

Best play sets for 3-year-olds

B. Toys Let's Glow Bowling! Set

Brightly-colored pins and a glowing bowling ball will capture the attention of even the most excited 3-year-olds. They'll have a blast while unknowingly improving balance, hand-eye coordination and fine motor skills.

Creativity for Kids Sensory Bin: Construction Zone Play Set

Little ones love to get their hands dirty. This play set allows them to do that in the least messy way by keeping everything contained in one box with an assortment of tools, toys and moldable sand.

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.

Lego Build Me Emotions Set

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

Colorforms Restickable Play Set

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

Hape Wooden Toy Ukulele

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

Tegu Robo Magnetic Wooden Block Set

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

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.)

Melissa & Doug Star Diner Restaurant Play Set

Take kitchen play up a notch with this full restaurant set from Melissa & Doug.

Melissa & Doug Standard Unit Blocks

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

Don’t forget to check out Shop TODAY’s other gift guides to find the perfect present for every kid on your list including babies, 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 4-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds and 10-year-olds.