33 best gifts and toys for 3-year-olds 2020

Know a 3-year-old who has some ideas of their own? These are the toys to help their imagination grow.
/ Source: TODAY
By Lisa Tolin

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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

1. Magna-Tiles Clear Colors 32-piece Set

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.

2. 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.

3. Learning Resources Building Toy Gear Set

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

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. Melissa & Doug Star Diner Restaurant Play Set

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

Best toys for 3-year-old boys and girls

1. Lovelane Superhero Cape

These are perfect for pretend play that’s not determined by a character from TV or books.

2. Etch-a-Sketch

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

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.

4. JellyCat Bashful Unicorn

As they start school, toddlers may become more interested in cozy friends who give comfort. If unicorns aren't your thing, try a lion, bunny or fuzzy ostrich.

5. Janod Mint Balance Scooter Bike

Scooters, tricycles and balance bikes all encourage coordination.

6. Green Toys Car Carrier

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

7. Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway Thomas

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

8. Animalz Wooden Moose Figure

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

Best book gifts for 3-year-olds

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

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

2. "Spencer's New Pet," by Jessie Sima

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.

3. "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.

4. "I Want a Dog," by Jon Agee

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.

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

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

6. "Pokko and the Drum," by Matthew Forsythe

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.

7. "Small in the City," by Sydney Smith

Take a journey through daunting urban spaces with someone who knows what it's like to be small in the city.

8. "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.

9. "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.

Best play sets for 3-year-olds

1. Janod Music Instrument Set

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

2. Tegu Robo Magnetic Wooden Block Set

Conti is a big fan of wooden magnetic blocks, like these.

3. Janod Story Box Safari

These little figures let kids construct different play scenarios.

4. PlanToys Fruits and Vegetables Set

Pretending to cook is a favorite activity for 3-year-olds.

5. Hape Gourmet Chef Kitchen and Cookware Set

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.)

6. Calico Critters Cozy Cottage

This dollhouse for little critters is a great choice for 3-year-olds.

7. PlanToys Tree House

This treehouse includes little figures, acorns and a working pulley.

8. Lego Duplo All-in-One Box-of-Fun

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.”

9. FAO Schwarz 150 piece Wooden Castle Blocks

Blocks of 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. 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.

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