The Best Gifts for a 3-Year-Old

Find the perfect gift for an active, imaginative, creative preschooler with our curated toy buying guide.

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July 27, 2021

Children are inquisitive, active and imaginative at this age — eager to soak up everything, push boundaries and explore their world. Open-ended toys are best for flexible, creative play that fires up a preschooler's developing brain. (My mom is a preschool and elementary teacher, so this philosophy is built into my DNA and one that I follow as a parent myself.) A thoughtful, intentional toy will boost enjoyment and age-appropriate learning over time, so don't hesitate to invest in high-quality toys. From a splurge-worthy, design-forward play kitchen to budget-friendly blocks and play dough, none of our picks go above the $200 mark. Below, we rounded up our favorite toys and gifts for spunky three-year-olds that let them problem-solve, improvise, play and create to their hearts' content.

Best Gifts for Imaginative Play

Preschoolers process emotions and events through role-play with their peers. It's a safe space for them to reenact scenes at home, create new scenarios and work on communication skills. Play is a powerful developmental tool! Toys that allow toddlers to express themselves and use their imagination help them grow and learn in a fun way. We recommend dress-up sets, kitchens and food, and dolls and puppets for this age range.

Best Gifts for Active Play

Fact: Three-year-olds don't sit still, and they shouldn't! Staying active strengthens gross motor skills, like balance, core strength, flexibility and endurance. Through active play, kids learn to take risks and problem solve. Again, open-ended toys that toddlers can manipulate and play with in various ways give a sense of independence and accomplishment. We chose gifts that can be used inside or out, so even on a rainy day, you won't hear, "I'm bored!"

Best Gifts for Educational Play

Don't worry too much about prepping your child for kindergarten yet. Playtime is still very important at this age. If you want to squeeze in a little bit of learning, though, these toys are our favorite for understanding cause-and-effect, testing memory, and mastering STEM skills like critical thinking, problem-solving and building.

Best Gifts for Creative Fun

Preschoolers love getting their hands dirty. Clever art supplies like washable dot paint, kinetic sand and magnetic "paper" dolls keep (most of) the mess contained. Bead stringing, play dough and an easel allow for an endless number of artistic creations. Most importantly, arts and crafts time helps children strengthen fine motor skills and flex their creativity.

Best Useful (But Still Exciting!) Gifts

These are for the parents and the kids! Three-year-olds love asserting independence and want to be just like Mom and Dad. Gift them their own mini versions of adult-sized items, like a water bottle, chair and rain boots. And if bath time is a battle? A cute hooded animal towel might help.

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