28 of the best toys for 3-year-olds, from a mess-free painting set to an indoor basketball hoop

toddler playing with a sink and stove toy from Little Tikes - one of best toys for 3 year olds
Little Tikes makes an array of toy appliances that are excellent gifts for 3-year-olds.

When you buy through our links, Insider may earn an affiliate commission. Learn more.

  • The best toys for 3-year-olds encourage their development while being fun and engaging.
  • We spoke to toy experts and a psychologist to round up some of the best toys to gift 3-year-olds.
  • Still looking for a gift? Check out our list of the All-Time Best products we've ever tested.

At 3 years old, children enter a new world of imaginative and pretend play, and the selection of toys to inspire their play is virtually endless. If you're shopping for a holiday gift for a 3-year-old, consider this list of toys that we narrowed down after talking to two toy experts and a developmental psychologist.

All of our experts emphasized the importance of considering a 3-year-old's interests when buying them a toy, whether that's their favorite activity, TV show, or animal. If there's a hot toy that you know they'll love, we recommend buying it now to avoid potential price increases and stock shortages due to supply chain issues.

With our experts' advice in mind and our own research and testing, we've compiled our favorite toys for 3-year-olds. From active toys to art projects and everything in between, we found something that's bound to delight the child on your shopping list.

Here are 28 of the best toys for 3-year-olds that are educational and fun:

A simple and open-ended dollhouse

preschool age child playing with wooden dollhouse filled with furniture and dolls - our pick for gifts for 3-year-olds

Haba Little Friends Dollhouse, $99.99, available at Amazon

Some of the best toys for kids are open-ended and require them to use their imagination. Three-year-olds will be encouraged to create their own play world when they open this furnished dollhouse. My 3-year-old often reenacts parts of her day in this house. Note that you'll need to purchase dolls separately.

Recommended ages: 3 to 8 years old

Magical sand that easily molds

two kids playing with sand sculpture - kinetic sand is great gift for 3-year-olds

Kinetic Sand Sandwhirlz Playset, $13.49, available at Amazon

As opposed to typical dry sand that falls apart, kinetic sand keeps its molded form, providing an excellent sensory experience. Charlton said that open-ended toys engage the imaginations and critical thinking skills of 3-year-olds. When they're given this kit with 2 pounds of sand and 6 shapeshifters, kids will have no choice but to imagine and create their own play world.

Recommended ages: 3 to 12 years old

A basketball hoop just their size

two preschool age children playing with plastic basketball hoop set in living room

Little Tikes Easy Score Toy Basketball Hoop, $23.97, available at Walmart

Most 3-year-olds are ready to refine their throwing and catching skills — there's no better time than now to get them a basketball hoop. You can adjust this hoop from 2.5 to 4 feet, so it can grow with them and always stay at an ideal height. Perfect for indoors or outdoors, this gift will help them channel some of their seemingly never-ending energy.

Recommended ages: 18 months to 5 years old

A dinosaur set for creative play

dinosaur activity set with magnetics, activity book, and drawing board

Melissa & Doug Play, Draw, Create Reusable Drawing and Magnet Kit, from $12.50, available at Amazon, Target, and Macy's

Three-year-olds who love dinosaur toys will grow their creativity and fine motor skills with this activity set they can revisit over and over. It comes with magnets, dry-erase markers, and an erasable drawing board and activity book with facts about dinosaurs, drawing games, and more.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A sensory bin for space exploration

older toddler playing with creativity for kids outers pace sensory bin

Creativity for Kids Sensory Bin: Outerspace, $15.97, available at Amazon

Kids are always exploring their environments. With this sensory bin, they can explore outer space through sight, touch, and hearing. The set comes with outer space rocks (instead of typical sand), glowing stars, an astronaut, a squishy alien, tongs, and a scoop.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A set of aquatic pets made for coloring

a fish and octopus figurines decorated with markers

Crayola Scribble Scrubbie Ocean Pets Lagoon Playset, from $19.99, available at Amazon and Michaels

These four aquatic pets are perfect for 3-year-olds to color. Kids can decorate them with the included markers, wash them off when they're ready to make a new design, and then start all over. "Kids can go on imaginative adventures with their pets based on their looks and get to totally customize their experience," said Maddie Michalik, senior editor of The Toy Insider. This set comes with shark, octopus, whale, and clown fish figures, six markers, and a scrubbie tub.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A beloved TV show combined with a classic building toy

magna-tile pieces including cookie monster, elmo, oscar the grouch and shapes like stars and circles

CreateOn Magna-Tiles Sesame Street Cookie Monster's Shapes, $44.95, available at Amazon

Elmo, Big Bird, Oscar, and of course, Cookie Monster all make an appearance in this 17-piece Magna-Tiles set. Bronwyn Charlton, PhD, developmental psychologist and cofounder of Seedlingsgroup, recommends Magna-Tiles as a toy that can be used in a variety of ways, and this one can be combined with other CreateOn Magna-Tiles sets.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A Paw Patrol set for rescue by land and air

young child playing with blue cruiser and paw patrol chase figure

Paw Patrol, Chase's 5-in-1 Ultimate Cruiser, from $68.99, available at Amazon and Target

Kids who love "Paw Patrol" will delight in taking Chase on rescue missions by truck, helicopter, and motorcycle. The most exciting part of this toy is the dual-launching motorcycles. Just press a button on the cruiser and the bikes pop out the sides.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A doll that encourages handwashing


Doc McStuffins Wash Your Hands Doll, $19.01, available at Walmart

Doc McStuffins is a toddler favorite, making this doll an accessible way to encourage kids to wash their hands and wear their mask. The doll comes with an interactive stethoscope, face mask, doctor's bag, thermometer, and otoscope. As part of the doll's launch, Disney and Just Play donated funds for two million meals to Feeding America.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A climbing tower to channel their energy

Toy Bars Eezy Peezy Monkey Bars Climbing Tower

Toy Bars Eezy Peezy Monkey Bars Climbing Tower, $149.99, available at Amazon

If you know a 3-year-old who can't help but climb furniture, this tower will give them an appropriate and safe place to get their climbing fix. Charlton recommends the Monkey Bars Climbing Tower to get kids moving, even in a small space. This durable tower can withstand up to 150 pounds, so multiple kids can play together.

Recommended ages: 3 to 6 years

The ultimate PJ Masks toy

PJ masks HQ Amazon

PJ Masks Transforming 2-in-1 Mobile HQ, $67.99, available at Amazon

Jim Silver, CEO of TTPM (Toys, Tots, Pets & More), said that the PJ Masks HQ is the ultimate toy for fans of the show, and it's easy to see why. In HQ mode, the toy is 3 feet tall and has five levels, and in Seeker mode, it's ready to roll to take Catboy on a mission. The toy comes with Catboy and one Cat-Car as well as a compartment to trap villains.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A monthly activity box for 3-year-olds

kiwico panda crate

KiwiCo Panda Crate, from $15.95/month, available at KiwiCo

This subscription activity box brings a new adventure for curious kids every month. Each box has themed educational activities and games that allow kids to explore topics like ocean life and visiting the doctor's office. The items are chosen by developmental psychologists to keep kids interested and learning long after opening the box.

Recommended ages: 2 to 4 years

A watercolor set with minimal mess

Melissa & Doug paint Amazon

Melissa & Doug Paint With Water, $18.29, available at Amazon

These watercolor books are an excellent introduction to painting for 3-year-olds. They can wet the included paintbrush and use it to activate the colors on the paint palette at the top of each page. Learning to use a paintbrush helps hone fine motor skills. Charlton recommends toys such as this that strengthen finger dexterity, a precursor to writing.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A bike for beginners


Little Tikes My First Balance, $69.99, available at Target

This balance bike skips training wheels, as kids learn to balance with their feet on the ground before learning to pedal. "Prioritize toys that encourage your child to be active," Charlton said. Once toddlers get the hang out it, this will be a go-to toy for getting energy out. The seat and handlebars are adjustable to grow with the child, and the tires are made of foam that won't go flat.

Recommended ages: 2 to 5 years

A set of jigsaw puzzles

Melissa & Doug puzzles Amazon

Melissa & Doug Vehicles 4-in-1 Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles, $9.16, available at Amazon and Walmart

This set includes four wooden jigsaw puzzles: a firetruck, a train, a school bus, and a race car. The sturdy wooden pieces and included storage box minimize the risk of pieces getting destroyed or going AWOL. Charlton recommends puzzles for 3-year-olds because they encourage exploration and problem-solving.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A tree house play set

Fat Brain Toys Timber Tots Tree House Classic & Retro Toys for Ages 2 to 4

Timber Tots Tree House, $57.49, available on Amazon

The Timber Tots Tree House packs a lot of play into a small package. The set comes with two Timber Tots, a tree house that closes up for easy carrying, a working elevator, three rooms, a swing, a hideaway, a car, and nine pieces of furniture. It's an ideal set for 3-year-olds who are beginning to explore pretend play.

Recommended ages: 2 years and up

A sweatshirt that turns into a stuffed animal

child wearing unicorn hoodie and holding stuffed unicorn toy

Cubcoats Hoodies, from $20, available at Amazon and Macy's

Cubcoats can be transformed from a sweatshirt to a stuffed animal in less than a minute. Choose from popular characters from their favorite TV shows and movies, like "Paw Patrol" and "Star Wars," as well as animals like a puppy, cat, sloth, and panda. The quality of the fabric and the hoodie's easy layering are convincing enough, but the stuffed animal transformation makes this a truly special purchase.

Available sizes: 2T to 10

A game about emotions

janon_emotions_magnets Amazon

Janod Emotions Magnetic Game, $29.99, available at Amazon

Learning to identify and regulate emotions is difficult for toddlers, but this game makes it easier. Recommended by Charlton, the Emotions Magnetic Game helps kids build social-emotional skills. It encourages them to identify 10 feelings by matching them with situations from everyday life and even includes a mirror to practice emotional faces.

Recommended ages: 2 to 5 years

A kids' book that explores different cultures

Lifestyle Photo (1)
Barnes and Noble

"A World Together," from $10.28, available at Amazon and Barnes & Noble

This new book was written by Sonia Manzano of "Sesame Street" to spread the message that although all of our lives look different, we're really all the same. This message is beautifully illustrated through real photographs of people around the world. The pictures are sure to spark conversation about different cultures with curious kids.

Recommended ages: preschool to grade 2

A play appliance just their size

image (3)

Little Tikes First Appliances, from $19.77, available at Amazon and Target

Surprise a kid with a miniature version of a major appliance. Michalik said that an ideal gift for a 3-year-old is one that centers around role-play. Kids get to pretend they're using real appliances with these toys that have interactive features, including as a washer that spins, a sink with a working faucet, a stove with play food and burners that light up, and a fridge that dispenses plastic ice cubes.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

Jungle animal figurines


Learning Resources Jungle Animal Counters, $24.99, available at Amazon and Walmart

This collection is an ideal springboard for creative pretend play. Kids will find 60 figurines from across 12 animal species, including giraffes, lions, elephants, tigers, and zebras. These toys help teach early learning concepts like counting, sorting, compare and contrast, addition and subtraction, and pattern recognition.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A vacuum that picks up 'dusties'

image (1)

Leapfrog Pickup and Count Vacuum, from $24.96, available at Walmart and Target

Three-year-olds can help around the house with this vacuum that comes with "dusties" for them to pick up. A conveyor belt in the vacuum sucks them up, and the talking toy challenges kids to pick up specific colors or to suck them all up as quickly as possible. Toddlers will enjoy engaging in the challenges while "helping" with chores. 

Recommended ages: 2 to 5 years

An environmentally friendly version of an old classic

An eco friendly Mr. Potato Head

Mr. Potato Head Goes Green, $6.99, available at Amazon

Mr. Potato Head has gone green in this new iteration made from plant-based plastic. Kids will love mixing and matching his body parts to create silly face combinations. It comes with 14 accessories, including some new additions like a worm, flowerpot, and plant sprout.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A baby that grows into a big kid


Baby Alive Baby Grows Up, from $47.99, available at Macy's and Target

When kids open the box, they'll find a surprise newborn baby that will grow into a big kid with lots of love and care. Michalik said toys that develop social and emotional skills are of the utmost importance for toddlers. Kids will get to feed the baby her first bottle, hear her first word, and help her stand for the first time.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A Baby Yoda doll to snuggle

Baby yoda

The Child Plush, $9.99, available at Target

The only thing more adorable than Baby Yoda is a 3-year-old cuddling Baby Yoda. Officially named The Child, this 8-inch plush version is just the right size for a toddler. It has a weighted bottom so it can stand upright, yet the entire toy is soft and huggable.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A classic game with a twist

disney_frozen_II_ice Amazon

Don't Break the Ice, Disney Frozen II Edition, $19.99, available at Amazon

"Frozen" fans will enjoy this new twist on a classic game as they try not to break Elsa's ice. In addition to being a fun family game, it will challenge 3-year-olds to practice patience and motor planning. They'll also feel a sense of accomplishment as their ice-tapping skills improve.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

A 3-story Lego Duplo house


Lego Duplo Modular Playhouse, $59.99, available at Amazon

Playing with Lego bricks helps 3-year-olds develop their fine motor skills and inspires creativity. "Toddlers love to take apart, put back together, pull out, put in, add on, and build up," said Charlton. This 129-piece set includes extra building ideas so kids can create their own unique houses. Some of the pieces include a fridge that opens, a guitar, a rocking horse, and a pet dog.

Recommended ages: 2 years and up

Sensory dough they can help make themselves

The Dough Project

The Dough Project DIY Mix, $12, available at The Dough Project

This DIY kit includes ingredients and simple instructions to make a batch of play dough. Kids can help combine the dry mix with water and oil before it's cooked on the stove. The dough is a breeze to make and surprisingly not messy. One package makes a generous 15 ounces of dough and is available in red, yellow, or blue.

Recommended ages: 3 years and up

Sign up for Insider Reviews' weekly newsletter for more buying advice and great deals.

You can purchase logo and accolade licensing to this story here.

Disclosure: Written and researched by the Insider Reviews team. We highlight products and services you might find interesting. If you buy them, we may get a small share of the revenue from the sale from our partners. We may receive products free of charge from manufacturers to test. This does not drive our decision as to whether or not a product is featured or recommended. We operate independently from our advertising team. We welcome your feedback. Email us at reviews@insider.com.

Close icon Two crossed lines that form an 'X'. It indicates a way to close an interaction, or dismiss a notification.