Finding unique, educational toys and gifts for kids can be such a challenge. My daughter recently turned 3, and I was on a mission to find toys that were fun and educational.
At age 3, there are so many fun milestones, including the ability to follow simple instructions, show a wide range of emotions, and experiment more with imagination.
By understanding important milestones for this age, you can find some amazing toys and gift ideas that will assist with healthy development. I’ve included some basic ideas to help you find your own gifts as well as a big list of gift ideas for the 3-year-old in your life.
What should I look for in educational toys for a 3-year-old?
When it comes to finding unique, educational toys for 3-year-olds, looking at cognitive milestones is really helpful. You can easily find toys and activities that will support these milestones and help the child build on them.
At age 3, a child should be able to:
- Do puzzles with 3-4 pieces
- Work with more complex toys (including moving parts, buttons, and levers)
- Play make-believe with dolls, animals, and people
- Copy shapes, such as a circle, with a pencil or crayon
- Turn book pages one at a time
- Build towers of 6 or more blocks
- Screw and unscrew jar lids or turn door handles
And over the next year, children will start inching toward the 4-year-old cognitive milestones, which include:
- Naming colors and numbers
- Understanding the idea of counting
- Starting to understand time
- Remembering parts of a story
- Understanding the concept of “same” and “different”
- Drawing a person with 2-4 body parts
- Using scissors
- Starting to copy some capital letters
- Playing board or card games
And physically, at 3, a child can climb well, run easily, and pedal a tricycle. By age 4, they can hop and stand on one foot for up to 2 seconds, catch a bounced ball, and maneuver food and drinks pretty well (pouring, cutting, and mashing food).
I’m sure that just reading these lists has already sparked some ideas for you – perhaps a puzzle of up to 24 pieces, which will be a big challenge at 3 but will become easier over the next 2 years. Or maybe a big colorful block set that encourages stacking, color practice, and sorting.
You can take these ideas and run with them, but I’ve done a lot of legwork to bring you a massive curated list of unique, educational gift ideas that will support cognitive development for the 3-year-old age range.
What is the best educational toy for a 3-year-old?
Before I get into the list of educational toy ideas, I did want to address a common question I saw – what is the best educational toy for a 3-year-old?
Questions like these are so hard to answer because it always depends – what’s the child interested in? Where are they developmentally? And for the parents, what’s the budget? And in regards to the size of the toy, do you have room in your home to store it?
And to add to that, most toys work on a small set of skills – how can you prioritize one ability or another?
So, with all of that said, my recommendation for the best educational toy for a 3-year-old is The Observer Play Kit by Lovevery, made specifically for ages 37-39 months. The Lovevery kits are good for both girls and boys.
I’m a massive fan of Lovevery because all of their play kits are backed by heaps of developmental research, everything is made sustainably, and the toys are the highest quality out there.
The Observer Play Kit is $120 and focuses on exploring routines with pretend play, practicing nesting with early exposure to architecture concepts, setting expectations by planning out the day, and encouraging independence and self-care.
The kit includes a Plan Ahead Weather Board, Modular Playhouse, Wooden Accessories, Two-Seater Speedster, Left & Right Shoe Stickers, Wooden Emotion Dolls, and an Emotion Book Set.
This play kit hits on several important milestones, and most importantly, it’s fun! So, that’s my top recommendation.
What’s the best inexpensive educational toy for 3-year-olds?
If you’re shopping for another child’s birthday party, a $120 Lovevery play kit is likely out of the question, so my backup recommendation for the best 3-year-old educational gift idea is a Koala Crate from KiwiCo.
These unique crates encourage hands-on learning and fun through enriching exposure to new materials, tools, techniques, and concepts. Each crate comes with 2-3 creative activities that the parent or caregiver can do with the child. As an example, the latest crate we got my daughter was rainbow-themed. We made a stained glass landscape, a rainbow pillow, and a rainbow tote bag.
It was so much fun to do together, no screens or batteries are required, and the crate was less than $20. (We got a 6-month subscription because there was a promotion, but you can buy a single crate – it just costs slightly more.)
KiwiCo also sells one-off crates, such as a walking robot project ($24.95), a baking and fractions project ($44.95), or a veterinarian starter kit ($29.95).
These crates not only encourage learning, but they’re interactive and hands-on. We love these, and it’s so unique – I doubt anyone else will show up to the party or holiday with this!
1) Montessori Learning Color & Shape Slider Puzzle
Price at time of writing: $16.99
Between ages 3-4, counting, identifying colors, and naming shapes is a key cognitive skill to work on. The Monesttori Learning Color & Shape Slider Puzzle from the Auggie Store (sold on Amazon) makes it fun!
This wooden puzzle meets brain teaser game challenges your preschooler to match the wooden circles to the card. All the pieces store nicely in the base of this toy, which mom will truly appreciate.
2) Melissa & Doug See & Spell Wooden Educational Toy
Price at time of writing: $18.87
Identifying letters and starting to spell things is a skill children typically start around age 4. However, getting an early start doesn’t hurt!
This Melissa & Doug See & Spell wooden toy (sold on Amazon) can help introduce letters. Even though your 3-year-old likely doesn’t understand how these letters come together to form words, they’ll still have fun putting the letter in the matching puzzle spot.
The best part is you can have fun introducing letters to your little one, and around age 4-5, this toy will have a whole new educational purpose in your home. I love toys that last!
3) Discovery Create & Paint Easel
Price at time of writing: $299
Toys that encourage creativity, going outside, and exploring nature are a win in my book!
The Discovery Create & Paint Easel from Plum (sold on The Tot) is this incredible nature-inspired easel that features an easy-clean painting screen and a mini gardening station.
It’s definitely on the pricier side, but what a fun toy that offers up so many unique opportunities for play and discovery! To get $25 off, send us an email, and we’ll get you a discount code.
4) 24-Piece Puzzles
Price at time of writing: $36.99
Twenty-four-piece puzzles are a great gift for a 3-year-old. Even if they can’t do a 24-piece puzzle on their own yet, they will likely be able to master this by age 4. It’s a fun challenge that supports healthy development!
You can find a fun 6-pack on Amazon that features several scenes, including space, underwater, the jungle, construction, and more.
5) Confetti Grand Piano
Price at the time of writing: $89.99
This Confetti Grand Piano by Janod (sold on Maisonette) is a great way to introduce a 3-year-old to music! It includes 18 keys and four wooden feet, and is ideal for ages 3+.
You can get 10% off your order by using this link and the code “HELLO10.”*
*Must be your first order with Maisonette; applies to orders $75 or more
6) Literati Book Club Box
Literati is a book club that costs $9.95 per month plus the cost of any books you choose to keep.
Each themed book club box includes 5 books tailored to your child’s age (plus some fun additions like stickers and personalized surprises). Club Sprout, for ages 3-5, is all about beginning picture books. The stories are simple, the illustrations are beautiful, and storytime is so fun!
Literati matches Amazon list price, and you only pay for the books you keep. You have a week to read and explore the books, and any you don’t want, you can send back with a prepaid shipping label. You can skip months or cancel anytime.
There are several ways to gift Literati, from gifting the subscription to giving a gift card or even choosing an age-appropriate themed box. The birthday-themed gift box for ages 3-5 is perfect!
7) Lacing Cards
Price at time of writing: $10.99
Lacing cards (sold on Amazon) are a great educational option for when you’re on the go. My sister’s family uses them in church, at big sister’s softball games, while waiting at the restaurant, etc. They’re also great for fine motor development.
Stay-at-home mom perspective: If your little one gets frustrated with the string falling through as they’re lacing, knot it to one of the holes, and it won’t get lost!
8) My Calendar by Moon Picnic
Price at time of writing: $115
My Calendar by Moon Picnic (sold on The Tot) is a great educational tool that will teach your 3-year-old about numbers, days and months, and planning ahead. It also has a puzzle-like feel, making it fun for your little one!
To get $25 off, send us an email, and we’ll get you a discount code.
9) Melissa & Doug Magentic Wand Number Maze
Price at time of writing: $17.53
The Melissa & Doug Magnetic Wand Number Maze (sold on Amazon), featuring fun illustrations of barn animals, is a great educational activity for 3-year-olds.
You can slide the red apples with the attached magnetic wand over the acrylic surface, making it a great activity to develop number recognition, counting skills, and hand-eye coordination.
10) The Lovevery Block Set
Price at time of writing: $90
The Lovevery block set is the ultimate block set – it’s ideal for toddlers (18 months through 4+ years) and features over 20 fun learning and developmental activities ranging in complexity.
The 70 wood pieces are made of sustainably harvested FSC-certified wood, and the paint is non-tox and water-based. All of the blocks store neatly in the wooden container, and there are many amazing ways to use this set for learning and fun.
11) Season Pass to Local Children’s Museum or Zoo
Gifting experiences is often the best type of gift! If you know of a local children’s museum or zoo, see if you could buy season or annual passes.
Along those same lines, you could inquire about paying for a month or semester of dance lessons, music class, or art class.
12) Little Passports
Little Passports is an award-winning subscription for kids that provides hands-on learning opportunities.
The Early Explorers subscription, for ages 3-5, will introduce your preschooler to the world through activities and souvenirs.Shop by Age: 3-5 years
The subscription costs $24.95 per month, and you can save by choosing a 6-month or 12-month subscription.
You can also gift a standalone activity kit – it might be fun to choose a theme you know your 3-year-old will love, like food around the world, animal tracks, or global art!
13) Raddish Kids Cooking Club
Raddish is a cooking club for kids that delivers monthly boxes which encourage culinary fun.
A typical monthly box would include 3 recipe guides, a quality kitchen tool, collectibles (like a colorful apron patch and table talk cards), a creative kitchen project, 3 culinary skill lessons, and a complete grocery list.
One box included seasonal recipes, like apple harvest bread, chicken corn chowder, and frosted pumpkin cookies.
While Raddish is advertised for 4-14+ years old, I know my 3-year-old loves helping in the kitchen. Whether it’s mixing ingredients in a bowl, measuring out some flour, or cracking an egg, she loves it!
If you think the 3-year-old you’re shopping for enjoys cooking or watching mom and dad cook, Raddish might be the most unique, thoughtful gift in the room!
Radish costs $24 per kit, and if you opt for a 6-month or 12-month subscription, you save and get a free apron. But they do offer some gifting options, including standalone cooking kits. Grab a backyard BBQ kit, a harvest party kit, or a cosmic cuisine kit for $24.
14) Writing and Counting Trays by Q Toys
Price at the time of writing: $32.99
Learning about numbers, counting, and literacy is all the rage at 3 years old, and these 10 counting trays by Q Toys (sold at The Tot) are ideal! You can fill the wooden numbered trays with colored sands or play dough as a fun way to learn about color recognition, counting, and tracing.
Plus, these trays are made from solid, sustainably sourced plantation timber.
If you happen to add at least $100 worth of items to your cart, you can use code referral-cdde3e10fa3ee8e to get $25 off at checkout.
15) Story Time Chess
Price at time of writing: $64.99
Story Time Chess, the 2021 People’s Choice Toy of the Year Award Winner, is a fantastic educational game, modified for starting at age 3!
Chess is immensely beneficial for young minds as it assists with critical thinking, problem-solving, and planning ahead. While teaching chess to a 3-year-old seems like a huge challenge, Story Time Chess makes it accessible with custom chess pieces and a storybook drawn by Disney illustrator Ryan Terry.
These fun chess boards are also dual-sided, meaning you can also use them for regular chess or tournament play.
16) Windflyer Sleep Training Clock
Price at time of writing: $42.99
Understanding the concept of time is something a 3-year-old will master within the next year of their life.
Introducing a clock can be a great way to start having conversations about time and expectations around what happens at different parts of the day. This sleep training clock (sold on Amazon) uses fun facial expressions and soft lights so kids know if it’s time to sleep or time to be awake.
At this age, routines are everything, and this clock is a fun way to help the 3-year-old on your shopping list thrive!
Price at the time of writing: $12.99
Do you remember playing Candyland as a kid? Some of my fondest memories are going to my G&G’s house to play this game!
While this game is mostly fun, there are some educational components, like counting how many spots you should move, identifying colors, and following instructions.
Candyland (sold on Amazon) is for ages 3 and up, so if you haven’t tried any board games yet with your toddler, this might be the perfect one to get!
18) The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game
Price at the time of writing: $11.99
As long as we’re talking about games, The Sneaky, Snacky Squirrel Game (sold on Amazon) has been the best-selling preschool game for over 5 years.
It’s full of educational components, like learning colors, matching, strategic thinking, taking turns, hand-eye coordination, and fine motor skills. Plus, it’s so much fun!
The goal of this game is to help the squirrels find their acorns. You spin the spinner and pick up the matching acorn with your “squirrel squeezer,” placing it in your log. The first to collect 5 acorns wins!
19) AlphaDoughTM Learning Bundle
Playing with dough is so fun for 3-year-olds, and adding in some letter practice makes learning even more fun!
This learning bundle includes the Alphabet Dough Book (featuring the adorable Parlour Pals mini mats to help with vocabulary and letter sounds), Alpha Mat and Parlour Pack of 6.
If you use this link and code “HELLO10,” you can get 10% off your order!*
*Must be your first order with Maisonette; applies to orders $75 or more
20) KidKraft Waterfall Mountain Wooden Train Set & Table
Price at time of writing: $85.26
My younger brother first got into Thomas the Train around age 3, and he was completely infatuated for years! For every birthday and holiday, we’d add to his collection. While Thomas the Train is definitely nice, it’s very expensive.
I’ll include a link to a Thomas the Train set ($39.99 for a small figure-8 set), but if you ditch that brand name, you can get a lot more for your money.
KidKraft has this incredible train set & table for $85.26 (sold on Amazon), which includes 120 pieces and 3 storage bins.
This train set offers up so many opportunities for imaginative play, something 3-year-olds are just starting to explore.
21) Amazon Book Box
Price at time of writing: $19.99
This gift idea is more for mom and dad, as the Amazon book box is a subscription tied to your Amazon account.
I personally did this subscription for my daughter when she was younger so we could build up our library of books. Now, we have a great collection, and we supplement with our local library twice a month.
That said, new books are always a joy for kids, and it’s always a welcome gift!
Amazon Book Boxes cost $19.99 per month, and there’s a reading level for ages 3-5. This age group includes 2 hardcover books, and if you don’t like the two books automatically added to your box, you can swap them out for something else! While the subscription is monthly, you can change the frequency or cancel anytime.
22) Soccer by PlanToys
Price at the time of writing: $107.50
This little soccer game by PlanToys (sold on Maisonette) is a great game to play with a 3-year-old! It works on fine motor skills and following instructions. Plus, it offers up loads of fun for family time.
It’s made in Thailand with sustainable rubberwood, and you can get 10% off this order using this link and code “HELLO10.”*
*Must be your first order with Maisonette; applies to orders $75 or more
23) KidKraft Play Kitchen
Price at time of writing: $184.99
Last but not least is the KidKraft play kitchen, a great educational activity for toddlers. It’s great for pretend play, learning about foods, and talking about cooking. Both of my own kids (ages 1.5 and 3) can spend hours playing with their play kitchen. It’s magical.
There are some very high-end play kitchens out there, but I felt this option from KidKraft (sold on Amazon) bridged the gap between high-quality and affordable.
Shopping for unique, educational activities and toys for a 3-year-old doesn’t have to be a big headache! There’s something in here for every budget – let me know if you end up getting something.
And please – share your suggestions and recommendations down below. Happy shopping!