22 of the best toys for 3 year olds

Our pick of the top toys for boys and girls aged 36 months and up

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Your 3-year-old is now able to reason logically (though he or she may not always choose to do so!), which means there’s a new appeal in toys that require sorting or fitting together – either by working out what goes where or by following a simple sequence of steps.

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Your child’s improved dexterity also means she or he is also able to do much more fiddly-finger stuff: this is the age when playdough, puzzles and (sprawly, splashy) painting and drawing come into their own.

But perhaps the biggest winners of all are toys that spark off imaginary play – especially if it involves acting out roles (doctor, cook, teacher, train driver, astronaut). Your 3-year-old is fast becoming a proper drama king or queen!

Here is our pick of the best toys for 3-year-olds, as tested by children and rated by parents:

1. Little Tikes First Washer-Dryer, £49.99

Age: 3

What it is: A chunky (40cm x 40cm x 20cm) pretend washer-dryer featuring dials that activate sound and light effects, a sliding detergent drawer, and a spinning drum. Comes with more than 10 accessories, including an (empty) detergent bottle, 3 stacking laundry baskets and teeny ‘clothes’ for washing. Requires 4 x AA batteries (included). Some self-assembly required.

Why we love it: It’s just such a great role-play toy: our child testers were entranced, with one them, Maisie, saying, “I love this toy for 1000 years!” It’s good quality, too, easy to assemble, has great accessories and beeps just like a real washing machine. It would be nice if there was an adjustable volume control but we’re probably being picky. This was a surefire pick for our Top 100 Xmas Toys 2020 list.

Available at: AsdaArgos and ELC

2. VTech Toot-Toot Friends Moonlight Camper Van Playset, £36.99

Age: 18 months+

What it is: An 22cm-high, light-projecting interactive camper van that opens up to reveal an interior with sofa, fold-down table and campsite accessories. The 3 play figures can be placed into special MagicPoint locations to trigger songs and phrases about the great outdoors. Requires 2 x AA batteries (included).

Why we love it: Our child testers were thrilled by the working wheels and the colourful starry lights that shine from the camper’s roof, and we love the little campfire and the frying pan the comes complete with fried egg. Our tester parents all liked the singalong songs and how the playset reminds you (a little bossily) to close the campervan door before you wheel it away.

Available at: Amazon, Smyths Toys, John Lewis and Argos

3. Peppa’s Clever Car, £34.99

Age: 18 months+

What it is: A smart car, with bump-avoiding sensors, push-button activation, working headlights and more than 25 sounds. It comes with all 4 Peppa Pig family members who need to be placed in their colour-matched seat before you can make the car move. Requires 3 x AA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: Well, it’s Peppa-themed, so it’s probably a winner before you start! It’s a good robust car (better than many of our child testers’ parents expected for a licensed toy) and child tester Charlie probably speaks for all his fellow testers when he says, “I like it very much – I like all of the people in it and the noises it makes.” Though, it has to be said, Charlie was miffed that the boot doesn’t open! We liked this a lot – so much, in fact, that it made our Top 100 Xmas Toys 2020 list.

Available at: Smyths Toys

4. Chicco Red Bullet Balance Bike, £34.99

Age: 2+

What it is: A 1.75kg 16-inch aluminium frame balance bike with adjustable handlebars (57cm to 61cm), 11-inch wheels and adjustable seat (33cm to 38cm). Also available in Pink Arrow. Some self-assembly required.

Why we love it: It has a lovely glossy finish and is amazingly lightweight – certainly light enough for our child testers to pick off the ground by themselves. Our child testers’ parents really rated it for value for money, especially as it’s so adjustable and easy to assemble. A sturdy balance bike that looks and feels way more expensive than it is.

Available at: Argos, Very and Amazon

5. LeapFrog Smart Sizzling BBQ Grill, £49.99

Age: 2+

What it is: A 47cm x 19cm x 40cm ‘smart’ pretend-play barbecue set with a temperature dial that comes with plates, utensils, sauces and 8 different food items that can be cooked on its interactive skewer. The grill recognises each food’s name and colour. It plays music and sounds effects, makes grilling suggestions and says safety messages, such as, “Careful: the grill’s hot!” Also comes in pink/purple. Requires 2 x AA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: Wow, what a lot of sounds and accessories! And that interactive skewer was a real hit with our child testers who were amazed that it knew what food they were cooking. We like that it’s on wheels and can be easily moved around, and that there’s a storage space inside the grill for stowing away all the accessories when playtime’s over.

Available at: Smyths Toys Amazon and Argos

6. Tiny Treasures Doll with Purple Outfit, £40

Age: 3+

What it is: A 44cm-high baby doll designed to look, smell  and feel just like a newborn, with soft hair, blinking eyes and a weight of 2lb 10oz (1.2kg). Comes in a cardboard, car-seat-style gift box with a birth certificate and hospital ID wristband.

Why we love it: “She smells nice. I like her curly hair,” our child tester Audrey said. “It can be hard to find dolls of colour,” her mum Christy added, “so it’s good to see a major brand being more inclusive. It’s also nice to see the packaging is meant to be played with, instead of going straight in the bin.”

Available at: Argos

7. Bee Smart My Baking Cookie Set with Glove, £26.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A 20-piece wooden role-play set that includes a mixing bowl, baking tray, rolling pin, spatula, whisk, brush, 3 cookie cutters, 5 cookies, 2 ‘breakable’ eggs and an oven glove.

Why we love it: It’s a lovely-looking, well-thought-out set (it even has a pastry brush!) Roxanne, mum of our child tester Evie-Rae was impressed by the high quality of the set and the small-child-friendly size and shape of the pieces. “Evie-Rae and her older sister have spent ages baking each other cookies. It’s keeping them so well occupied. I’m very pleased with this toy!” We picked this for our Top 100 Xmas Toys 2020 list.

Available at: Bee SmartOnBuy and Amazon

8. Toniebox Starter Set, £69.95

Age: 3+

What it is: A soft-covered wi-fi speaker that starts to play when you put one of the hand-painted, collectible Tonie figures (bought separately) on top: each figure triggers a recording of songs or popular children’s books such as The Gruffalo. The starter set includes a Creative Tonie, which you can record your own story, song or message on (for up to 90 minutes). Comes with a charging station, in a selection of different colours.

Why we love it: Our child testers understood the Toniebox’s controls straightaway: pressing the ears for volume control and tapping the side to skip tracks or fast forward. Their parents liked its screenless entertainment value. One tester’s dad, who works nights, used the Creative Tonie to record himself reading a bedtime story and other parents used their box after ‘lights out’, so their child could listen to more stories as they fell asleep. It’s a pricey buy but could be a godsend for quiet times/bedtimes.

Available at: ToniesAmazon and Prezzybox

9. Milly & Flynn Peppa Pig Wooden Clock, £15

Age: 3+

What it is: A chunky 26cm-diameter wooden clock with moveable hands and 12 coloured and numbered puzzle pieces to take out, sort and rearrange.

Why we love it: Our child testers loved its colourful puzzle pieces, moving hands and (obvs!) Peppa pictures – and their parents really liked the high-quality wooden design and the cute little illustrations underneath each puzzle piece (the number 6, for example, has 6 little yellow crowns underneath it, to count up). Your child may be too young to learn about time (particularly olde worlde analogue time) but this is a great toy for learning to recognise numbers.

Available at: Milly & FlynnAmazon and House of Fraser

10. PAW Patrol Ultimate Construction Rescue Truck, £39.99

paw patrol ultimate rescue construction truck

Age: 3+

What it is: A 40cm x 18cm x 33cm PAW Patrol-themed truck with flashing lights, sounds, a swinging wrecking ball and a swivelling scoop. Comes with a mini steam roller and a Rubble figure. Requires 2 x AAA Batteries (included).

Why we love it: The sounds on it aren’t too overbearing and it’s a really nice big, sturdy size. You only get 1 PAW Patrol play figure, sadly (you can buy others separately). But, from just a glance at our child testers, we can tell you that that swinging wrecking ball is the business

Available at:  Boots and Amazon

11. Melissa & Doug Scoop & Serve Ice Cream Counter, £39.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A 32cm-high wooden tabletop counter that holds 8 wooden scoops of different-flavoured ice cream, 6 assorted toppings, 2 cones, a cup, an ice cream scooper, tongs and a wooden spoon. Comes with a reusable menu and 6 pretend banknotes.

Why we love it: It’s sturdy and compact, and the lift-and-release ice cream scoop works beautifully (great for fine finger skills). But it’s not cheap – and we think the tongs are a maybe a wee bit fiddly for little hands. “It’s true it’s quite pricey,” says Laura, mum to our child tester Joni, “but I think it’s worth the money because it’s so well made and has so much role-play potential.”

Available at: Argos, Amazon and John Lewis

12. Unicorn Defender wooden sword and shield, £15

Age: 3+

What it is: A 35cm x 28cm shield and 48cm-long sword, both made from sustainable wood. The shield has a thick cotton strap across the back to make it easy to hold and the sword has a woven grip on its handle. Ready for battle straight out the box. 

Why we love it: It’s a great wooden role-play toy that’s well designed for little hands and big imaginations. Toby, our child tester, put it through its battle paces “fighting dragons and trees”, so it’s certainly sturdy enough for the job and, says Toby, all his friends would like it. As do we: it’s got a place on our Top 100 Xmas Toys 2020 list.

Available at: Green Owl Toys

13. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Doctor’s Kit, £35

Age: 3+

What it is: A pretend doctor’s kit stuffed with 19 (plastic) medical ‘instruments’, including a stethoscope, syringe, blood-pressure cuff, tweezers, phone and a fetching blue pair of doctor’s specs.

Why we love it: It may be on the pricey side for a doctor’s kit (and WHY is there a pic of a boy but no girl on the front of the case?) but, while this set has been around for a while, it is the best set of ‘instruments’ we’ve seen – and, according to our 3-year-old child tester Isaac, the phone, pager and stethoscope make very cool noises indeed.

Available at: Amazon and Learning Resources

14. Busy Me Electronic Cash Register, £29.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A red, white and blue 20cm x 35cm x 15cm electronic till set, with buttons to press, a pretend barcode scanner, play cash (notes and coins), a card machine with play credit card, a microphone, weighing scales and some items to purchase, including ketchup, grapes and washing liquid. Requires 2 x AA batteries (included).

Why we love it: We like how the drawer pops open (with added sound effects), and our testers loved the microphone and the beeping as you use the scanner. We would like a few more items to scan, if we’re being picky, but overall, it’s a great little role-play toy.

Available at: Amazon and The Entertainer

15. VTech Toot-Toot Friends Kingdom Pirate Ship, £42.99

Age: 1+

What it is: An interactive 16cm x 45cm x 35cm pirate ship that has 3 light-up buttons that you press for pirate-y responses. Features a cannonball launcher, trap door, a spinning octopus and a MagicPoint that triggers fun phrases. Comes with 3 Toot-Toot characters. Requires 2 x AA batteries (included).

Why we love it: This little ship produces amazing sounds (though you can turn them off, when grown-up ears have had enough) and has lots of nice stuff to press and play. If our testers are any to go by, it’s the cannonball launcher that’s the absolute best bet. Requires some self-assembly but nothing very tricky.

Available from: Smyths Toys, Hamleys  and VTech

16. Le Toy Van Honeybake Cafe Machine, £29.95

Age: 3+

What it is: A brightly-painted, retro-looking mini 13cm-high wooden coffee machine. Comes with 2 cups plus a spoon, milk ‘frother’, removable filter and selection of coloured pods to place inside.

Why we love it: It’s just so chunky and colourful. And our child testers had loads of great role-play fun making Mummy and Daddy endless lattes and cappuccinos. This is the kind of long-lasting toy that your child will keep coming back to.

Available at: Le Toy Van,  JoJo Maman Bebe and  Amazon

17. BigJigs Dinosaur Train Set, £54.99

bigjigs wooden dinosaur railway set

Age: 3+

What it is: A 49-piece wooden prehistoric-themed train track that, once assembled, measures 61cm x 95cm. It comes with a volcano bridge, 3 trees and a dinosaur engine with 2 carriages and 9 dinosaurs. No batteries required (you push the train round).

Why we love it: Dinosaurs and railways: what a great combo! And we could see, from their big grins, that our child testers agreed. We particularly like that there are so many different dinosaurs included (even a pterodactyl painted on the volcano). And this wooden set is great quality, has fun extensions to add on (T-Rex Bursting Bridge, anyone?) and is compatible with many other wooden toy train sets.

Available at: Wooden Toy ShopMulberry Bush and BigJigs Toys

18. Our Generation Dolls, from £29.99 each

Age: 3+

What it is: A large (46cm-high) doll with a soft body, non-posable limbs, long hair and a change of outfit. Choose from a range of skin and hair colours, including a (white, dark-haired) boy doll (called Franco).

Why we love it: It’s all about the size and the soft body: these dolls are big enough for a good cuddle and their large soft body makes dressing and undressing super-easy – although some of our child testers did struggle a little with the dolls who have tights. Their hair is also lovely and soft – and generally very long – and easy to comb and style. One of our child testers loves her Riya doll so much, she’s still taking it to bed with her every night. And we have a sneaky, soft spot for the April doll (pictured above, far right) who has auburn hair and glasses.

Available at: Smyths Toys and Amazon

19. Tidlo High Tea Shape Matching Set, £32

Age: 3+

What it is: A 2-tiered 29cm-high wooden cake stand that’s also a shape-sorter toy. It comes with 15 differently decorated wooden cakes, each one shaped to fit into a different hole on the stand.

Why we love it: It’s beautifully made and, to help your child get the right cake in the right slot, the little cakes each have a number on that matches a number on the cake stand. Our child testers’ parents rated it for being both educational and fun: yes, it teaches shape-sorting and numbers but is also just the thing for a teddy bears’ tea party.

Available at: Amazon, JoJoMamanBebe and Mulberry Bush

20 Let’s Play Noah’s Ark, £15.99

Age: 10 months+

What it is: A 25cm-high wooden ark complete with 2 decks, a fold-out ramp, Noah, his wife and 7 pairs (of course) of animals that fit through shape-sorter slots on the side of the vessel. Ark and shapes painted with non-toxic paint.

Why we love it: It comes beautifully packaged and hand-tied with ribbon, so there’s no need to wrap it before you gift it. It’s made from FSC-approved wood and is solid and robust, which Charlie, mum of our child tester Arlo, can vouch for. “It’s been dropped a few times but hasn’t broken at all!” she says. Only some of the animals fit through the shape sorters but neither seemed to spoil our child testers’ fun for a millisecond. This toy easily made our Top 100 Xmas Toys 2020 list.

Available at: Jaques of London and Amazon

21. Baby Shark Sing-Along Microphone, £9.99

Age: 3+

What it is: A wireless plastic mic with 2 buttons: 1 plays the Baby Shark song (for lip-synch action) and the other activates a voice-changer (either underwater or amplification) for solo performances. Requires 3 x AAA batteries (not included).

Why we love it: We like the simple buttons and the fact that it switches itself off after 1 minute of inactivity. And hurray for the easy volume control, too! Our child tester Heidi loved the underwater voice effect – “it makes me sound funny!” – although she would like to be able to sing along to the shark song, too, said her mum Becky. Good fun.

Available at: Argos, Amazon and Smyths Toys

22. Battat Dalmatian Vet Kit, £32.99

Age: 2+

What it is: A vet set featuring a plush Dalmatian toy, a 21cm-high carry case and 13 BPA-free veterinary accessories, including a stethoscope, a syringe, a thermometer and a blood-pressure monitor.

Why we love it: It’s nicely sturdy and well-sized for 3-year-old hands. Our child testers thought the little dog was very cute and cuddly, and we’re impressed by the range and quality of the accessories. Bonus points for the dog being machine-washable!

Available at: JoJo Maman BebeHalilit and The Baby Farm

Images: Product websites

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