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 a sequence of sorting or fitting together – either by working out what goes where or by following a simple set of steps.


Your child's improved dexterity also means they are also able to do much more fiddly-finger stuff: this is the age when fine-finger-control toys and kits that involve playdough, puzzles and (sprawly, splashy) painting and drawing come into their own.

But perhaps the biggest winners of all are toys that set the scene for a good session of imaginary play – especially if it involves acting out roles (doctor, cook, train driver, pirate). Your 3 year old is fast becoming a proper drama king or queen!

We’ve tested and chosen the best toys across a range of budgets that are particularly brilliant for 3 year olds – because they're great for stimulating brain and body development, problem-solving, practising social skills – and having lots of fun...

To save money on toys check out our toy deals to keep updated on the best toy sales.

How to choose toys safely

  • Look for the CE symbol as this is used by manufacturers to show the toy meets all the relevant regulatory requirements
  • Also keep an eye out for the British Toy and Hobby Association's (BTHA) 'Lion Mark' – although this is a voluntary scheme, it means that the toy with this mark has met the BTHA's safety requirements  
  • Pay attention to the age suitability of the toy
  • Avoid toys with loose fabric, hair that sheds easily or small parts that detach easily as these can be a choking hazard
  • Check toys over time for sharp points or edges or signs of wear that are potentially dangerous

Best toys for 3 year olds at a glance

  • Great for trainset thrills: Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Launch & Loop Maintenance Yard, £64.99
  • Great for repeat reveals: Little Live Pets – Mama Surprise, £64.99
  • Great for nurturing skills: Baby Annabell, Alexander or Leah, £64.99
  • Great for fine finger control: Le Toy Van Blender & Wooden Toy Fruit Set, £34.95
  • Great for balance skills: Hornit AIRO, £139
  • Great for sounds and lights fun: Bluey Ultimate Lights and Sounds House, £89.99
  • Great for learning to help in the house: Casdon Joseph Joseph Extend Washing Up Set, £25
  • Great for hand-eye coordination: Early Fun All Surface Swingball, £21.99
  • Great for house-based imaginative play: My 1st Years Doll’s House, £120
  • Great budget buy: Marvel’s Spidey and His Amazing Friends Disc Dashers, £5.99
  • Great for train-based imaginative play: Hape Railway Bucket Builder Set, £44.99
  • Great for TV show role play: Peppa Pig's Wooden Playhouse, £79.99
  • Great for matching and sorting skills: Woody Treasures Cookie Time!, £19.99
  • Great for 'proper' help in the house: Casdon Dyson Toy Cord-Free Vacuum, £24.99
  • Great for sorting and categorising skills: Jaques of London Noah's Ark, £29.99
  • Great for hugging close: Moose Toys Bluey Jumbo Plush, £19.99
  • Great for household role play: Little Tikes First Washer-Dryer, £49.99
  • Great for cooking role play: Bee Smart My Baking Cookie Set with Glove, £31.99
  • Great for bedtime stories: Toniebox Starter Set, £79.95
  • Great for early maths skills: Beebee + Bongo Little Ladybugs, £39
  • Great for hospitality role play: Melissa & Doug Scoop & Serve Ice Cream Counter, £49.99
  • Great for problem-solving role play: Learning Resources Pretend & Play Doctor's Kit, £44
  • Great for pirate adventures: VTech Toot-Toot Friends Kingdom Pirate Ship, £44.99

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

1. Fisher-Price Thomas & Friends Launch & Loop Maintenance Yard, £64.99

– Great for train-set thrills

Fisher Price Thomas and Friends Launch Loop Maintenance yard with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L165cm x W71cm x H38cm | Batteries: 2 x AAA (not included) | Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

Well, there’s train tracks and then there’s a train track where the train does a super-speedy, super-exciting 360° loop – wow! Inside the box is more than 16ft of track, including 2 hills and a cargo stop that you can activate with a point switch, plus a few levers that change the direction of travel for the train.

There’s also a working Carly the Crane ready to help repair the track and keep Thomas racing along to make his delivery, and a large lever to launch Thomas through that gravity-defying loop. The action is loud and fast – and thrilling.

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It's easy to set up with clear, colourful instructions and quick to take down, which is handy as it will take up a sizeable chunk of floor space. But be warned, all that loop-the-looping will guzzle batteries.

"Wow! It moves so fast!" our child tester, Arjun, 3 (pictured above) said. "And I fixed the broken track with the the spinning crane." His mum Herminder, like us, is mightily impressed by how bright and exciting this train set is.

Compatible with any Thomas & Friends track, except wooden ones.

Available at: John Lewis, The Entertainer and Argos

2. Little Live Pets – Mama Surprise, £64.99

– Great for repeat reveals

Little Live Pets Mama Surprise with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L20cm x W30cm x H29cm ‎| Batteries: 6 xAAA (not included) | Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

The bestselling Little Live Pets range has included many different sorts of interactive animal over the years but this little hamster is, in our view, one of their best yet. If you take her from her hutch and groom and stroke her and feed her (pretend) celery, she'll respond with cute noises.

"I like this toy – yes!" said our child tester Amelia, 3 (pictured above). "She sings to me and she's very soft."

But there’s more! Carry on with your hamster cuddling and a heart will start to glow on her chest to show that she is ready to have a baby. So you pop her back in the hutch on her some paper nesting straw, shut the doors and wait – for the first of 3 little arrivals, each with their own little 'care pack' of accessories.

The wait for the birth may be a little long for some children but, if you can't spin the 'There’ll be a baby in the morning' message, there is a 'faster birth' button that shortens the wait to about 10 minutes. And once all the babies are born, you can repeat the whole process again.

Amelia’s mum Alena was very impressed. "The quality of this toy is superb," she said, "and Amelia loved playing with the hamster, talking to her and brushing her coat. She was a bit impatient for the babies but, once they came, she was thrilled!"

Available at: Argos and Amazon

3. Baby Annabell, Alexander or Leah, £64.99 each

– Great for nurturing skills

baby Annabelle Leah doll with child tester Agatha

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: ‎L19cm x W24cm x H37cm | Batteries: 3 x AA (not included) | Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

Longtime bestseller Baby Annabell now has a brother (Alexander) and a darker-skinned sister (Leah) and all 3 romper-clad, soft-bodied dolls are a winning combination of cuddly and sweetly interactive: they suck their dummy, drink from their bottle, giggle and coo, cry ‘real’ tears and can be rocked to sleep.

Our child tester Agatha, 3, played with Leah and was fascinated by the doll’s sucking movements and other noises. "She talks to me!" she said. "She is happy when we dance. Oh no, she is sad now. Shhhhh, it’s OK, I got ya."

Agatha’s mum Laura said, "This doll makes just the right amount of coos, giggles, and soft cries. Agatha gets concerned about her happiness and whether she is hungry. Agatha's soon to become a big sister, so it's lovely to see this doll bring out her nurturing side."

Available at: Very, The Entertainer and Amazon

4. Le Toy Van Blender & Wooden Toy Fruit Set, £34.95

- Great for fine-finger control

Blender and wooden toy fruit set with child tester

Age suitability: 2+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L11cm x 14cm x H21cm (blender) | Batteries: None | Awards: Gold, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

This little almost-totally-wooden set includes 6 sliceable pieces of fruit (2 bananas, 2 strawberries, an orange and a kiwi), a knife and 2 tumblers with removable toppings, as well as the pretend blender and lid. Your child can use the knife to slice down the fruits’ Velcro centres before putting them into the blender and pressing the button.

Nothing turns or spins but our testers had no problems supplying the creative juices to create and put their imaginary smoothies into the wooden cups.

"It's beautifully made," said Stacey, mum of our child tester Emerson, 3 (pictured above with his little brother Elliott), "and I think you get a lot for your money."

“I liked cooking and chopping, blending stuff and mixing up fruit; the strawberry smoothie is my favourite," said our other child tester, Freddie, 3. "This is a perfect pretend play toy," said his mum Paige, "and I love it that it doesn't need lights, noise or any other electric component to be hugely enjoyable: it kept Freddie and his older sister busy for ages!"

Made with FSC-certified wood and child-safe water-based paints.

Available at: Le Toy Van and Next

5. Hornit AIRO, £139

– Great for balance skills

Hornit Aino balance bike with child tester Effie

Age suitability: 18 months to 5 years | Best for age: 3+ | Weight: 2.95kg | Max child weight: 30kg | Batteries: None | Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

With its height-adjustable saddle and super-lightweight magnesium alloy frame, this sleek-looking balance bike with straight, grippy handlebars and air-filled tyres is smooth to ride and will last your child a good couple of years and hone their balancing and steering skills well before the big step up to a bike with pedals.

It's not cheap but it's built to last (and hand down to siblings) and has some top-notch features, including a padded stem, grip-taped footrests and a lifetime warranty on the frame and forks. And there's very little assembly: just tightening the screws with the included Allen key and pumping up the tyres.

"When Effie first saw this bike, she said 'Wow!', ran towards it and climbed straight on," said Emma, mum of our child tester Effie, 3 (pictured above). "She couldn't wait to show it off, shouting, 'My bike, look!' to anyone and everyone."

Emma was particularly impressed by the Hornet's light weight – "even Effie's Nanny could pick it up and carry it easily" – and by the tyres. "They're a good width," she said, "and make the ride nice and smooth – Effie didn't seem to bounce around much at all when she went over bumps."

Comes in Yellow, Red, Turquoise, Pink, Blue and White.

Available at: Hornit and Amazon

6. Bluey Ultimate Lights and Sounds House, £89.99

– Great for lights and sounds fun

Bluey Lights and Sounds House with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L13cm x W76cm (when open) x H43cm | Batteries: 3 x AAA (not included) | Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

This 7-room, 3-storey, fold-out plastic replica of Bluey's home has opening doors, lots of removable furniture and accessories and – thrills! – a lever-operated dance floor where the little Bingo and Bluey figures can recreate Dance Mode from the show. There are lights switches that turn lights on and off and, at the touch of the octopus in Bluey’s bedroom, over 50 sounds, songs and phrases.

There are lots of stickers to fix on before the house is ready for play but we do like how nice and chunky – and Bluey-faithful – the accessories are and how neatly it all folds away when playtime is over.

"I love making Bluey and Bingo dance on the spinning dancemode floor," said our child tester Elsie (pictured above), who’s just turned 4. "The flashing lights are pretty and there is a toilet!"

Her mum, Lois, really liked the lights and sounds. "There are tonnes of phrases, songs and sounds from the most popular Bluey episodes, including favourite moments such as The Grannies and Keepy-uppy, which prompt Elsie to act out different scenes and moments with the characters. I don't think I have ever experienced a toy with such a large number of sound options. It’s captivating!"

Comes with a tiny Chattermax figure.

Available at: Very, ELC and Argos

7. Casdon Joseph Joseph Extend Washing Up Set, £25

– Great for learning to help in the home

Casdon Joseph Joseph Extend washing up set with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L32cm x W22cm x H21cm | Batteries: None | Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

A mini version of the bestselling grown-up Joseph Joseph expandable dish drainer, this pretend washing up set includes a wash bowl, a dish rack, brush, soap bottle, a pump dispenser to fill the bowl with water (there's a hidden reservoir under the bowl to recycle the water and keep it on tap) and – the best bit – coloured cutlery and crockery that change colour in warm water – just as our child tester Amelia, 4, is demonstrating in our picture above.

"I like it all," said our other child tester, Reuben, 4, "but my best part is the plates that are like magic and change colour when I’ve cleaned them. I’m going to play with it every day!"

Reuben has indeed been playing with it every day, thrilled at having a dish drainer just like his Lauren – and she is impressed both by the set's quality and how busy it's keeping her son. She did point out that the water doesn't come out very fast, though. "I can see this lasting a long time," she said, "and it’s great to find an absorbing toy that doesn't need batteries!"

Available at: John Lewis, Selfridges and Very

8. Early Fun All Surface Swingball, £21.99

– Great for hand-eye co-ordination

Early Fun All Surface Swingball with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L31cm x W39cm x H125cm | Batteries: None | Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

Yes, it's swingball for smaller people! The ball is bigger and softer (foam) and much easier to hit, and the bats are smaller and have nice grippy handles. "You have to chase the ball and it's really funny!” said our child tester Isaac, 3 (pictured above with his big sister). "I love playing with it with all my family and it doesn't hurt Daddy when it bonks him on his head."

We like the redesigned base, with balancing feet, which allows you to play on any surface, outdoors or in, and which also converts into a carry case to store the game in or take it with you. And the spinner really is as tangle-free as the packaging blurb promises.

Aimee, mum of our other child tester Rex, 3, was impressed with how easy it is to set up. "It was so easy to get going, which is great when you've got an impatient child. It's been wonderful to see Rex get so much joy out of this – and especially from beating Mummy and Daddy!"

Available at: John Lewis, Argos and Amazon

9. My 1st Years Doll's House, £125

– Great for house-based imaginative play

My 1st Years Doll's House with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L18cm x W36cm x H81cm | Batteries: None | Awards: Silver, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

Wooden, pastel and personalised with up to 2 lines of text, this 3-storey doll's house is beautiful to look at and lovely to play with. It has 2 staircases (1 straight and 1 spiral), working window shutters and a yellow front door that opens and shuts. The front opens up, storey by storey, and the roof comes off to reveal a room in the attic.

"I love it, I love it, I love it!" said our child tester Eloise, 3. And her mum Katie added, "It’s fantastic quality, looks gorgeous in a child's bedroom and is really something that can be passed down through the generations.”

Abi, mum of our other child tester Arthur, just 4 (pictured above) was equally fulsome in her praise. "Arthur absolutely adores it and since we got it it has been played with every single day. He uses his imagination with the house being on fire and his fire engine coming to save the people. In fact, he incorporates the house into most games he plays which shows that dolls houses are not just for girls like many people believe!

Arthur is particularly taken with the little (non-gendered, ethnically inclusive) dolls made to match the house (not included). "They're not the typical boy, girl, mum, dad, so he could name the two children himself and his brother," said Abi. 'I think it told his sad a few things when he kept putting Daddy on the sofa with the TV and Mummy in the kitchen – so the toy gets bonus points from me!"

Do note though that this doll’s house comes completely unfurnished as well as without any doll figures. If you want the matching room sets (there are 4) and the 4 dolls, you'll need to buy them separately – which, if you buy them all, will double the price.

Available at: My 1st Years

10. Marvel's Spidey and His Amazing Friends Disc Dashers, £5.99 each

– Great budget buy

Marvel Spidey and his amazing friends disc dashers with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L16cm x W13cm x H10cm (vehicles vary slightly) | Batteries: None | Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

Great value and sturdy, this little toy vehicle with its Marvel and Spidey-character driver has a slot in the bonnet where you load a 'web disc'. Then you can press down on your driver in and the disc shoots out. Huge fun!

The car rolls along smoothly and is a good size for 3-year-old hands and the disc-loading mechanism is simple and effective (although you may want to watch your child doesn't try to stick 2 discs in at once).

The driver doesn't come out of the car and you're going to have to keep a beady eye on those discs so they don't go missing but at this price point, it is, as our child tester Caleb, 3, said pretty "awesome!"

Stella, mum of our other child tester, Damian, 3, (pictured above) reported back that the car's strong enough to handle being dropped multiple times, and felt it was brilliant value for money.

Comes with 2 discs. There are 5 different vehicles in the range, with drivers ranging from Hulk and Ghost Spider to Spidey himself but you may not be able to choose which one you get when you buy.

Available at: Amazon, The Entertainer and Smyths Toys

11. Hape Railway Bucket Builder Set, £44.99

– Great for train-based imaginative play

Hope Railway Bucket Builder Set with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L21cm x W32cm x H23cm (box) | Batteries: None

This 50-piece wooden railway set comes in a storage box that doubles up as (the hilly) part of the track. It has a free-wheeling locomotive, 2 carriages, 1 magnetic crane, 2 S-rails, 8 curved rails, 4 straight rails, 2 irregular rails, 1 mountain-shaped rail, plus trees, signs and other accessories.

It's a good starter train set (and compatible with most other wooden sets) but it's the way the storage box and lid become part of the track that's so clever. We really like the crane, too, and the little chute it can drop the cargo down.

"From a parent's perspective, it's fantastic that it's a toy and storage in one," said Emmie, mum of our child tester Rishi, 3 (pictured above). "I love that we can have a train set-up that is so quick but interesting – and it's so portable, too. My little boy's favourite bit was, well, as he says, 'Everything!' but especially the crane and the hills."

Available at: Hape, Amazon, Uber Kids and Science Museum

12. Peppa Pig’s Wooden Playhouse, £79.99

– Great TV show role play

Peppa Pig wooden playhouse with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L25cm x W50cm x H65cm | Batteries: 5 x AG13/LR44 (included)

Made from FSC-certified wood, this open-fronted wooden house has 7 painted rooms and a hallway, all themed around the home of every small child's favourite cartoon pig. It comes with wooden Peppa and George figures and a selection of accessories and furniture including a bath, a light-up cooker and a bedside table that plays lullabies.

Our child testers were thrilled by its brilliant replication of Peppa's house – right down to Mr Skinny Legs in the attic and muddy puddles on the floor. And we love the 3 interactive pieces of furniture: how excellent that Mummy Pig’s computer lights up with the Happy Mrs Chicken game!

"Look, look, it’s just like Peppa’s house!" said our child tester Finley (pictured above) who's just turned 4. "And George has left his scooter on the floor! Wow, a telescope to look at the stars! Peppa, George! Your bath is ready!"

Do note that there are no Mummy and Daddy Pig figures (thought these can be bought separately) but in all other respects, as Finley's mum Donna said, "This is such a fantastic toy – well worth the money."

Some assembly required.

Available at: Character Online, Amazon and Very

– Great for matching and sorting skills

Woody Treasures Cookie Time with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L14cm x W18cm x H5cm | Batteries: None

This brightly coloured wooden opens up to reveal cookies include 2 gingerbread men, wafers and heart-shaped jammy dodgers.

It’s a nicely designed, durable toy that presents all sorts of play-cooking and tea-party-hosting possibilities. And as Tenisha, mum of our child tester Kady, 3 (pictured), pointed out, "You can match the shapes when putting the biscuits away in the box, too." As for Kady’s verdict? "I love these cookies. My teddies think they are amazing!"

Available at: Amazon and Woody Treasures

14. Casdon Dyson Toy Cord-free Vacuum, £24.99

– Great for 'proper' help in the house

Casdon Dyson toy cord free vacuum with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L11cm x W15cm x H71cm | Batteries: 3 x AA (not included)

Stand by for actual, useful help with the vacuuming! This mini version of a Dyson cord-free has working suction, and can also be opened and emptied just like the real thing.

The suction's not super-strong (pet hairs and the like might get missed) but this is one of the few toy vacuums we've seen that properly picks up paper and fluff – to all our testers' absolute delight. It also makes authentic sounds, can be used with the short nozzle or with a long handle and, in a fun touch, has little coloured balls that move around in the cylinder in a simulated cyclone action.

Our child tester Luke, 3 (pictured above), couldn't wait to get his vacuum out of the box, saying, "Wow, look Mummy!" and fitting on the handle attachment for some immediate carpet-cleaning action. His mum Katie was impressed with how sturdy it is and thought it definitely worth the money.

Available at: Very, Amazon and Argos

15. Jaques of London Noah's Ark, £29.99

– Great for sorting and categorising skills

Jaques of London Noah's ark with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L16cm x W16cm x H25cm | Batteries: None

This wooden ark has 2 decks, portholes, a removable deck-and-roof and a fold-out ramp. It comes with figures of Noah, his wife and 7 pairs (of course) of animals. There are shape-sorter slots for 3 of the animals on one side of the boat and for the birds in the roof windows.

It's a gorgeous take on a traditional toy (and it arrives beautifully packaged and hand-tied with ribbon). We like the elasticated ramp door and the charming animals pairs, although we do wish there were a shaper sorter hole for all of them.

Sammy, mum of our child tester Taran, 3 (pictured above), said, "Taran squealed in delight when he saw this. He instantly started singing The Animals Went in Two by Two and walking the animals over the drawbridge. He enjoyed putting the animals in pairs inside the ark and asked questions like, 'Why do the lions look different?', which sparked a good learning conversation."

Made with 100% FSC-certified wood and painted with non-toxic paint.

Available from: Amazon and Jaques of London

16. Moose Toys Bluey Jumbo Plush, £19.99

– Great for hugging close

Moose Toys Bluey Jumbo Plush with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L18cm x W21m x H46cm | Batteries: None

This big soft toy is made in velboa faux fur, in the shape of the popular CBeebies character Bluey. She's a great size for hugging, nicely stuffed and super-soft – ideal for snuggles with any little Bluey fan.

She's a bit of an old school soft toy – no buttons to press or noises to make – but our child testers were all in raptures.

"Bluey comes with us on most of our trips now," said Maeve, mum of our child tester Arlo, 3, (pictured above). "Arlo has her doing lots of different activities: playing in the garden, going for walks, even brushing her teeth. He also loves watching the show with her on his lap."

Available from: Selfridges, Amazon and Argos

17. Little Tikes First Washer-Dryer, £49.99

– Great for household role play

Little Tikes washer dryer with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L20cm x W40cm x H40cm | Batteries: 4 x AA (included)

This chunky pretend washer-dryer features dials that activate sound and light effects, a sliding detergent drawer, and a spinning drum. It comes omes with more than 10 accessories, including an (empty) detergent bottle, 3 stacking laundry baskets and teeny 'clothes' for washing.

It's just such a great role-play toy: our child testers were entranced, with one them, Maisie, 3 (pictured above), 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.

Some assembly required.

Available at: Amazon, Very and ELC

– Great for cooking role play

Bee Smart My Baking Cookie Set with Glove with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L28cm x W35cm x H5cm | Batteries: None

This is a lovely-looking, well-thought-out wooden pretend-baking set – it even has a pastry brush!. There are 20 pieces in total, including (as well as the pastry brush) a mixing bowl, rolling pin, spatula, whisk, 3 cookie cutters, 5 cookies, 2 'breakable' eggs and an oven glove.

Roxanne, mum of our child tester Evie-Rae, 3, 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," she said. "It's keeping them so well occupied. I'm very pleased with this toy!"

Available at: Amazon and Bee Smart

19. Toniebox by Tonies, £79.99

– Great for bedtime stories

Toniebox with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L12cm x W12cm x H12cm | Batteries: Rechargeable via base station (included) | Awards: Bronze, MadeForMums Toy Awards 2022

Justly loved by many parents over the years, this soft-covered wi-fi speaker 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, Paddington Bear or Simba from The Lion King.

The starter set includes a Creative Tonie, which you can record your own story, song or message on (for up to 90 minutes). One tester's dad, who works nights, used the Creative Tonie to record himself reading a bedtime story.

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. "I like my Toniebox; it’s a nice colour and it’s really squishy," said Charlie, 4 (pictured above).

Charlie’s mum Amy, who initially baulked at the price said, "It's very well made and, seeing how well both Charlie and his little sister are engaging with it, I think it's got real longevity – it’s definitely worth the price."

Comes in red, blue, green, pink, purple and grey.

Available at: Very, Tonies and Amazon

20. Beebee + Bongo Little Ladybugs, £39

– Great for early maths skills

Bee + Bongo Little Ladybugs with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: 18cm diameter (sizes vary) | Batteries: None

This sweet, hand-knitted Mummy ladybird has 12 little ladybird babies hidden inside her – which you can get out and play all sorts of lovely, tactile Montessori-style matching, sorting and counting games with, as each baby has a different number of spots and is a different colour underneath.

The toy is handmade by the women of the Cambodia Knits group, who work for fair wages to raise funding for their children's education, so although it's not cheap, some of your money will undoubtedly be put to good use.

"Sydney was very excited to see the ladybird," said Jessica, mum of our child tester Sydney, 3 (pictured above). "His imagination came to life! When I told him the ladybird opened up and there were maybe more inside, his eyes lit up."

Indeed, Sydney couldn’t wait to tell us: "Look, they have colours on them! Purple, orange, blue, green, red, yellow!" "It's surprised me as how many different ways Sydney could play with this, too," added Jessica. "It's a very big thumbs up from us."

Machine washable. Comes with play notes and a 100% cotton drawstring storage bag.

Available at: Beebee + Bongo

21. Melissa & Doug Scoop & Serve Ice Cream Counter, £49.99

– Great for hospitality role play

Melissa & Doug Scoop n Serve Ice Cream Counter with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L40cm x W9cm x H32cm | Batteries: None

Neatly contained in a tabletop counter, this wooden pretend-play ice cream shop has a display case for 8 scoops of different-flavoured ice cream and 6 assorted toppings, plus special places for 2 cones, a cup, an ice cream scooper, tongs and a wooden spoon. It comes with a reusable menu and 6 pretend banknotes.

It's sturdy, compact, and the lift-and-release ice cream scoop is well sized for little hands and works beautifully. The tongs are a bit more fiddly but will really encourage dexterity and fine finger control.

"I made a 3-scoop ice cream with my favourite flavours," said our child tester Herbie, 3 (pictured above). "And I like it when my brother makes the ice cream and I order it and pay with the money."

Herbie's mum Rachel was delighted to report that this was a toy both Herbie and his older brother Teddy play happily with together. "My boys thoroughly enjoy role playing with the ice-cream counter," she said. "They pass the 'menu' around and ask us our orders and explain all the flavours to us. In fact, when they had cousins to visit – ranging in ages 3 to 11 (!) – all of them played together for nearly an hour creating different combinations of ice cream!"

Available at: Amazon

22. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Doctor's Kit, £44

– Great for problem-solving role play

Learned Resources Pretend & Play Doctor Set with child tester

Age suitability: 3+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L37cm x W3cm x H23cm | Batteries: 2 x AAA for toy phone (not included)

This good-sized, sturdy doctor's kit is stuffed with 19 (plastic) medical 'instruments', including a stethoscope, syringe, blood-pressure cuff, tweezers, phone and a fetching blue pair of doctor's specs.

It is pricey, to be sure, but it's also best set of ‘instruments’ we’ve seen (although a shame there’s a pic of a boy but no girl on the front of the case). We love the interactive stethoscope that you press to hear a beating heart, and the blood pressure cuff with a red dial that moves. This is a great kit to encourage role play that's all about identifying and then solving (imaginary) problems.

And, according to our 3-year-old child tester Isaac (pictured above), the phone, pager and stethoscope make very cool noises indeed.

Available at: Amazon and Learning Resources

23. Vtech Toot-Toot Friends Kingdom Pirate Ship, £44.99

– Great for pirates adventures

VTech Toot-Toot Friends Kingdom Pirate Ship

Age suitability: 12 months+ | Best for age: 3+ | Size: L45cm x W16cm x H35cm | Batteries: 2 x AA (included)

This interactive ship has 3 light-up buttons that you press for pirate-y responses. It also features a cannonball launcher, trap door, a spinning octopus and a MagicPoint that triggers fun phrases.

It produces amazing sounds (though, as the parents of our child testers were relieved to find, you can turn them off, when grown-up ears have had enough) and has lots of nice features to press and play.

Although it's marked as suitable for 1 year plus, you really need the dexterity of a 3 year old to enjoy it properly – especially if you're going to make the most of that cannonball launcher! It comes with 1 black and 1 white pirate, plus a cheeky monkey character so it’s great for acting out adventure stories at sea and on land.

Available at: Very, Currys and Amazon


About the author

Helen is Deputy Editor of MadeForMums, the author of Parenting for Dummies (Wiley, £17.99) and the Head Tester for our MadeForMums Toy Awards. She has written about parenting for Mumsnet, Pregnancy & Birth, Prima Baby, Boots Parenting Club and She Magazine and she's also been Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby. She has 3 boys and a heavy-duty washing machine.

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Helen Brown
Helen BrownHead of Content Delivery

Helen is author of the classic advice book Parenting for Dummies. Before joining MadeForMums over 7 years ago, she was Head of Community at Mumsnet and also the Consumer Editor of Mother & Baby.