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.
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 hits 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 some of the best toys for 3 year olds…
Age: 2 to 5
What it is: A toddler-friendly LEGO DUPLO set consisting of 104 pieces, which helps your child build a tractor, barn and farm house, and comes with 3 DUPLO figures: 2 children and a farmer, plus 5 animal figures, sheep, cow, goat, rooster and rabbit. Farm house (built) is 25cm high and 22cm wide. Easily combined with other DUPLO farm sets.
Why we love it: It’s no wonder this set took home Gold in our Best Toddler Toy in the 2018 category, as its packed with opportunity for imaginative play, developing building skills and learning about familiar animals, animal care, and life on the farm in general. Our child testers were particularly enthralled with the mini-toilet!
Available from: LEGO and Amazon (for £43.99)
What it is: A preschooler-friendly robot (33cm x 34.5cm x 14cm) with chunky wheels, a 360° turn and over 60 facial expressions. You press the light-up buttons on his head to get him to play fun but nicely educational games – or dance. Needs 4 C batteries (included).
Why we love it: A lot of robot toys are best suited for older kids – but not Movi! In fact, his colour co-ordinated games and fun sing-songs are perfect for younger ones. He’s quick on his feet, too. Great for getting tots off their bums and running around…
Our mini toy testers loved it so much, they awarded it Silver in 2017’s MadeForMums Toy Awards.
Available at: Argos and Smyths
What it is: A brightly-painted mini replica coffee machine, with 2 wooden cups, spoon, ‘milk frother’ and a selection of coloured pods to place inside the removable filter.
Why we love it: In addition to being one of those toys you wish was for grown-ups (because it’s just so gorgeous, and classic), our 2017 Toy Awards judges gave it Gold, because they loved how engaging it was. Perfect for old-school, imaginative role playing games.
Available at: JoJo Maman Bebe and Cottage Toys
What it is: A poppy red, white and blue electronic till set that comes with pressable buttons (numbers and food items), pretend barcode scanner, play cash (notes and coins), a card machine with play credit card, weighing scales, and some items to purchase, including ketchup, grapes and washing liquid. Addo’s cash register is 25W x 39.5D. Needs 2 AA batteries, which are included.
Why we love it: Our child testers voted this toy Silver for Best Pretend Play Silver in our 2018 Toy Awards, because it’s perfect for imaginative children who like to invent stories and games, while acting out the things they see in real life. The card reader is particular is a big hit… because it’s rare many of us pay with cash, these days!
It’s pretty realistic, says one parent. The draw pops open, and also makes lots of noises as you open, close and scan items, which is brilliant for kids who like that interaction. We would like a few more items to scan, if we’re being picky, but given the price – we’d say it’s good value for money as is.
Available from: The Entertainer
What it is: 44 clip-in track parts that can be customised to build a modern, futuristic-looking monorail, and also can be added to any existing Magformers set. The set also includes a shuttle car, shuttle spinner, shuttle lift and stop/start track. Packaged, dimensions are 43 x 10 x 60cm. The set weighs 2.3kg. Requires 2 AAA batteries, which are not included.
Why we love it: The Silver winner in the Best Construction Toy category at 2018’s MadeForMums Toy Awards, this toy’s major appeal is its building power.
You can basically build several versions of the track, as shown above, and this allows kids to develop a variety of skills: hand-eye co-ordination, problem-solving, concentration and focus.
It’s also got play value as a train set in itself, especially when you think that the different track combinations… it’s like a new track each time.
Available from: Magformers and John Lewis
What it is: A large 22-piece floor jigsaw that turns into a play train track once you’ve fitted it together. It comes with trains, people, stations, level crossings – and even a cow!
Why we love it: It’s great value for a train track, and it’s compatible with Orchard Toys’ other floor jigsaws, Giant Road and Giant Town. Our tester Ethan did find it a bit tricky to put the trains into their little stands on his own but otherwise took to the track with great enthusiasm.
‘Ethan really does like playing with it,’ says his mum, ‘and he like that every time he does it, he can make a different track in a different direction! I did ask him what he likes most and he said, “I love the box” – which is slightly odd but I think that because he likes carrying it by the handle to his room!’
Available at: Orchard Toys
Age: 1 to 5
What it is: A pirate ship playset that’s full of treasure, a cannonball launcher, a seesaw platform, light-up buttons and Toot-Toot MagicPoint locations Comes with 3 Toot-Toot characters: Monkey, Sailor Stanley and Captain Monty. The set (unboxed) is 6.5cm long, 45.8cm wide and 35cm tall. Requires 2 AA batteries, which are included. You’ll still need a screwdriver handy, though.
Why we love it: The Pirate Ship is colourful and produces tons of amazing sounds, especially when you place your 3 characters on the MagicPoint locations. Fortunately, you can also turn the sounds off when the fun just won’t stop – and your little one’s toys are starting to get on your nerves (it happens!)
It’s sturdy, yet easy to put together, as the pieces click into place nicely. Parents have called it a win for creative play, with lots of interactive features.
Oh, and this set was voted Silver in our Best Playset category at the 2018 MadeForMums Awards, which means it’s got the approval of our trusted child toy testers.
Available from: Smyths Toys
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 this one has the best set of ‘instruments’ we’ve seen – and, according to our 3-year-old tester Isaac, the phone, pager and stethoscope make very cool noises indeed. Isaac’s dad says, ‘There’s lots of great little toys in this set – hours of fun for make-believe play and some great learning opportunities with some of the components.’
Available at: Amazon
What it is: A 49-piece wooden train track with extra prehistoric action, including dinosaur passengers, trees and a volcano tunnel.
Why we love it: Well, trains + dinosaurs = 3-year-old win-win! Our tester Mia played with it for nearly an hour. Her mum says, ‘It’s well made, looks great and is very easy to assemble. I also like that you can buy additional themed items to build up the set – I have my eye on the Rib Cage Tunnel and the Dino Crane!’
Available at: Bigjigs Toys
Ages: 3 to 5
What it is: A metal-framed balance bike with handlebars that adjust from 57 to 61cm and a seat that adjusts from 34 to 44cm.
Why we love it: Balance bikes are the perfect toys for adventurous little ones, who are active and ready to feel a tiny bit more independent. This one won was a hit with children and parents at the MFM Toy Awards 2017, because it’s great value money-wise, and it’s adjustable, so you can make sure the handlebars fit to your child’s height perfectly.
Available at: Argos (for £29.99), and Amazon
What it is: A Play-Doh ‘baking’ set that comes with cake stand, cutters, stampers, plates, cutlery, and a special frosting tool, plus, of course, Play-Doh and ‘confetti compound’.
Why we love it: Rolling, squashing and cutting out playdough is pretty much guaranteed 3-year-old fun, and combining that with pretend baking makes this set a surefire hit. Our tester Logan did find the frosting tool a bit difficult to push down on his own but he otherwise (play)-cooked up a storm.
‘Logan was so excited when he saw it,’ says his mum. ‘He really enjoys playing with Play-Doh generally but the cake-making element of this set really engages him and he is able to play for much longer because there are so many different things to do. Logan plays with this all the time now.’
Available at: Amazon
What it is: A toy kitchen with a modern twist: it works with a free app you can download. It’s got lots of electronic features: a working conveyor belt, scanner, aisle light and cash till. It comes with 35 scannable fruits, veggies and other supermarket items.
You’ll need to assemble this one yourself, and it’s 76cm tall, 44cm wide and 54.5cm deep. You also need to buy 4 AA batteries, as they’re essential but not included.
Why we love it: Despite it’s price and capability, this smart kitchen doesn’t take up too much room, as it’s foldable. It’s a brilliant, bright red, and all of the extras and accessories that come with it are just as fun: a Little Tikes shopper bag, fruits, veggies, a PIN machine, to name a few.
We know parents say that it’s definitely a great one if you’ve got multiple littles in the house, as someone’s got to be the shopper, and someone’s got to work on the till. 5, 6 and 7 year old siblings will get a lot out of it, too. It’s interactive (with or without the app), and also teaches communication skills. It’s good for little hands, as well – they can pop the coins and out of the till. It’s quite realistic, and the scanner recognises every item scanned, and it pops on the screen.
The app is brilliant, too, and our parent testers say adds an extra level of fun. The app includes 4 fun games: freeplay, shopping list, checkout counter and speed scanner – which encourage little ones to think and develop hand-eye co-ordination skills. Make sure you’ve got a compatible device before you buy, though (apparently, Amazon Fire tablets don’t work with it).
Available from: Argos
What it is: A scaled-down replica of the Dyson Ball cleaner with sucking sound effects, a cyclone action that makes the beads inside it spin, and a twisting and turning motion like the real thing. Removal dustbin at back to empty debris – because, yes, it actually vacuums! Stands at 63cm tall and requires 4 C batteries.
Why we love it: For one, it doesn’t require us to any actual vacuuming 😂 but it does let your little one suck things up. It even has a removable bin. The potential for hours of role-playing fun is real. Also, maybe it’ll convince them that real-life chores are actually fun? We live in hope…
It certainly does something right, as it was awarded bronze in our Best Toy for Role Play category at the 2017 MadeForMums Toy Awards.
Available at: Argos and Amazon
What it is: The Our Generation range of dolls from John Crane come in a range of skin colours and hair colours. They’re large (46cm high), easy to dress and undress, and each comes with a different outfit.
Why we love it: To say our tester Jaime quite liked her Sienna Our Generation doll is something of a serious understatement.
‘From the moment she saw her in the box,’ says her mum, ‘it’s been a bit of a love story. Jaime has put her hair clips in Sienna’s hair, tied it up how she wears it, dressed her, undressed her – and slept with her in bed last night!
‘The doll is so beautifully made, from the packaging (totally environmentally friendly) to her clothes to her hair. This is a dolly your child will keep and play with forever. Top marks!’
Available at: Smyths Toys
What it is: A two-tiered wooden cake stand with 15 differently shaped ‘cakes’ that each fit into one of the stand’s differently shaped holes.
Why we love it: It’s beautifully made and, to help your child shape-match (and recognise numbers), the little cakes each have a number on that matches a number on the cake stand. Jaime, our tester, was only just 3 when she first played with it but it held her attention for ages. ‘It’s educational and fun,’ says her mum, ‘and it has multiple purposes in that it teaches numbers and shape-sorting – and Jaime can also use it to have a tea party with her dolls. I can see it being played with for a long time as my eldest daughter, who’s 6, loves it, too!’
Available at: Amazon
Images: Product websites