Best toys for 3 year olds in 2024: 33 age-appropriate gift ideas

According to our little testers, the best toys for three year olds are ones that are educational, sturdy and fun

collage showing the best toys for three year olds including Cozy Coupe, Connetix and Slime Baff
(Image credit: Future)

The best toys for three-year-olds are games that help them develop key skills and encourage learning, as most kids this age are just a year or two away from starting school.

At this age, many of this year's top toys may be too grown up, but your child might be developing a keen interest in the best dinosaur toys, or if they're showing signs of being an animal lover, interactive pets instead. The best toys for three-year-olds help your child to develop their gross and fine motor skills, and can aid with language development too.

So, whether you are purchasing a present, or you're updating your own little learner's collection, you'll find the perfect option in our best toys for three-year-olds round up of tried and tested toys, no matter your budget. We've also included wooden toys where we can as we commit to sharing more sustainable options.

Best toys for 3 year olds in 2024

Role play toys

Imaginative play is a key part of a child's development, and this includes role play, and three-year-olds love nothing more than a game of play-pretend. Whether it's a simple costume or more extensive playset, your little one will love using their imagination to come up with fun new scenarios to reenact.

Mini household toys

At the age of three, children love to mimic what they see others do - it's key to nurturing their creativity and narrative skills, and can give their empathy and abstract thinking a boost at the same time. So if you notice they want to take part in activities you view as a chore, this might be an opportunity for a household themed toy.

Water & sand play

As three-year-olds grow, they can still benefit from sensory play to help them better understand the world around them and their impact upon it. This kind of play can also help them develop their language skills as they try to articulate what's happening. And toys and games involving water and sand fit the bill perfectly.

Outdoor games

Getting outdoors is essential for children. Not only does it expose them to new and exciting things to explore, it can also reduce anxiety, strengthen their immune system thanks to a dose of vitamin D, and promote physical activity which can help them sleep better at night.

Puzzles and Games

Three-year-olds love simple puzzles and games that foster their cognitive, focus and memory skills. Whether they play independently, or with others, their self confidence will get a boost when they have completed it, and toys of this nature can help improve their dexterity and handling skills to boot.

Tractors & Diggers

If you have a little Tractor Ted fan at home, then they'll love having their own tractor toy or digger to play with. They're great for boosting imagination and creativity, can help with dexterity too.

Construction Toys

Building and construction sets are great for three-year-olds as they help to encourage spatial reasoning and hand-eye coordination. At this age, children are unlikely to be ready for LEGO sets with small pieces, but there are plenty of construction sets with larger pieces for them to enjoy.

Ride on Toys

Ride on toys are great for three-year-olds as they really help to enhance their gross motor skills and help strengthen their muscles. They're really good and boosting balance and spatial awareness, as well as encouraging problem solving and using their imagination too.

Tonies

From the age of three, you could consider a Toniebox, a screen-free audio device, for your little one. Tonieboxes are designed to be used by little hands, and so they're robust, foam covered and have no sharp edges. If you're considering buying one, make sure you read our Toniebox review first.

Stories are loaded via audio characters called Tonies that magnetically attach to the top of the player. There are loads to choose from, including these most popular Tonies, plus a whole range aimed at pre-schoolers.

Wooden Toys

If you really aren't a fan of garish plastic toys, and your child hasn't yet developed a thirst for them, then there are some lovely wooden toys out there that are perfect for role play, and will keep a three-year-old entertained for just as long as the plastic counterparts.

Slime, dough and putty

Incorporate some sensory fun into play time to help your three-year-old discover the world around them. Some kids will love the messy gooey texture of slime, but if you want something less, well, slimy, then putties and doughs can offer a similar tactile experience without the residue.

When it comes to the best toys for three-year olds, there is a broad scope of options that are brilliant to develop their physical, cognitive and emotional skills. Founder of the Good Play Guide and child development expert Dr Amanda Gummer says: "Play is essential for the overall development of our little ones and there are a host of different benefits for three-year-olds.

"Any game which encourages taking turns and sharing is also really important to enable a three year old to develop skills as empathy and co-operation. Puzzles, building blocks, picture books and musical instrument toys are all great suggestions as gifts for a three-year-old."

She adds: "Even a simple soft toy is lovely for empathy development and the encouragement of social interaction."

Studies also show that children of this age love toys that are realistic and detailed as well as anthropomorphic toys. According to the research, toys like this 'have a special value for play because they help the child to create lifelike play situations and explore the world through them.'

What benefits does play offer for three-year-olds?

For three-year-olds, play is as much about fun as it is about learning, and play has numerous positive effects on a child's development. GoodtoKnow expert panellist Dr Amanda Gummer explains: "Running and climbing will encourage gross motor skill development as well and grabbing and stacking and using repeated movements will encourage fine motor skill development. Speech, language and cognitive development will all thrive with play.

"Problem-solving, memory building, listening, speaking and engaging in imaginative and creative ways will all help develop an extensive vocabulary and communication skills."

As well as being a fan of toys, Dr Gummer is also an advocate of free play: "Things like hide and seek (supervised of course) and the simple building of a fort with chairs and a bed sheet will encourage role playing, scenario building and many ideas to inspire creativity."

How we chose the best toys for three year olds

Testing the best toys for three year olds, including the Toniebox, Slime Baff and the Casdon mini Dyson

(Image credit: Future)

To compile this list of the best toys for three-year-olds, we delved deep into our extensive product knowledge and experience. We spoke to parents who owned these toys and had put them through their paces, and which received rave reviews from them and their kids.

We also turned to our expert panellist and child development guru Dr Amanda Gummer to make sure everything on the list was appropriate for this age group and to uncover the benefits of play for children of this age.

You can read more about how we test and review products but here's what we took into consideration when we shortlisted the best toys for three-year-olds.

  • So that you can easily find the best playtime buys to suit your three-year-old, we have included sensory toys, toys to encourage physical development, and options that encourage role-play too. 
  • We also picked products with a range of different aesthetics, from wooden toys that will look fantastic on the nursery shelf, to colourful toys with light and musical features that your child won't tire of - and which won't drive you mad!

What to consider before buying a toy for a three-year-old

  • Check toy safety regulations - Check that the item complies with toy safety regulations and safety standards such as the CE mark. You'll find this information on the packaging or on the website where you order the item from. 
  • Make sure it’s age appropriate - Make sure the item is suitable for use by three-year-olds and safe for use. Some toys are not approved for use by children of this age.
  • Easy to clean - Children of this age are less likely to pop play items into their mouths compared to younger babies but it's important to check that the item can be wiped down with antibacterial spray or cleaned easily - especially if friends come round to play. 
  • Buy from reputable retailers - Buy from brands and retailers that you know and trust. It's always worth reading reviews before you buy a toy. We've tried and tested all the toys in this list so you can be assured that we consider them good quality and worth buying.
  • Value for money - Everyone loves a bargain these days but cheap is not always good value - especially when it comes to toys. Consider the difference between a cheap plastic toy compared to an expensive wooden alternative - it will cost you more but save you money in the long run as it will last for generations and can be passed down to family members for years. 

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Sarah Handley
Consumer Writer & Money Editor, GoodtoKnow

Sarah is GoodtoKnow’s Consumer Writer & Money Editor and is passionate about helping mums save money wherever they can - whether that's spending wisely on toys and kidswear or keeping on top of the latest news around childcare costs, child benefit, the motherhood penalty. A writer, journalist and editor with more than 15 years' experience, Sarah is all about the latest toy trends and is always on the look out for toys for her nephew or Goddaughters so that she remains one of their favourite grown ups. When not writing about money or best buys, Sarah can be found hanging out with her rockstar dog Pepsi, getting opinionated about a movie or learning British Sign Language. 

With contributions from