18 Best Gifts for 3-Year-Olds 2020

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18 Best Gifts for 3-Year-Olds 2020

18 Best Gifts for 3-Year-Olds 2020 🎄

Clever cupcakes

A product image of the Learning Resources Smart Snacks Shape-Sorting Cupcakes, showing eight toy cupcakes in a baking pan.
Photo: Learning Resources

Learning Resources Smart Snacks Shape Sorting Cupcakes ($20 at the time of publication)

Toys that pull double duty are my favorite for my two kids, and these eight colorful cupcakes deliver learning and fun in equal measure. Each confection pulls apart to reveal a different shape, with the tops matching the bottoms and the bottoms matching corresponding divots in the pan. My younger son enjoys the challenge of sorting shapes and identifying colors together; my preschooler works these pastries into pretend baking games, picnic scenarios, imaginative shopping trips, and more. The set is nearly indestructible, and I find myself retrieving it during room cleanup every night—a surefire sign that it’s in the rotation for good.

—Ingrid Skjong

A musical book

The front cover of Welcome to Jazz: A Swing-Along Celebration of America’s Music, Featuring “When the Saints Go Marching In”.
Photo: Workman Publishing Company

Welcome to Jazz: A Swing-Along Celebration of America’s Music, Featuring “When the Saints Go Marching In” by Carolyn Sloan, illustrated by Jessica Gibson ($25 at the time of publication)

I can do without children’s books that blare sounds, but I make an exception for Welcome to Jazz by Carolyn Sloan. My 2-year-old (who I initially thought might be a tad young for a jazz primer) took to this book immediately—from the vivid illustrations featuring a trio of cats learning the genesis of jazz to the 12 buttons that, when pressed, play the different musical parts of “When the Saints Go Marching In.” (A 3-year-old might be in an even better position to enjoy it.) My son loves hearing the deep double bass, the jangly rhythm section, the free-spirited scatting—and he’s learning the names of jazz legends like Billie Holiday and King Oliver. It’s a musical introduction we can all get behind.

—Ingrid Skjong

Magnetic letters

A product of Kid O A to Z Magnatab, a magnetic board with the alphabet shown on it.
Photo: Kid O

Kid O Magnatab A to Z Uppercase ($25 at the time of publication)

At age 3, some kids begin showing interest in gripping a pencil and trying to form letters or numbers. This magnetic writing board is an early-handwriting tool that’s fun, sensory, and even semi-addictive. Kids use the thick magnetic stylus to trace letters, pulling the tiny metal balls into place. The balls are encased, so they can’t fall out or get lost. Directional arrows help budding writers visualize where to start and end each letter. Kid O also makes a Magnatab for practicing numbers; for free-form magnetic drawing and writing, it offers this simple slate. (Kid O sells replacement styluses, too, in case yours goes missing.) We also like the Boogie Board Scribble n’ Play, which has an LCD surface that fosters colorful, mess-free doodling you can erase with the push of a button.

—Caitlin Giddings

Coding for kids

The Code-a-Pillar, a bug shaped coding toy for children.
Photo: Fisher-Price

Fisher-Price Think & Learn Code-a-pillar Twist ($30 at the time of publication)

Dana Mahoney, associate director of community engagement at the Thinkery in Austin, Texas, recommends the motorized Code-a-pillar Twist STEM toy for an early introduction to coding. A screen-free outlet for toddlers to experiment with robotics and programming concepts, the caterpillar is a hit with Mahoney’s kids, who are 2 and 4. Here’s how it works: Five body segments, each with a dial, are attached to the motorized head. Kids can turn each dial to a different direction, programming a path for the toy. Trial and error lets them practice planning, sequencing, and problem-solving.

—Caitlin Giddings

Creative crafts

The Alex My Giant Busy Box craft kit.
Photo: Alex Discover

Alex Discover My Giant Busy Box ($35 at the time of publication)

Kids will love opening up this box, which is jam-packed with an enormous variety of crafting supplies and instructions to make 16 projects. They can turn the included tissue paper, crayons, googly eyes, pipe cleaners, dough, stickers, and more into critters, puppets, collages, and pictures, or use the materials and ideas as a starting point for their own creations. I like that the creature shapes are sturdy enough to use as templates for tracing and cutting out paper versions—to make the fun last even longer.

—Winnie Yang

A little big top

The IKEA Cirkustält, shown set up in living room.
Photo: Nathan Edwards

IKEA Cirkustält ($20 at the time of publication)

IKEA’s colorful polyester play tents offer long-lasting fun for a low price. The littlest kids may enjoy playing hide-and-seek inside, or peekaboo from behind the curtains. Three-year-olds might like loading them up with mounds of stuffed animals, using them as a private place to play or turning them into rocket ships. I can attest to their durability: We had one that lasted for at least five years, and there were many catastrophic rocket crashes during that time. IKEA’s Busa Play Tunnel, which we recommend in our guide to the best gifts for 2-year-olds, pairs nicely with the circus tent and was another hit with my kids.

—Kalee Thompson

Costume kits

A child wearing the Melissa & Doug Fire Chief Role-Play Costume Set.
Photo: Melissa & Doug

Melissa & Doug Fire Chief Role Play Costume Set ($25 at the time of publication)

My child’s peer group is obsessed with dramatic play and dress-up. One minute they’re doctors, the next firefighters, and at some point they all splinter off into different versions of Spider-Man on a group mission to destroy the house. Although these costume sets from Melissa & Doug don’t offer any caped-superhero options, they do let kids take on lots of heroic, real-world career roles, like veterinarian or pediatric nurse. Each costume comes with accessories—hard hat, hammer, and saw for the construction worker; fedora, pair of sunglasses, and decoder lens for the spy—that help set the scene for freewheeling imaginative play. If your kid is, in fact, particularly obsessed with playing superhero, they might also love a set of silky capes with Velcro closures and matching felt masks; if they’re more inclined toward royalty, try these sumptuous velour ones.

—Caitlin Giddings

Plush puppets

A product image of the Folkmanis Snowy Owl Hand Puppet.
Photo: Folkmanis

Folkmanis Snowy Owl Hand Puppet ($30 at the time of publication)

Puppets can be a great outlet for preschoolers to explore storytelling. My kids have a dedicated puppet basket, as well as this puppet theater, though I find that the individual puppets get way more use than the theater itself—they’re more interested in private, imaginative play than performing for an audience. Folkmanis makes a range of plush animal puppets: We’ve been gifted the tiny praying mantis and a scaly three-headed dragon, but I think this snowy owl is the most special puppet in our bin. It’s extra-soft and structured, with a head you can rotate using a plastic knob inside. After my older son got dive-bombed by a nesting owl last winter—for real, and he was fine—we were able to embark on some extra-dramatic play with this thing.

—Kalee Thompson

Instructive instruments

A product image of the Mugig Button Accordion.
Photo: Mugig

Mugig Button Accordion ($30 at the time of publication)

Liza Wilson, owner of the Toybrary lending library in Austin, Texas, says playing musical instruments—even when they’re just playing with them—helps preschoolers explore sensory input in a way that’s creative and self-directed. The resulting sounds may be chaotic, but 3-year-olds can learn much more from real instruments than from simply pushing buttons or tapping screens to play prerecorded songs. For 3-year-olds, small pianos and drums might be good choices. But Wilson said Toybrary’s little accordion gets the most play. Kids love pulling on the bellows and pushing the vocal keys and buttons for harmony and bass. It’s a toy that can grow with a child as they progress from making creative sounds to learning actual songs—and heck, even adults can have some fun fiddling with it.

—Caitlin Giddings

We scream for ice cream

The Melissa & Doug Scoop & Stack Ice Cream Cone Play Set, shown with it's box, two toy scoopers, and two cones of ice cream.
Photo: Melissa & Doug

Melissa & Doug Scoop & Stack Ice Cream Cone Playset ($25 at the time of publication)

According to the International Dairy Foods Association, the average American devours 23 pounds of ice cream a year. The love of the stuff starts early, as illustrated by this ice-cream cone playset. Kids can spoon and serve with two magnetized scoopers, which have a satisfyingly realistic feel when doling out one of the four scoops of ice cream (vanilla, chocolate, strawberry, and mint chocolate chip) to top off the two wooden cones. The flavors may be well edited, but the playful possibilities are nearly endless.

—Ingrid Skjong

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