The Best Toddler Gifts, 3-Year-Old Edition

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When it comes to becoming a grown human, 3 is a big year. “They have real personalities now. They’re real people. Once language comes in, they can express their feelings and have a real conversation with you, people they don’t know, and on the telephone with people they can’t see,” explains Dr. Roberta Golinkoff author of Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children (and who helped us find the best toys for 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, and 4-year-olds). “They’re developing lots of confidence with how they interact with the world, but they still ask a million ‘why questions’ because now they have a sense of what they don’t know and what they want to learn.” Here, as recommended by Dr. Golinkoff, are eight toys that’ll help answer all the questions.

Update, November 30, 2017: For the 2017 holiday season, we’ve updated this post with a couple of newer toys we think are just perfect for 3-year-olds. We’ve used our own Strat judgement alongside Dr. Golinkoff’s definitions of what makes the most educational and fun playthings for tots. The newest toys are up top.

Introduce them to music early with this skateboard that’s also a keyboard. They can play along to prerecorded Beatles songs like “All You Need Is Love.”

One of the hottest new toys of this year, Teddy Ruxpin is an updated version of a teddy bear that was first popular back in the ’80s. This 2017 Teddy tells kids stories via Bluetooth connection, and his eyes light up and emote in sync with what he’s saying.

Five classic colors and 20 cutouts from hearts to dolphins. Dr. Golinkoff says: “They love that, especially the cutouts. Play-Doh is great because it can be fashioned and refashioned. Kids learn from feel. In the trade that’s called haptic manipulation. At this stage they’re really learning how things feel, what textures are all about, and their own agency is always present because they can turn that into a spider, a bear, whatever they think it’s supposed to be. As a parent, don’t say things like, oh that doesn’t look like a spider. Ask what is that and let them tell you.”

The Highlights you remember, but filled with hidden-picture games and puzzles for 2–6-year-olds. Dr. Golinkoff says: “My kids loved it and now my grandkids love it, especially the hidden pictures. We can play that for hours. They also like things that are silly. They’ll always look out for silly things. Now they’re also old enough to go to the library and say, I want this one. They know what books look like and what illustrations are interesting to them.”

A mini zoomer so they can get around as fast as you do. Dr. Golinkoff says: “Kids learn from everything they do. It’s crucial to remember that. The benefit from this is that kids get to use their bodies and practice moving in different ways and take little risks. If you don’t take little risks you’re not going to be creative. Wonderful things come from kids who use their bodies. We want to let kids know from the beginning how fun physical activity is.”

For the budding Neil deGrasse Tyson. Dr Golinkoff says: “When it comes to puzzles, start easy and increase the number. I work in spatial learning and when children know words like “over,” “under,” “through,” “next to,” and “beside” it feeds into understanding of spatial tasks and that correlates with mathematical ability. Again, here, parent should follows the child’s direction. If you see a child struggling with a piece, parents should say, try turning it. Don’t tell them what to do, but offer helpful advice.”

A very cute and very soft stuffed rabbit. Dr. Golinkoff says: “Let’s not forget baby dolls and stuffed animals, which kids love because they can do fantasy around them. When they play pretend they’re putting themselves into someone else’s shoes, mommy or daddy or anything. What a wonderful thing for a child to imagine an alternative reality! This means they’re no longer locked to the here and now. This means they can come to understand abstract ideas. It’s no problem getting a boy a doll too because boys will be dads and babies shouldn’t be alien to them, just as they shouldn’t be alien to girls.”

Glow-in-the-dark stars so they can decorate their room and get more creative with story time before bed. Dr. Golinkoff says: “With these, you can start creating narratives in a fun way. Lay in bed and you can make up stories together, like one star visiting another for tea.”

The Lite Brite, originally released in 1967, gets another upgrade. Dr. Golinkoff says: “Kids love those things and they help fine motor skills that need to be developed. Plus, kids love to leave their mark on things. Literally. Art supplies are so great.”

A dinosaur that transforms into a race car. Dr. Golinkoff says: “My kids loved Transformers. Dinosaurs are good for girls and boys and great for make-believe. It also might be a good idea to purchase a mat to put on the floor that looks like a highway or a desert scene. That’s a backdrop that will encourage make-believe with these kinds of toys.”

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The Best Toddler Gifts, 3-Year-Old Edition