There is a multitude of toys targeted to preschoolers. Which are the best for your 3-year-old?

By the editors of Child magazine
June 11, 2015


Though play comes naturally to most 3-year-olds, preschoolers still need help finding safe and developmentally appropriate toys. Try to resist the temptation to rush out and buy the latest "educational" toys on the market or whatever's hot on TV. A good set of blocks that can be played with in many different ways is more likely to teach math skills than is an expensive electronic toy that works only when you push certain buttons.

Also, try to avoid sexism. It's perfectly okay for preschool boys to play with kitchen toys and for girls to play with trucks. Such choices do not determine sexual orientation. However, depriving a child of certain toys or experiences on the basis of gender does short-circuit creativity and growth. The other extreme -- forcing dolls on boys or footballs on girls -- can be harmful, too. Studies show that even in the most gender-neutral environments, boys and girls tend to play with different kinds of toys. Your best bet is to follow your child's lead.

Another rule of thumb: Less is more. Although an expensive, store-bought dalmatian costume would probably look adorable, your child will have just as much fun-and use more brainpower-pretending to be a puppy with cardboard ears and a pin-on tail. Some of the best play materials for this age group are items that cost nothing: a wrapping-paper cylinder to use as a telescope, an old pair of boots for exploring in, an oversize box that can serve as a car. Open-ended items that invite hands-on experimentation give your child the freedom to pretend and learn -without inhibiting rules and constraints. So consider recycling household items as toys.

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Also think in terms of categories. A variety of activities will help develop your child's body, mind, and emotions. Three-year-olds especially enjoy:

  • dress-up clothes and props
  • puppets, dolls, action figures, and stuffed animals
  • pretend toys such as miniature farms with animals, a schoolroom with a teacher and kids, a gas station with tools, and dollhouses
  • "housekeeping" toys such as kid-size refrigerators, microwaves, stoves, sinks, washing machines, driers, ironing boards, lawn mowers, and vacuum cleaners
  • puzzles
  • simple lotto and board games
  • sand and water toys
  • arts and crafts materials (paper, crayons, chalk, markers, paints, clay, children's scissors, and glue)
  • building, sorting, counting toys
  • physical play equipment such as slides, swings, jungle gym, ride-ons, wagons, and wading pools (make sure the equipment is safe and age appropriate, and supervise your children at all times) sports equipment like balls
  • videos, cassette tapes of music, and musical instruments
  • picture books, alphabet books, and stories about other children
  • books that they've chosen themselves from the public library.

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