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Three year olds are hard to buy for, harder even than teenagers maybe? (Okay, not quite that hard.) 3 year olds especially have so much, and they can’t tell us what they want really, yet they still need fun gifts and new challenges. And of course we still want to buy for them! So in the name of shopping smarter and getting gifts that are both sure to be a hit and will last longer than an hour before falling into toy-box oblivion, this is a list of some of the very best, and most unique, gifts for 3 year old boys (give or take!).
This book is first on the list because if you only see one idea here I want this to be it. It’s laugh out loud funny, and not just the first time you read it. It really does have zero pictures, and it’s 100% designed to be read out loud to a child by an adult. It’s super creative (and hilarious) in how it takes advantage of what that dynamic means, playing off what kid’s love in some very fun ways. Also fun fact: B.J. Novak played “Ryan, the temp” on the hit show The Office. Remember him?
Little boys love to throw and run and shoot, so let them indulge with this sweet and SAFE (key!) little indoor slingshot set. Made of wood with wool “ammo” balls (I wonder if they can double as dryer balls later?) they come in a few different color options that won’t clash with your decor if they happen to get laying about (I’m partial to this pretty green/brown/pink set).
Boys are cuddly little things, plus they need a soft spot to “crash land” when they’re coming back into orbit after jumping off the couch. My nephew has one of these giant plush animals (an elephant) and then my daughter got one last year (a dog similar to this) and they both see a LOT of use! These are not your typical “big and useless and in the way” style toy — because they’re created to be super soft and floppy they end up being somewhat of a mix between a pillow and a blanket and stuffed animal. They’re great for snuggling with a good book in a reading nook, “riding” and wrestling, and just dragging around and involving in various games.
Need something that will educate your child, entertain them, and help them stay in bed at night? Yeah me too! Enter Moon In My Room, it’s basically a big moon-shaped night light that they can play with. It hangs on the wall and comes with a little remote with one big button on it that your little can press to cycle through the phases of the moon. It’s awesome because in addition to teaching the phases (sliver to full) it looks like a real moon and gives kids that much needed sense of control. After the initial fun wore off of flipping through all the phases at super speed my son still to this day chooses “how much moon I want” as part of our bedtime routine. He also has control to turn the light on for himself in the middle of the night if he wakes up and feels scared (it automatically turns off after 30 minutes of inactivity). So it’s great for helping kiddo fall asleep without staying on all night (or requiring mom to come in like a ninja at 10pm and turn it off). This is one of those weird gifts I’d never heard of but now really love.
These are not your average puzzles — these giant floor puzzles from Melissa and Doug are 3-10 feet long (depending which one you get), and feature big beautiful pieces that are super fun to put together. And while regular table-top versions are great for fine motor skills, patience and sitting still, these larger ones have all the same cognitive benefits plus some hopping, jumping, and running opportunities while bopping around the living room putting them together on the carpet. There are numerous styles to choose from, we have this one and this one and love them both.
Our little guy loves taking things apart and putting them back together and the 3-dimensional build-your-own-engine puzzle we have has been a regular in the play rotation for over a year now and is still going strong. All the pieces come off and go back together, and there are spark plugs and pistons and other engine parts. Screws and tools work well and are great for improving dexterity and fine motor skills, and look a lot like Dad’s real stuff.
Remote control cars are a rite of passage of sorts. And this one is perfect for toddling toddlers as it’s easy to control and tough as nails. Learning to steer it well will take some time but it’s fun regardless of what direction it’s headed — and at this age kids just love the concept that they press the button here and something happens with the car over there. Plus there’s music and working headlights! Ours received this at 1 1/2 years old I think actually, and now at 3 1/2 is still having loads of fun with it.
More building and puzzles! This take-apart toy crane has been dismantled and rebuilt in our house hundreds of times (thousands???). It just doesn’t get old! (For him, anyway, ha.) It works and rolls and drives and grabs, and then everything comes apart and separates, down to just an orange chassis, once you start undoing the bolts and screws. And the best part about the whole thing? The power screwdriver. It’s got surprisingly good power for being battery operated, goes in forward AND reverse, comes with 3 interchangeable bits (switching them out is half the fun), and the batteries in it last forever.
Costumes aren’t just for Halloween! This didn’t really occur to me until this Halloween when the costume I bought for trick-or-treating became an endless source of fun. They have characters like Spiderman and Mario, or complete play sets with a variety of bits and pieces they can mix and match, and on Jane.com you can even get them personalized like in the photo above. The key? Get one at least a size or two too big, so he can get in and out of it easily and potentially wear it awhile, plus fun accessories are a must. Buzz Lightyear must have his jetpack and wings! (“To infinity, and beyond!”)
Play Tent (Space Adventure Roarin’ Rocket)
Forts don’t get easier than this, especially in the house in the dead of a Minnesota winter when the four corners of our living room are getting all too familiar. Or in the summer, outside in the backyard. Play tents are super versatile and pop up in minutes, instantly creating a whole new world of fun and games, privacy and (perceived) independence. Note: when buying a tent pay close attention to the dimensions. Not all tents are created equal when it comes to size — some are much smaller or shorter than others (this one is nice and big).
Kick Scooter (Razr Jr Lil’ Kick Scooter)
Like a tricycle for scooters, these toddler versions of the hi-speed ones for adults make for fun physical activity while improving balance and coordination. Kick scooters come in lots of styles but this type with two wheels on the back and one in front is the most stable for littles just figuring them out. Be aware that it may seem impossible at first, but kids as young as 2 years old (or younger maybe even?) can quickly figure it out and start pushing along with one foot. And depending on the size of your house these are okay for using indoors (we do!).
Who says coloring always needs to happen on a table? Feed their creativity while helping them build motor skills with a gigantic coloring mat meant to go on the floor. Washable (wipe down with water) and foldable for easy storage it comes with a set of markers.
Super cute and fun to read, If You Ever Want to Bring an Alligator to School, Don’t! was given to us by a family friend and has quickly become a regular in the bedtime story rotation. It’s full of personality and humor (I’ve laughed more than once reading it), and it’s beautifully illustrated in a unique style.
Noyo’s “Not Your Ordinary Crayons” are seriously amazing. They are big and easy to handle with soft color that goes on much more vibrant that regular crayons, they’re washable (woo hoo!), they finger blend like pastels, and add a wet paintbrush and they become watercolors! There are tons of colors and they come in a handy carrying case, with a spot for each crayon to snap into its own spot (so no big jumbly mess with caps coming off, etc). You know you’re a mom of littles when you get excited about really great crayons and paints in one, ha! (But seriously, grab these.)
I love this more gender-neutral “dollhouse” option for boys. Manhattan Toy’s MiO Modular Wooden Building sets are the sweetest, most charming little playhouse collection, featuring numerous sets and expansions that work together all with clean lines and a simple style that encourages creativity. Building units and blocks pile and stack, each serving multiple purposes for an endless mix of possibilities to encourage playing house as well as creative construction activities. And the bean bag people are so darn cute! Easy for clumsy little hands to grip and manipulate, and they have a satisfyingly firm “plop” to them when playing and positioning. Plus we have 14 characters in all (a mix of people and animals) and no two are the same!
And P.S., I just noticed there’s a castle!
An Echo? REALLY?! Yes, really! You’ll need to help your 3 year old with much of it but after much debate I’m glad I dived in and tried because the Alexa and the Echo have since become an invaluable part of our daily routine. The possibilities are endless (there are so many skills Alexa can learn!) but we use it mostly for playing music (I have it paired with my Spotify account, and special playlists set up just for the kids) and for controlling a small bedside lamp on/off by voice. I have found the Echo to be a wonderful tool for teaching independence as well as (and we needed this one badly) enunciation. Alexa can’t understand you if you don’t speak clearly! Simple one or two-word commands like “Alexa, skip!” (to go to a new song on a playlist) gave my 3 year old a great sense of achievement and control when he first got it. We also play music at bedtime with a timer that Alexa can set to whatever you want, and ask it the time and weather when getting ready for school, listen to stories, and more I’m sure I’m forgetting as I write this. We went with a standard Echo Dot but I’ve heard great things about the kid’s edition as well.
Amazon Fire Tablet (or an iPhone if you prefer)
Screentime is best limited for sure, but there’s also no doubt that technology isn’t going anywhere and learning to operate a tablet is not only fun for 3 year olds but it’s quickly becoming a necessary skill. We have two Fire Tablets (the older “7” model) in our house, one for the 5 year old and one for our 2 year old. They only use them for special treats and rewards, or when on road trips and waiting in Dr offices, etc., but even with that limited use they have been priceless. My two year old loves to trace her letters and play a game called “Endless Alphabet,” and my oldest practices phonics and reading (also part of the “Endless Alphabet” line) and plays games like Angry Birds and racing when he gets the chance. We bought the lower memory version (16GB) and have found it enough to store 5-6 games and 2-3 hours of video (Netflix downloads when we travel by air) so even if you’re on a budget a tablet can be a viable option. Definitely recommend investing in a protective case however, as drops are inevitable (we have these and they work great). The Amazon Fire HD 10 is the newest model, the Fire 7 Tablet is what we have.
And that’s all the ideas I have right now! What have been your kids’ best gifts? Share in the comments — we can all use the ideas.