What cool toys should I buy for my 3 year old.
August 21, 2017 9:22 AM   Subscribe

So we have this small human, and they are getting a little too old for the soft toys and blocks we've acquired thus far. Give me your recommendations for toys for a UK based small child.

So I'm looking for toys that will be (in this order of importance)

1) Fun
2) Educational, improving, mind-expanding.
3) Preferably without having a button that makes it makes a noise.
4) Preferably not very plastic.
5) Having no connection to Peppa Pig in any way whatsoever.

The child is currently making their way through being 3, very good at numbers, pretty decent at words, terrifyingly competent at climbing.
So we're looking at developing a programm of a new toy type thing every week or two (coupled with getting rid of older ones at the same time) so if you have thoughts for an older child, that's good too, just maybe note what sort of age you'd think was suitable.

For the record I think I'm going to get a prism as one of my early picks, due to obsession with rainbows.
posted by Just this guy, y'know to Education (17 answers total) 14 users marked this as a favorite
A big fave of mine was the shapes box. It is a cube about 3/4 of a foot in size, with shapes cut out of the sides. A door in the box opens, and the shapes that fit the holes are inside. You take them out and the little kid learns about matching, and you can start teaching colors and the names of shapes with this toy. Here is a company that makes age graded educational toys.
posted by Oyéah at 9:34 AM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

I feel that, at that age, there's a strong "lets pretend" component, so I think more in terms of props than toys. Kaleidoscope. Jigsaws. Toy animals (the solid hard plastic ones, not soft toys). Dress-up box. Box of pirate treasure (plastic coins, gems, etc). Cardboard Wendy house (these are great because they're cheap and you can decorate them yourself). Ikea have a pretty good wooden child's kitchen. Play-doh, rolling pin and shape cutters. Craft box (paint, glue, glitter, anything that'll stick to a sheet of paper best out of three).
posted by Leon at 9:38 AM on August 21, 2017 [3 favorites]

Cardboard Wendy house

or a big packing box that a refrigerator came in, and maybe one or two dishwasher or washing machine ones as well (your local appliance store will be throwing these away, from floor stock) so Just this kid, y'know can get their cat on.
posted by flabdablet at 9:43 AM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

Something dollhouse-esque. We have a nice wooden folding castle. It's large but it gets lots of playtime, and a nice benefit is that little figures of many origins are a good fit for it. The one we have comes in both princess and medieval themes. Its size lends it well to accommodating Playmobil figures and furniture, as well as Sylvanian Families animal sets, plus plenty of licensed figurines, including your un-beloved Peppa Pig. (A set of Peppa & friends resides in ours)

If the child doesn't currently have a toy kitchen and toy food, this is something that has provided endless entertainment to both of my children during that age range.

Our toy doctor kit has gotten LOTS of play as well, and will bring new life to some of those soft toys. (Nothing special about the one I linked.)

Another frequently-made recommendation that's good for years of play is a set of magnetic building blocks like Magformers or Magnatiles (the magnets are very well enclosed and safe for littles).

A set of plastic pegs and foam pegboard is also a classic.

As is a real baby doll (soft body, hard arms/legs/head. The 15" size is good for this age.)
posted by telepanda at 9:56 AM on August 21, 2017

If you can swing it, Magnatiles are worth picking up. They are forgiving building toys for children still working on their fine-motor skills. They are also pretty versatile - we've used them to build 3-d houses, towers, 2-d rocket ships, boxes, 'books', and also put them over flashlights to make a colored filter.

We got my son a set right before his third birthday (at a yard sale) and he still regularly uses him at 5. Expensive, but a great gift.
posted by TofuGolem at 9:58 AM on August 21, 2017

Interlocking foam floor tiles are good fun as well.
posted by flabdablet at 10:07 AM on August 21, 2017

I love open-ended toys like rope, which kids will use for years! Another fun open-ended toy is this kind of plastic bowl that kids can climb on, sit in and spin, play with in the bath, and do a bunch of other stuff, called a Bilibo. And wagons! Kids love to put stuff inside and pull it around, and later they'll use them for more practical purposes. Any of these toys will get used from toddlerhood through middle school.
posted by primate moon at 10:12 AM on August 21, 2017

I fully endorse the suggestions of Magnatiles and play kitchen/play food.

My kids who are 7 and 8 1/2 are at this moment playing with Magnatiles (some sort of building game involving Tsum Tsums, but whatever). We've gotten a solid 4 years of play out of them so far and expect to get a few more years of interest from them. Totally worth the investment.

The play kitchen only lasted for a few years of interest, but those years were gloriously filled with imaginative play.
posted by PorcineWithMe at 10:13 AM on August 21, 2017

We got our son a Brio train set for his third birthday and he played a lot with it for several years, also it is practical because for those years anytime someone asked for gift ideas we said rails for the train... or a bridge, station, whatever. The only problem might be if you have limited space - if child spends hours to set it up it wont work to demand it be dismantled every night.
posted by 15L06 at 10:24 AM on August 21, 2017 [1 favorite]

My nearly 3 yr old is obsessed with puzzles. She can do 24 piece ones completely on her own and 48 piece with minor help. My older kid never got into puzzles though. Blocks, babies, stuffed animals, little people (vintage fisher price) and cars are also top toys now.
posted by sulaine at 11:46 AM on August 21, 2017

I think Tuff trays are great. There's tons of tuff tray ideas on the Internet and they are very popular with the kids I know.
posted by threetwentytwo at 11:50 AM on August 21, 2017

These Life Gear 4-in-1 Flashlights are what my now 4yo loves. Walmart carries that brand in multiple sizes - all of which my kid LOVES. Other things he's loved this year include a skein of colorful yarn he can play with carte blanche, a bubble machine, an electronic keyboard piano that has drum kit and demo modes (we, the adults, are quite tired of it, though), chalk and paint and stickers and Play Doh, Duplo blocks, a play tent, a watering can.
posted by jillithd at 1:10 PM on August 21, 2017

I'm 50, and I want some kinetic sand.
posted by thelonius at 3:41 PM on August 21, 2017

A wooden abacus! I am actually surprised at how much the littles like playing with it. We can count and make patterns and talk about colors and left and right. They also like to play with it on their own which I appreciate.

There are some educational toys that rely heavily on input from an adult and I just don't dig those. I am all about the toys that can entertain a child without my help.

Not a toy, but my kids like watercolors and I like how easy they are to clean up. When they are just starting get the crayons palette that we all remember from school. When they are young you can put a drop of water on every color so they don't have to wet the brush before using the paints. Crayola water colors have never left any stains at my house. Unlike even washable acrylic paints. Bonus fun for watercolors is sprinkling salt on a damp painting and watching it change the paint.

Toy type things along the same lines - an easel, or a Buddha board

Toy dinosaurs are a big hit at my house.

Gyroscopes are fun.

A small guitar or ukele would be fun.

A car or vechilce toy and some figures that can ride in it will probably get used a lot.

Hula hoops are fun and if you hang them on s wall they don't take much room
posted by MadMadam at 7:02 PM on August 21, 2017

Just had a three year old come to visit and dragged out the toys I had saved from when mine were little.
Most popular:
toy doctor's kit
cars or train with large tracks that can be assembled in different ways
large cardboard bricks
posted by metahawk at 9:40 PM on August 21, 2017

+1 for toy dinosaurs. Fossil kits were also a hit (pieces of "stone" with "bones" hidden inside that you have to dig out and put together to form a dinosaur skeleton).

Wooden train tracks and train sets with battery-powered engines (Brio and Ikea).

Old sports equipment, especially if it's something the parents are doing or something the kid is very familiar with. Lots of pretend play! Also costumes and specific equipment needed for various jobs (like police officer, firefighter, doctor etc).

We had many hours of fun with just a bunch of paper, scissors, glue and anything to color with (pencils, markers, crayons, watercolors...)

The biggest hit is Lego, though. There's a bunch of compatible Chinese knockoffs because the patent expired, and most of them are just as good as the originals. The kid asks us to build whatever is in the box the first time so it looks exactly like the picture on the box, but then the kid takes over and free-form builds anything and everything.
posted by gakiko at 11:37 PM on August 21, 2017

Here's a non exhaustive list of things my 3.5yr old is into atm:

- wooden trains as mentioned above. We started out with a basic IKEA set, and have expanded through buying job lots off eBay. Difficult if you are pressed for space (as we kind of are), but everyone in the family loves playing with them, even the baby.
- big box of instruments/noisy things. Xylophone, thumb piano, kazoo, harmonica, cheap ukulele, drum, etc. We've had fun making our own shakers with lentils and leftover water bottles, etc.
- playdough. Your mess tolerance may vary, but my kid really loves when we break this out. I have a set of mini cookie cutters that we use with it, and we were also given a set that makes BBQ food, but he's only just recently been old enough to use that with minimal supervision without mushing everything together.
- ink pad and stamps. We also have some self inking stamps that are easy to use.
- we have loads of Orchard Toys jigsaw puzzles. Start out with the 25 piece ones, more than that is overwhelming.
- dress up stuff. I think most of what's available for children is total crap, so haven't bothered with the overtly costumey stuff available in shops, but he loves his fairy and butterfly wings, and his tutu. (Dunno if you want to stay away from stereotypically "girly" things like that, but I've been happy with the quality of the linked items so wanted to throw them out there.) We've semi-successfully made other costume bits out of paper and cardboard.
- duplo. It's difficult to get a nice basic set in shops for some reason; there's a lot of limited farm or train themed playsets. But a good stepping stone to Lego.
- one of those magnetic doodle pads. We've been given several, some with more bells and whistles than others, but he's perfectly content with the little basic one with just the stylus.

There's probably loads I'm forgetting, but those are the major ones right now.
posted by catch as catch can at 2:48 PM on August 22, 2017 [1 favorite]

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