12 best gifts for three-year-olds: From educational toys and tablets to scooters and play sets

·17-min read
Our round-up only includes the gifts our little tester came back to again and again (The Independent)
Our round-up only includes the gifts our little tester came back to again and again (The Independent)

Turning three is a big deal. Marking the end of toddlerhood, it’s the time when children really start to develop their personalities and a desire for independence as they head into the pre-school years.

Three-year-olds are a LOT of fun, so when it comes to buying gifts for the threenager in your life, you want something that’s going to match their love of play. But with literally thousands of choices on offer, it can feel tricky knowing what present is worth buying. After all, you don’t want it languishing forgotten at the bottom of the toy box after a day or two.

Around this age, children’s imaginations are really starting to fire up, so toys that encourage role play – like doctor sets, tool kits and play tents – always go down well. Pre-schoolers are also making huge leaps with their fine motor skills and will love the opportunity to put these to good use with plenty of hands-on play.

Of course, a three-year-old’s energy is off-the-scale, so if you’re looking for ways to help them channel that, a well-made outdoor toy, such as a scooter, is another excellent gift idea.

How we tested

Our three-year-old tester lived their best life, putting a huge range of toys to the test over a month to help us decide which ones really made the grade. We looked at the quality, how durable each gift was (after all, it’s rough ’n’ tumble nippers we’re talking about here) and versatility. Crucially, we have only included the gifts that our discerning tester returned to again and again. We’ve covered a wide range of price points to suit all budgets, but were happy to include some big-ticket items where they offered great longevity of use, with the potential to grow with your child over the years.

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The best gifts for three-year-olds for 2022 are:

  • Best overall – Toniebox starter set: £79.99, Tonies.com

  • Best for dino fans – JoJo Maman Bébé paleontologist play set: £34, Jojomamanbebe.co.uk

  • Best Stem toy – Design & Drill bolt buddies rescue helicopter: £30, Learningresources.co.uk

  • Best outdoor toy – Micro Scooter mini micro scooter eco: £82.95, Micro-scooters.co.uk

  • Best wooden toy – Great Little Trading Co. first class toy post office: £70, Gltc.co.uk

  • Best for pretend play – Melissa & Doug super smile dentist kit play set: £28.99, Smythstoys.com

  • Best for long-lasting appeal – Amazon fire HD 10 kids tablet: £199.99, Amazon.co.uk

  • Best for animal lovers – POP giant zebra: £20, We-are-pop.co.uk

  • Best construction toys – Stickle Bricks fun tub: £22, Elc.co.uk

  • Best for imaginative play – Duplo 10968 doctor visit set: £14.99, Johnlewis.com

  • Best educational gift – Moon Picnic my weather station: £48, Sorenshouse.co.uk

  • Best for siblings – Classic World wooden rocket ship: £99.95, Hippychick.com

Toniebox starter set

Best: Overall

Rating: 10/10

This cute audio player has been designed firmly with kids in mind. In fact, it was so easy to operate that our three-year-old mastered everything from volume control to skipping tracks in minutes. Soft and padded to touch – with no pointy corners – the Toniebox looked right at home in our little tester’s bedroom. But don’t be fooled – it may feel soft but this audio player is built to last and is more than durable enough to cope with the (many) bashes that came its way from our over-excited child.

To get started you simply plug it in, connect to your wi-fi and you’re good to go. Place one of the Tonies – a small hand-painted figure containing an audio story or songs – on top of the Toniebox and it starts playing. Our tester was very taken with the little Tonies and loved the independence of choosing one, putting it on, then swiftly changing their mind again. With everything from traditional childhood stories like Paddington Bear and Stick Man to Disney classics, dinosaur facts and even kid-friendly classical music, there’s plenty to choose from and something to suit children right up to secondary-school age.

We loved cuddling up with our little one and listening to stories during some down-time, as well as starting every morning dancing around to songs from The Jungle Book and Frozen 2. And that’s the beauty of the Toniebox – it’s a versatile piece of screen-free tech that pre-schoolers can take ownership of, without needing the help of a grown-up all the time. We have a feeling this is going to be very well loved for years to come.

Buy now £79.99, Tonies.com

JoJo Maman Bébé paleontologist play set

Best: For dino fans

Rating: 9/10

What pre-schooler doesn’t love a dinosaur, hey? This cute wooden set captured our little tester’s imagination immediately and it’s not hard to see why. Inside the suitcase (great for keeping everything in one place and for our three-year-old to walk around with, looking very important), there are two dinosaur skeleton puzzles, two fossils, all the essential tools any respectable paleontologist would need, as well as a chalk board for scribbling down those crucial finds.

We loved the clever touches, like how you can split the two magnetic sides of the rocks to see the fossils inside, and how each tool was nice and chunky, perfect for little hands to grip hold of. Our three-year-old really enjoyed using the pick axe to smash open the fossils (naturally) and – after we’d dug out a piece of chalk and old cloth – loved to “write” on the chalkboard, then wipe it all clean again.

For a special treat, you can even have the wooden carrycase personalised with your child’s name for an extra £7.

Buy now £34.00, Jojomamanbebe.co.uk

Design & Drill bolt buddies rescue helicopter

Best: Stem toy

Rating: 9/10

The fact this toy includes a working power drill made it a firm favourite with our independent little tester. Inside the box – which cleverly doubles up as a backdrop for play – there’s a brightly coloured helicopter and five bolts for you to drill various parts of the machine together. We initially thought this may be a bit tricky for our three-year-old to operate, but we needn’t have been concerned. After just a few attempts, and some gentle guidance, they’d got the hang of it and happily got stuck in, drilling the propeller, and more, into place.

It’s an excellent construction toy to help build Stem and fine motor skills, while giving your child a real sense of satisfaction that they can build something all by themselves.

The helicopter feels sturdy, and we loved the addition of the rescue bucket that can be lowered and lifted up by moving the back propeller. The little figures that come with the set – a pilot and a bird – offered even more play potential, and our little one liked to make up imaginative rescue stories using the characters. A quick heads-up, though – you’ll need three AA batteries, so make sure you have these ready – unless you fancy dealing with a fuming threenager.

Buy now £30.00, Learningresources.co.uk

Micro Scooter mini micro scooter eco

Best: Outdoor toy

Rating: 9.5/10

A scooter is a rite of passage for any pre-schooler. This model from iconic scooter brand Micro Scooter is designed for two- to five-year-olds, and we think it makes the ultimate gift for a third birthday.

The three-wheel design is perfect for helping kids get the hang of balancing and is packed with child-friendly touches to make it as easy to master as possible. The handlebars are chunky yet perfectly sized for small hands to easily grab onto, and the footplate is emblazoned with an extra-grippy version of the brand’s logo, which really helped our tester get a good footing as they grew in confidence.

Our three-year-old had never used a scooter before, but we were amazed at how quickly they managed to get the hang of the “lean-to-steer” mini micro scooter. Even working out how to step on the back fender to brake seemed to come easily, which is testament to how intuitive this scooter has been designed for little ones. It’s made dog walks a lot more fun for everyone, and we’re grateful it’s so lightweight for when our three-year-old has had enough and we end up carrying it home again.

Assembly couldn’t have been easier – all we had to do was lock the handlebar into place. We also liked how it was height adjustable, meaning we were able to get the perfect fit for our tester, while still having plenty of room to grow.

What makes this scooter stand out from all the others is its amazing eco-credentials. The deck is made from discarded fishing nets recovered from the ocean, and all the parts are replaceable, meaning this is a scooter designed to be passed down the family.

Buy now £82.95, Micro-scooters.co.uk

Great Little Trading Co. first class toy post office

Best: Wooden toy

Rating: 9.5/10

The whole family fell in love with this timeless wooden toy. Although it takes a little bit of time to assemble (it’s a one-person job to slot the pieces together and screw them in), it is absolutely worth it for the finished result – a gorgeous, excellent-quality post office, perfect for hours of fun role play.

We were amazed at how well this toy held our three-year-old’s attention and how much joy it brought them. Everything’s included for an afternoon of great imaginative play, from the wooden parcels to weigh on the working scales, to the Velcro stamps to stick on the postcards before popping them into the post box.

Our little tester loved posting the letters and retrieving them out again, and would happily play independently, chatting away to themselves. But we felt this toy really came into its own when they had someone to play alongside them. To be honest, we didn’t need to be asked twice, as this is exactly the kind of toy we dreamed of owning when we were kids. Finally living the dream 30 years later!

Buy now £70.00, Gltc.co.uk

Melissa & Doug super smile dentist kit play set

Best: For pretend play

Rating: 9/10

Offering something a little different to the typical toy doctor’s kit, this bumper dentist play set is worth its weight in gold simply by making our three-year-old actually want to brush their teeth.

You get a lot of toy for your money here, with pretty much every single dentist-related tool you can imagine included in the box. Our child was immediately drawn to the giant set of teeth and quickly got to work  giving them a brush with the toothbrush included.

There’s lots to discover, from the slightly wobbly back teeth (they don’t come all the way out, so you don’t have to worry about losing them) to the dental floss and clip-on braces.

By far the highlight for our tester was the working drill and polisher – you clip the head onto the base, pull the string at the bottom and it starts to vibrate. Easy enough for little ones to manage and, predictably, hilarious for a pre-schooler.

Buy now £28.99, Smythstoys.com

Amazon fire HD 10 kids

Best: For long-lasting appeal

Rating: 9.5/10

If you’re looking for a child-friendly tablet (to stop the kids from pinching yours), you really can’t beat this high-spec offering. Aimed at three- to seven-year-olds, it certainly ticks all the boxes. For a start, there’s the kid-proof case – complete with a built-in stand and carry handle – which comes in a choice of three bright colours. We opted for the aquamarine, and it was an instant hit with our three-year-old.

We were able to set up the tablet in minutes, linking it to our Amazon account and then personalising all the parental controls to suit our little tester. Safety is huge here, and it couldn’t have been easier to make sure the content our pre-schooler could access was age appropriate.

The Fire HD 10 has a large 10in screen – big enough for two children to watch at the same time without too much squabbling – and our little one loved exploring the different videos, games, books and music that comes automatically loaded. Cocomelon, Peppa Pig, Blippi… it’s a real pre-schooler’s paradise!

We liked that you can also link to external apps, such as Netflix and iPlayer, while our tester was hugely impressed by the built-in front and rear camera – a pre-schooler’s selfies are pure joy.

Whether it’s for learning (there’s a huge choice of educational apps available), listening to audio books or a bit of quiet time watching Hey Duggee!, this is a gift that will be used and treasured for years.

Buy now £199.99, Amazon.co.uk

POP giant zebra

Best: For animal lovers

Rating: 9/10

Quite often the simplest toys are the most effective, as this super-sized zebra goes to show. Essentially a toy animal blown up to mega proportions (well, 25.5cm high is pretty mega when you’re only 3ft tall), this non-toxic, BPA-free figure took on hero status with our little tester.

Part of POP’s giant animal collection, it really sparked our three-year-old’s imagination and was a toy they reached for again and again, whether it was for galloping over toy cars or having a bath in the paddling pool.

This really is a crowd-pleaser and feels like a safe bet when buying gifts for children you may not know so well, like your child’s nursery buddies. Realistically modelled and guaranteed to fire up genuine curiosity about the natural world, what’s not to love?

Buy now £20.00, We-are-pop.co.uk

Stickle Bricks fun tub

Best: Construction toy

Rating: 8.5/10

Building bricks have been popular with toddlers and pre-schoolers since the late Sixties. What makes these bricks different to your standard blocks, is that they’re covered in tiny plastic “fingers”, which children can use to stick different shapes together easily.

This bumper box features rectangles, triangles, circles and more, in bright child-friendly colours, leaving plenty of freedom for little kids to get creative. Our three-year-old was a big fan of how the Stickle Bricks felt in their hands (they really are very tactile) and it was refreshing to see how simply they slotted together, so our tester could work independently without getting frustrated.

The addition of the two Stickle Brick heads, the axles and wheels, all opened up the creative possibilities – although perhaps a head on wheels, as we were often presented with, wasn’t quite what the manufacturer had in mind.

For just over £20, we think this a worthy addition to any budding builder’s toy box.

Buy now £22.00, Elc.co.uk

Duplo doctor visit set

Best: For imaginative play

Rating: 9/10

While Lego is still a little way off, Duplo is ideal for three-year-olds developing their fine motor skills. Chunky, easy to handle and click together, these building blocks are designed with toddlers and pre-schoolers in mind.

This fun set is themed around a visit to the doctor’s and includes the blocks you need to make the clinic, as well as mini figures of a doctor, child, parent and teddy bear, plus accessories such as chairs and a doctor’s bag. There’s a simple step-by-step guide on how to build the clinic included, which we went through slowly with our tester. And, while they definitely needed help in places, they enjoyed finding the blocks and pushing them into place, with a real sense of achievement.

In all honesty, they were just as happy to build their own unique creations, but it was the inclusion of the little figures that really boosted the play appeal. Our little one had a great time coming up with all sorts of weird and wonderful stories based around a visit to the doctor’s. We think it’s great value for money and a toy that will provide plenty of enjoyment as they grow.

Buy now £14.99, Johnlewis.com

Moon Picnic my weather station

Best: Educational gift

Rating: 9/10

Get your children excited about the weather with this beautiful interactive weather station from super-stylish Californian toy brand, Moon Picnic. Made from sustainably sourced solid-beech wood, and decorated with non-toxic paint, it’s a sight to behold – this is one toy you’d be more than happy to have out on display.

There’s lots to get involved with here, including moving the arrow on the weather meter, turning the wind and humidity dials, sliding the thermometer and adding one of the wooden weather symbols to the board to show if it’s sunny, thundery, cloudy or rainy. Our three-year-old was fascinated by it all and loved creating their own weather report with us each morning before breakfast.

It’s a great way to open up chats about the weather, science and nature with young children without it feeling boring or complicated. Our budding weather forecaster loved it, and we can see it holding its appeal for many years to come.

Buy now £48.00, Sorenshouse.co.uk

Classic World wooden rocket ship

Best: For siblings

Rating: 8.5/10

There’s so much for busy hands to get stuck into with this giant wooden rocket ship toy. The set comes with an easy-to-hold wooden screwdriver, which you can use to screw/unscrew the large wooden screws into the rocket ship’s panels. Also included are two wooden astronauts, a moon buggy, ramp and various accessories like a flag and telescope, perfect for creating some out-of-this-world imaginary play.

Inside the ship are 12 different rooms – themed to look like an astronaut’s bedroom, kitchen, control room and more, with fun little touches like a pull-down bed and a pull-down control console.

It’s been designed for ages three and up, and while our three-year-old could manage the screws with a little help, they were more interested in exploring the rocket and playing with the figures. No problem, as their older sibling (five) took on the job of construction, and it was great to see them play alongside each other so happily. In fact, the larger size means there’s plenty of room for two children to play at the same time.

We think this toy really delivers long-lasting play appeal even for older children, making it well worth the money. We love the cute, retro look and the fact it’s made from wood, too.

Buy now £99.95, Hippychick.com

The verdict: Gifts for three-year-olds

The Toniebox is a gift that will delight any pre-schooler and one that will be loved for many years to come. Whether you use it for chilled-out story time, dancing or learning, it’s a great addition to any child’s bedroom. If you’re looking for a classic wooden toy to inspire plenty of pretend play, you can’t beat the Great Little Trading Company’s first class post office.

Voucher codes

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