Last Updated: September 26, 2022
Three year olds are such a wonderful age to experience. They have so many new skills to practice and still have the uninhibited enthusiasm of older toddlers. Three year olds are keen observers, learning to problem solve and analyze things. The best open ended toys for 3 year olds will help them observe and analyze their world, with a healthy dose of storytelling and practical life thrown in!
We want toys that engage their sense of story, creativity, engineering, comparing and contrasting, and collaborative play. All while hoping they still want to use the items in a year! So here are our favorite open ended toys for the 36-48 month range of preschooler.
What are Open-Ended Toys? Open ended simply means that it has more than one use – which is of course, open to interpretation. Yes, kids are great at reinventing toys and making anything into an open-ended toy. However, some toys are just more multipurpose than others. But “closed” ended toys are not “bad”! What is an example of an open ended toy vs a “closed” ended toy. A puzzle is a good example of a “closed” ended toy. It’s great for problem solving and spacial skills. But you do need to get progressively more challenging new puzzles as time goes on – so it’s not usually an example of open-ended toys that grow with your kids. But puzzles are still great toys! Vs Magna-Tiles are an example of an open-ended toy. They can be used in many different ways for many years.
And as with my other toys lists – the toys listed here are typically when children might enjoy using them most and beyond. For example, you’ll find Magna-Tiles on this list. Can two year olds enjoy magnetic tiles? Of course, but we found age three to be much higher interest and ability. So here are our favorite open-ended toys for three year olds.
14 Best Open Ended Toys for 3 year olds
What toys do three year olds play with? Our favorite open-ended toys for three year olds are all about engineering, creativity, and problem solving. These toys will grow with your preschooler and still be useful in the years to come.
While Magna-Tiles can be used early than age three, 3 years old seems to be the tipping point for really digging magnetic tiles for most kids. As younger toddlers they can certainly connect the magnets and begin to understand how to build. But around three, they’re off and running with their engineering minds – building structures, and imaginative play. If they can think it, they can build it. And it seems to be just the right balance of satisfying work and challenge. It’s really fun to watch three year olds build and create with magnetic tiles! There are a few different magnetic tiles to choose from. Our top picks are Picasso Tiles and Magna-Tiles.
2. Balance board
Balance boards are a great open-ended toy for preschoolers. There are many different brands and options now, so check out my full round up of the best balance boards for toddlers and preschoolers. I compared the best boards from wobbel, kinderfeet, waldorf and some budget options. Whatever you choose, balance boards and rockers are great for balance and creative play. And so nice for indoor active play during long winters! A great Montessori style toy.
3. Kinetic sand
If Playdoh is king for two year olds, around age three Kinetic sand takes the throne! But a word of warning, although kinetic sand is amazing open-ended sensory play, it’s also super messy and if it gets on wood floors creates a super slick surface. But for us around age three it was worth the cleanup at our IKEA Flisat table bins. Playing with kinetic sand held our preschoolers attention for about an hour, when almost nothing else would that amount of time. By around four years old there were many other toys and activities that would hold his attention for long spans of time. And of course all children are different! So your mileage my vary. You could also use this outside. Kinetic Sand 3lb or mini packs (Amazon $4-13)
4. Duplos & Duplo marble run
Duplos top our open-ended toys for two year olds list as well. And around age three, Duplo play continues to advance. At this point, preschoolers enjoy building more elaborate structures, pretend play, and can really do most of their building without help. Larger sets like the town or construction sets are great at this age as well. To up the ante for Duplos, a really fun set around age three or four is a Duplo marble run. They will need help to follow the more elaborate instructions, but after it’s set up, most three year olds really enjoy the challenge of modifying and learning how it works. We prefer this style of marble run for three year olds as it’s easier for them to modify and not accidentally ruin the entire thing by bumping it, like some of the wood ones. Duplo Marble Run (Amazon $33)
5. Art supplies
Three year olds are suddenly much more advanced in their ability to use new art supplies. Things like threading, art kits, spirograph jr and other crafts are really fun for preschoolers. Koala Crates are another great way get interesting art supplies and projects for your preschooler. Check out my Koala Crate review here. Spirograph Jr Amazon $20
6. Buildable vehicle projects
Vehicles make just about all our open-ended toy lists, even for one year olds. But by age three, vehicle play is a bit more sophisticated. Most three year olds are still really into vehicles and transporting as a part of open-ended play. So a fun project are building kit vehicles. Now this isn’t a DIY project for a three year old. It will require your help, but depending on your kiddo, it can be a really fun project and then they have a toy to play with after! The Stanley Jr kits can be found at many craft stores and online. We have done the crane truck, catapult truck and cement mixer. It’s also a fun painting project after it’s built. Stanley Jr Cement Mixer Building Kit (Amazon $25)
7. Pretend play accessories
At this stage, most families already have some pretend play dress up costumes and accessories. So finding creative open-ended play upgrades are a fun addition around age three when they’re really observing life around them and incorporating new emotions and practical life in their story telling. Things like a shopping cart, more realistic costumes, or a pretend cash register to be used for imaginative play, play kitchen etc. I love that the IKEA cash register toy has a working calculator on top. Great for preschoolers as they start getting excited about being able to identify numbers. IKEA Cash Register Toy with Calculator (IKEA, $18)
8. Stepping stones and balance beams
While many active play type toys are not really in the “open-ended” category. Stepping stones and balance beam type toys are so great for preschoolers. Yes, they will use them to create an obstacle course or for balancing. But you’ll also find that they use them in all kinds of pretend play! One day, they’re building mountains, another day it’s a tower, or a log or bridge for their vehicles or animals to cross over. There are a lot of different options now for stepping stones. National Geographic Stepping Stones (Amazon $50+)
9. Fat Brain Squigz
Fat Brain makes some really fun open-ended toys for kids. One of their creative toys for the preschool age range, are Squigz. They are flexible silicone pieces of different shapes and colors that hook together, hook onto other surfaces and can be used a lot of different ways and places (windows, fridge etc). Fat Brain Squigz Amazon $26+
10. Treehouse building set
I don’t know what it is about three year olds and their desire for all things tree house. Whether it’s a real life treehouse in their backyard (goals right?!) or a pretend treehouse for imaginative play. Most of the three year olds in my life, have gone through a tree house stage. So it’s fun to get something tree house related that is future forward for play. We’ve found items like LEGO Friends treehouse that is for younger ages, Duplo, Playmobile or Schleich treehouse to all be ways to incorporate a treehouse into your toy rotation that isn’t going to just be plastic junk that no one is using in a year.
11. Plus-Plus blocks
Plus plus blocks are interlocking building blocks for unlimited open-ended play. They’re a really neat toy and have a very different feel than other types of building blocks. It’s a very clever design for creative play. They also have baseplates that you can build on. The big plus plus blocks are for ages 1-6. There are also Plus Plus minis for older kids. Plus Plus Big Blocks Amazon $10-30+
12. Wooden stacking “stones”
There are many different versions of stacking stones for kids. These wooden style ones are great and budget-friendly for open-ended play. They can be used in so many ways. Counting, a “parts kit”, as play money, boulders for construction, and even a stacking pattern play game. Even older kids and adults enjoy these for a zen-like stacking activity! Put them on your coffee table and see what happens. ;) Wooden Balancing Stones (Amazon $15+)
13. Puzzling pattern play and collaborative games
While we don’t typically think of puzzles as open-ended toys, around age three, preschoolers start to be more interested in patterns and a different type of puzzling with new skills of matching and visualizing with pattern play. Magnetic “paper doll” sets like Petit Collage animal band, robot, or little travelers. Petite Collage Animal Band (Amazon $15). And pattern puzzles, like the hexagon shape puzzle, can be used for ages three to adult! Wooden Hexagon Puzzle Brain Teaser (Amazon $8)
14. Helper tools
While two year olds are eager to help and love tools too, around three they can actually be more useful with these items. So real tools like watering cans, rakes, wheelbarrow, push broom, spray mop, measuring tape etc are super fun at this age.
Best Open Ended Toys for 3 year olds
In summary, here are our favorite toys for the 3 year old preschooler stage.
- Balance board
- Kinetic sand
- Duplos and Duplo marble run
- Art supplies – spirograph jr, threading, art kits
- Buildable vehicle toys
- Pretend play accessories – cash register etc.
- Stepping stones and balance beam
- Treehouse building set
- Plus-plus blocks
- Wooden stacking “stones”
- Puzzling pattern play & collaborative games
- Helping tools – wheelbarrow, watering can etc.
Happy shopping and I hope this has given you a few new ideas for toys that will grow with your child for years of open-ended play!