Last Updated: January 20, 2022
As kids reach age three and four, their toy interests really start to change from the toddler and two year old stage. We noticed a big shift around his third birthday, in not just what our preschooler was playing with, but how! So here are some toys and gifts that are on our little guys list. These are the best toys and gifts our four year old has been enjoying, a couple things we are looking to buy, and a few things that I know he would love! So whether you’re looking for Christmas gifts or a birthday gift, here are 40 ideas – freshly updated for Christmas 2021.
Three year old gift ideas are a little trickier than two was, as they’re becoming more themselves. Of course, some toys are universal, but at age three they really start to come into their own in terms of interests. We’re still firmly rooted in the “things that go” category, building, creating, and music. I’m breaking this list down into two sections:
Note: this list is not just for boys, it’s really gifts for 3 year old boys and girls, in general, but since I have a boy, this is the stuff I know he’s interested in right now!
Toys for 3 & 4 Year Olds:
First, up real toys! Active toys, building toys, and things that go. Our four year old loves anything vehicle, construction, and things that go in general (cars, balls, bikes, ramps etc). So anything that combines any of those elements tops our gift list.
Magna Tiles Metropolis Set: 110 pieces
Magna-Tiles are one of the top played with toys in our house. Starting around almost three years old, the interest level in magnetic tiles was sky high! We had played with Magnatile sets for years with friends and family. There’s just something about the clear magnetic tiles that are ridiculously fun for the whole family. We had a few Tegu blocks already, but after deciding between Magna-Tiles vs PicassoTiles, these quickly became a household favorite! (Amazon $110 or $50 for 28-piece Magna Tiles House set)
LEGO Friends or LEGO City Set
We have been loving Duplos since around 18 months. And we have a few different small Duplo play sets as gifts and hand-me-downs from friends. As for open ended play, Duplo sets are still where it’s at for three and four year olds. However, they can finally start to be interested in some of the younger LEGO sets. Like the ages 4+ sets like the LEGO Friends editions. They just need help to assemble, but it’s great practice and hand skills for them to start tinkering with smaller LEGO pieces. LEGO Friends Puppy Playground, LEGO City Ice Cream Truck, Monster Truck, or Street Sweeper (Amazon $9+). There’s also the IKEA Bygglek LEGO box sets for a beginner set.
IKEA Train Add-ons
If you have a child who likes trains, IKEA sets are a great budget option, as well as an occasional BRIO upgrade added in. For his second birthday, we got our kiddo the IKEA battery operated train to upgrade his train obsession. Seriously the best $8 gift I’ve ever found and what a great stocking stuffer idea! At some point they don’t really need anything else train related if they have a ton of track. However, sometimes a new add-on piece can re-spark interest in train building. The $7 LILLABO three piece train set (actually 9 pieces to make three trains in different configurations) and the LILLABO turntable ($5) are good examples of this. (IKEA, from $7).
Stanley Jr Cement Mixer Building Kit
I first found one of these Stanley Jr kits at a craft store. We did the crane set last winter (at 2.5 years old), and then the catapult truck next. I also bought the cement mixer kit, and it’s another of those items I have waiting for a proverbial rainy day. Note: these kits say for 5+, they definitely require a grown-up. But depending on your kids interest, it ‘s a really fun project to get them into building and they have a toy to play with after. (Amazon $25)
Steel Tonka Dump Truck
We had this on our two year old gift list, and he almost got it for Christmas last year, but then he received a three pack of smaller trucks. So we held off on getting this big steel dump truck. At 3 and 4, he’s still very into trucks and would still love this for years to come for backyard play. (Target $25)
Working Garbage Truck
This Matchbox large recycling truck is the perfect gift for a kiddo that loves trucks – especially trash trucks! It’s a large size and has a working lift and dump feature. Similar to the Bruder trucks style, but more affordable. (Amazon $35)
Parking Garage Set
There are a ton of parking garage style toys to choose from for the preschooler age range. And I knew my son would flip over any of these parking garage sets. But I really wanted to narrow it down to one that didn’t take up a ton of space and that would last him a while to use with other things. So the BRIO Train Railway Parking Garage set is great for car and train play. (Amazon $65)
Alternates: Almost anything vehicle-related are great toys for 3 year old boys. Green Toys parking garage (Amazon $38) probably would have been great for slightly younger age. Melissa & Doug Service station (Amazon $26), Top Bright 3 level garage ramp with elevator (Amazon $28), Hot Wheels stunt garage (Target $20) or Matchbox Downtown Demolition (Amazon $16).
Magnetic Dress Up or Play Set
There are a few different options in this category. I like the idea of getting one of the dress up doll ones kind of like paper dolls but magnetic that come in a little tin or this city one. Petit Collage animal band, robot, or little travelers and Melissa and Doug. Our three year old never went through much of a doll phase, but loves his stuffed animals. So an animal music themed magnetic set really caught his attention and was great as an in-flight distraction. I know he would love the transportation magnetic (Amazon $16) one from Melissa and Doug as well, but I felt like this was an area to branch out some interests! (Amazon $15)
This marble run that uses Duplo pieces is so great for around 3 to 4 years old! It’s easier than a wooden style marble run because they can build and do things themselves. They’ll still need help following the elaborate building directions, but they’re old enough to help and once it’s set up have lots of fun modifying it and see how things work. (Amazon $33). Other smaller add-on Duplo sets are also great for this age…. Construction, tow truck, plane, and bunkbed one (Amazon, from $10)
And speaking of Duplos and Legos, this IKEA hack DIY table total cost is about $65 and you’ll have a desk space for them to color or do art at, as well.
Remote control toddler race car
This remote control race car is a great intro to RC cars. The two buttons are simple enough that a three year old can begin to understand how what they’re pressing is directing the car. (Amazon $15)
Car transporter / carriers
We have an old steel car carrier from past generations, but the Melissa and Doug and Green Toys ones looks great as well. Around age three, they really get into some pretend play with vehicles and enjoy transporting and creating play scenarios, so a car transporter is a fun addition. (Amazon $13+)
Take apart race car with drill
This take apart race car with a drill is pretty fun at around 2.5 or 3 years old. (Amazon $18)
While definitely still in the “toy” category, a playset is a really fun addition for pretend play. Around age 3 and 4 most kiddos will start getting into story telling and creating play scenarios. Our child loves to do this with vehicles, small animal figures, and Duplo people. So both of these play sets are great options to cultivate that creativity! (Amazon $68+)
Flexible Roads Set
The waytoplay roads are a unique flexible and durable rubber road set that you can connect in different configurations. We received a set of these as a gift around age two. And while he of course played with it for the first day since it was new, after that, the roads sat unused for almost a year. Then around age three, he suddenly was interested in them and wanted to use them in his play with Hot Wheels cars etc. These are really fun, the only consideration is that with a smaller set, they’re usually going to want more road tracks! The 16 piece set is $57. (Amazon $43+)
Cardboard Box & Your Time/Attention
While this gift idea seems a bit of a joke, one of our kids favorite “toys” is when I make him a cardboard road and town a few times a year, to play with trains or cars. So whether you’re a grandparent, auntie/uncle, or parent this can be an awesome gift – the gift of play time, some creativity and a giant cardboard box. A couple dollars spent on a couple Matchbox cars or markers wouldn’t hurt either. ;) Pro-tip: Not feeling very creative? Do a quick search of road rugs and just draw a similar pattern! You can of course buy a road rug as well. However, your child may or may not play with it. We were gifted an adorable one, but it gets zero use. Cardboard box for the win!
Woom 2 Pedal Bike
Our son started on the Strider balance bike around two years old. We’d had it since 18 months, but he wasn’t interested in it until about his 2nd birthday! In the next year (age 2) he went from snail pace to speed racer. So next up was a pedal bike. After comparing all of the pedal bikes (no really, it was a real rabbit hole, lol), we settled on the Woom 2 (update: here’s our Woom review!). The Woom bikes are pretty spendy, but they have great resell value and are a good option for smaller toddlers. (Woom Bikes, $359). If he wasn’t already a balance bike pro I would get him the Strider 14x! (Amazon $150). Next up, a bike basket, bell, and lights!
Stepping Stones or Balance Beam
I wrote about these in my recent post about active toys for indoor play. I snagged these $20 stepping stones at Target, and they’re a great size for toddlers and preschoolers. I’m really happy with them so far as an alternative to the Gonge stones (Amazon $80+) for both price and size, for smaller living space storage. (Target $20)
Wooden Balance Board
Age 3 and 4 is a great age for a wooden balance board. We got the plastic Fat Brains Teeter Popper around age 2. It was both affordable and not finger crushing for a young toddler age. But by age 3 or 4 the wooden Kinderfeets Kinderboard is one of the best balance boards for toddlers and young kids and would be a great addition to any play space! (Amazon $89)
Side Winder Curved 5′ Slide or Indoor Climbing Tower
This is another one of those gifts where you’re like is this a gift for me or my child? Hmm… I’d been wanting to add a slide to our back deck for awhile. And this curved slide was perfect! (Wayfair, $190). There are also some great looking wooden indoor slides, but they’re a bit pricier.
We also got this Eezy Peezy climber toy during COVID times, and it’s a great addition to backyard play. And if you have the space indoors, it’s would be great for the long winter months, like we have here in the rainy Pacific Northwest. We didn’t have space for it in our house so it’s an outdoor climber! (Walmart $157)
Micro Mini Deluxe Scooter
The Mirco Mini Deluxe Scooters with 3 wheels are great for ages 2-5 (Amazon $90)
Little Tikes basketball and T-ball set
Crocodile Creek Playground Balls or soccer ball
The Crocodile Creek brand makes great 5″ and 7″ playground balls. (Amazon $10+) Or a smaller soccer ball at this age is also great for kicking around.
Burton Riglet toddler snowboard
Even if you’re not a family that is super into snow sports, this toddler snowboard with a pull cord is great for balance and indoor fun or even on grass. (Burton $105)
Non-Toys: Art, Books, Music, Pretend Play, & Puzzles for 3-4 Year Olds
Next up, “not toy” toys. This category can be tricky! My toy philosophy is that Play is Learning. So self-proclaimed “educational toys” aren’t really our style. My child will learn more about life and physics and creativity using a building blocks set of some kind way more than pressing buttons on a light up battery-operated kids “laptop” educational toy or app. But yes, he’d also enjoy pressing buttons for like 30 min if he had one (stepping down off my soap box).
So in the “non-toy” category I would put books, music, art supplies, puzzles, pretend play, and practical life learning. Still play, it’s just a different category of toy, in my opinion, thus the quotation marks. Kind of like the Montessori-ish approach to toys. Here are our ideas…
IKEA Play cash Register
I have had this toy on my “wishlist” since his first birthday. I love that it has a working calculator on top. And is great for imaginative and pretend play. (IKEA, $18)
Puzzles: 24-48 pieces
We went through quite a puzzling stage around age two. And then didn’t get any new puzzles for a year. Around age three, he needed more challenge in his puzzles. The next puzzle stage for him was the 48 piece ones, like the Melissa & Doug space or horse ones. I’ve also found for most kids that the topic of the puzzle has to be really interesting to them. Puzzles with vehicles – he’ll go to town on. So maybe the space puzzle and I know he would go crazy for this city urban puzzle. It’s 100 pieces so probably the next step up from where he’s at, but the theme would probably motivate him more than the 48 piece ones I’ve found so far. Layered and 3D type puzzles are also interesting at this age. (Top Bright 48 piece Construction Amazon $12; Transportation 100-piece Amazon $16, Melissa & Doug Space 48-piece Amazon $10)
Music Making – Keyboard
Our three year old is really into music so far in life. He has a ukulele, a REMO hand drum, and some miscellaneous musical stuff. I’ve been thinking this kids keyboard might be a nice step up from his 8-key baby piano. Amazon $20
IKEA Doll house
I love this IKEA Flisat doll house for it’s simplicity and that it can also be a wall shelf as they get older. It’s also nice to see a more unisex doll house toy. IKEA also sells a few little sets of doll furniture. Although in our current phase, I’m guess he’d just move the people out of the house and use it as a car garage. Note: also pictured above is the LUSTIGT wall shelf with ladders and it’s only $8.
Usborne Wipe-Clean Books
He’s finally hitting the age that he would be interested in these wipe clean activity books. Both the space and dinosaur themes look fun for 3 or 4 year olds. (Amazon $10)
Art, Books, & Music Items We Have & Love for Ages 2 -4:
The following items have gotten a lot of use since age 2 and we’re still using as he has just turned 4 this fall!
Sensory bin fine motor tools (Amazon, $8)
This little set from Learning Resources comes as a 4 pack, and also makes great stocking stuffers!
Warning: This stuff is super clingy and gets on everything and makes wood floors super slick. It was worth the cleanup. We used it at our IKEA Flisat table (yes the IKEA hack LEGO table one I mentioned). And it was worth the cleanup around 2.5-3 because it held his attention for like an hour and gave me a break. At 4, more things hold his attention like that, so we’ve moved the kinetic sand outside. YMMV 3lbs Amazon $13 or $4 each as mini pack)
Simple Playdoh and set, few accessories needed (Amazon $17 or mini packs less)
Percussion musical instruments
Books for 3-4 Year Olds
Our preschooler loves any art supplies – dot stickers, any stickers really, markers, beads, fuzzy sticks, any craft item from the Kid Made Modern line or Target’s Mondo Lllama line. (Target, $2+)
And there you have it! My epic idea list of gifts for 3 year old boys (and girls!). I hope this gives you some ideas for Christmas gifts or birthday gifts. Also check out our Leo the Truck themed birthday party and scavenger hunt.
Do you have any gift ideas for 3 and 4 year olds?
Originally published September 2020, updated for 2021.