At the age of three, your child’s favorite play activities almost all involve pretending: immersing herself in a delightful fantasy world. Don’t worry, she knows it isn’t real even if she insists that it is (in one study, 40% of children interviewed about their imaginary friends spontaneously told the researcher that their imaginary friend was just pretend); it’s all part of the game.
Imaginative role-play lets kids rehearse real-life situations, explore the roles that are modeled for them, express their feelings, enjoy a temporary sense of power (by pretending to be a mommy, a princess, or a police officer), improve their language skills, and learn empathy. Providing kids with everything from dollhouses and action figures to big empty cardboard boxes will give them plenty of room to explore, and this list of excellent birthday gifts for creative three-year-olds gives them plenty to work with!
Dress-up and role play
Toys that facilitate creative role-play can be as immersive as full costumes or as simple as the right prop. For instance, a child who wants to pretend to be a mommy (or daddy) just needs a doll and some basic props: the Corolle Mon Bebe Classique Graceful Pink baby doll is an even better gift paired with a matching baby carrier! Choose from the pinkalicious Corolle doll carrier or the more unisex Ergo Doll Carrier, which looks just like yours. (Looking for a gift for a kid with a new younger sibling on the way, instead of a birthday present? This is also a great pick!)
As for full-fledged costumes, we’ve got tons of great options, with some real crowdpleasers from Melissa & Doug: right now, they’re on sale (25% off through 1/31/16), so if you have a kid who you know is going to want to dress up as a Ninja, a Pilot, a Rock Star, or the ever-popular Chef, you might want to grab these costumes now while you can still save!
Dollhouses and other play environments
Looking for a super-deluxe birthday gift? At age 3, kids are ready for their first play kitchens, pretend tool benches, and play tents and play houses. (If you’re not buying this as a birthday present for your own child, Mom and Dad if there’s room first, of course.) The Schylling Combo Tent & Tunnel Set is a more open-ended variation on the same theme: it can double as any kind of fort or castle, and the crawl-through tunnel adds a novel sensory aspect to the experience.
For a smaller but no less thrilling gift, dollhouses and other similar playsets also make great environments for creative play. You can abstract with the unique modular HaPe Geometrics House, or detailed with something like the Calico Critters Secret Island Playhouse. (Either house makes a great habitat for Calico Critters! And I am personally obsessed at the moment with the adorable Calico Critters Rabbit Grandparents.)
Action figures and animals
Speaking of Calico Critters… they’re far from the only animal pals that make great companions for a creative kid! Schleich makes hundreds upon hundreds of realistic animals and fantasy figures too – you’ll find everything from lions to dinosaurs to fairies in their collection, along with guys riding dragons and even more immersive playsets with superheroes like Batman.
(Oh and by the way: action figures and dolls are the same thing. The phrase “action figure” was coined to sell G.I. Joe dolls. Who knew?)
If you really want to kick up your gift a notch, the Schleich Watering Hole comes with all manner of flora and fauna, creating a detailed environment for playtime. (Listen to this kid gasp when her Watering Hole playset is unveiled!) Or, you could let kids build their own pretend-play world with the Sands Alive! Glow Volcano World, which encourages kids to use glowing non-toxic play sand to build prehistoric landscapes populated by dinosaurs and any other toys kids want to throw into the mix.
Finally: trains, planes, and automobiles are all surefire birthday gifts for a busy preschooler, who will love zooming toy cars and toy trucks around the playroom. This is the age at which you may find your child obsessed with Thomas the Tank Engine, or with trains in general – most Boston-area kids will absolutely lose their minds when you give them their own authentic MBTA trains from Wardmaps, which are compatible with Thomas & Friends Wooden Railway, Melissa & Doug, and Brio trains and tracks.
The Dino Construction Company Rocko the Styracosaurus Dump Truck playset adds another play element with a tough little action figure. Cool!
Age 3 is basically the sweet spot of our toy selection, so really, the only problem you’ll have shopping for a third birthday is narrowing down all of your great options: there are over 400 toys for three-year-olds in our Shop By Age section. So if you don’t see the birthday present that you think will make their heart sing – ask us! If there’s anything our Toy Whizzes love, it’s matching up the right kid with the right toy. We could talk about toys all day long, and on our best days in every Magic Beans store, we do!