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Top Toys for Three-Year-Olds

Once age three arrives, you may find your little one with more of everything: more energy, more ego and a more colorful imagination. Lean on these toys to help make the most of a three-year-old’s curiosity and support his/her development.

Pretend Toys: Developing a Healthy Ego

During their “three’s”, children are truly beginning to move into a rich imaginative world. Pretend toys and props are essential for supporting make-believe play and their developmental needs at this age. First up, independence. You’ve probably noticed that your little one is becoming a more egocentric thinker, like using “mine”, “my” and “I” more often in their vocabulary. As they begin to see themselves as individuals, children also begin to consider the perspectives of other people (and also animals). Through pretend play, children can make sense of the world around them by exploring and processing what they experience in a safe, controlled way. This is why you’ll often see groups of three-year-old children playing “family” or “neighborhood” — they’re curious about groups and roles. Dramatic play offers a profound opportunity for toddlers to act out different roles, such as their teacher, a chef, a villain or a hero. As the try on a different role, they explore what it means to see another’s view, which helps develop the real-life skill of empathy.



Find a pretend friend. 

Manipulatives: Say what?!

Traditionally, a “manipulative” is a math and counting tool, but the manipulatives that we choose for Rose & Rex serve multiple purposes. Our Tanabata Star Cookies, for example, can teach counting, then turn into a kitchen prop to spark dramatic play. Manipulatives help lay the foundation for basic mathematic principles. With a pile of manipulatives in front of them, children are invited to organize, group, pattern, count, combine, line up, build, stack and balance (phew, a mouthful). As they engage, children practice their fine motor skills, which are rapidly developing at this age and lead to one of their most essential developmental to-dos: learning how to write. Manipulatives also help three-year-olds learn one-to-one correspondence, such as understanding that if there are four seats at a table, four forks are needed. They provide a nice alternative to counting on your fingers and toes.

Building Blocks

Blocks are a winner at three-years-old. Threes are interested in beginning to explore block properties: shape, color, size. Their discovery process often includes lining up their blocks, stacking them, counting or grouping them and creating small structures. Building helps them explore basic math and science concepts, such as symmetry, balance, height, length and quantity. In addition to the cognitive value, blocks deliver an opportunity for a three-year-old to exercise his or her autonomy—of the utmost importance at this age! Taking ownership over their own creative vision and executing it can bring a feeling of accomplishment that’s truly valuable at this age.

And don’t overlook the opportunity for dramatic play! As children build castles, houses and various structures, they will often spontaneously engage in role-playing that will help foster their imaginative thinking.


Art Materials for All Five Senses

Three-year-olds are right on the brink of their artistic exploration, so put a palette in front of them! Help lay a creative foundation with art materials that engage their senses. Projects that involve touch (finger paint), sight (lots of different colors), smells (try our all-natural play dough) and even taste (baking) encourage new discoveries and self-expression. One of the most exciting discoveries for three-year-olds is what happens when paint colors mix with water and other colors, which introduces scientific principles, such as cause and effect. We love providing large-scale canvases at this age to help develop their gross motor skills along with their creativity. Our giant coloring posters, fold-away easel and finger paints get your energetic three-year-old standing, moving and working their whole body.

About the Author

Allison Klein is the founder of Rose & Rex. She received a B.A. in Anthropology with minors in Psychology and Writing from Washington University in St. Louis, and a dual M.S.ED degree in Early Childhood and Childhood Education from Bank Street College of Education. While in graduate school, Allison studied the importance of imaginative play on early childhood development, and later applied this research in pre-kindergarten classrooms where she worked. As she watched her students grow and transform through play, Allison knew she wanted to start a broad conversation about the importance of play for children in today’s results-driven culture.

Now a play-based tutor, when Allison is not working with children or playing with blocks, she loves to explore Central Park, drink matcha tea and practice pilates. A native New Yorker, Allison lives on the Upper East Side and appreciates the abundance of experiential learning opportunities that exist on every block.

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