I’m a toy maniac! I love toys! And if you are just a little bit like me, you’re probably a dad (or mom) who’s always looking out for great toys for his or her child. I certainly am!
At the time I am writing this blog post it is early Spring 2018, and our son Benni is about to turn three years old in just a couple of weeks from now, and I am already excited and looking forward to his birthday (and buying new toys for him (and me 🙂 ), obviously). With that being said I want to give you the top 10 toys for 3 year olds that I would recommend any Mom and Dad getting for their kids.
Why I chose exactly THESE toys?
Let’s be clear about one thing: There are thousands of great toys out there, and a top 10 list can only cover so much. The toys I selected below are either toys that we already own and that Benni and I LOVE, or they are toys I am planning to get for me and my son as soon as possible. Either way: They are toys I am super excited about and I want to share with you why. They all have one thing in common: They are, in my opinion, the best toys to connect with your kid!
So, without further ado let’s get started…
#10 – SmartMax Magnetic Toys
Let me put it plain and simple: SmartMax Magnetic Toys are pretty cool. And here’s why:
- They are totally different from most of the other construction toys you may be aware of.
- They have a great size: Benni got his first set when he was about 18 months old. And we could play with it right away. The individual elements automatically align and snap together. They don’t require any force or alignment to put together. That’s a huge benefit for young kids!
- Your existing SmartMax collection grows as your kid grows: Just like Lego (or Duplo, which we’ll discuss below 🙂 ) you can buy expansion sets, and all SmartMax elements work together.
What’s pretty cool is that you can start with a very low priced starter set, see if you and your kid like it and then expand on it with an expansion set. Or you go all in and get SmartMax Build XXL Set right away. Your call!
#9 – Play Workbench
This one is kind of a must-have, I believe. Especially for dads and who want something they enjoy playing together with their sons (but I would totally suggest this for girls and moms as well; read more about this down below on #3, where I’m gonna tell you a bit more about Benni’s kitchen).
Workbenches to play with come in all different colors, shapes, sizes and materials. Benni’s workbench is a wooden one that we just recently picked up from a yard sale. It came with tons of accessories: Wooden screws, nuts, tools etc. and that adds tons of value.
So far, Benni’s room mainly was his bedroom. During daytime, Benni would usually join us in the living room and we would play here. But since we have added a toy workbench to his room we spend a lot more time there playing.
I have pre-selected a variety of different workbenches below you can get for your kid. It’s completely up to you: They are all great and differ in style, material and size. Get the one YOU like, and your enthusiasm will carry over to your child. He/she will love it. Trust me!
- Hape Master Workbench
- Joyin Toy 58 Pieces Kids Workbench
- Black + Decker Junior Power Workbench
- Melissa & Doug Solid Wood Workbench
No matter which one you get, make sure to get a wooden construction set like the Melissa & Doug Wooden Construction Building Set or this beautiful tool set, that also comes with construction elements.
#8 – Fisher-Price RC Car
The Fisher-Price RC Car is a real classic. And also an absolute must have. What Benni and I do every now and then is build a race track out of our puzzle mats and then let the RC car race along. For a 3-year-old it’s still a bit tricky to make the car go left and right as intended. But we play together, and then it’s a lot of fun; and Benni gets better at it every single day 🙂
The only improvement I’d love to see Fisher-Price implement would be a higher range. It’s a bit limited. But at the end of the day, we don’t run into it too often, and we have tons of fun playing with it. And even though this is more of a daddy
Oh, and don’t forget to also purchase a set of batteries: You’ll need 6 AA batteries. I always suggest getting a Panasonic Eneloop 8-Pack. They perform as good as regular batteries, but you can recharge them and use them over and over again. Oh, and they come pre-charged, so you can use them out of the box. If you don’t have a charger already, you can get one bundled with the Eneloops.
#7 – BRIO Railway Sets
Name two things that every boy loves! Wooden toys and trains, maybe!? No, totally! BRIO Railway Sets are total winners, and there is no way around it.
Benni was 18 months old when I turned the BRIO Farm Railway Set into his first advent calendar. And even though I’m pretty sure that back then I enjoyed it more than he did, today he really loves his BRIO trains. He takes them out multiple times a week, and just today he built a huge track together with his grandpa. It’s really a toy that connects generations!
The wooden tracks, trains and accessories are of very high quality and are highly durable. The size is so that kids under three cannot swallow them, yet still detailed enough to please us as moms and dads as well.
And if you’re like me, you quickly want to add some electricity, right? No problem: BRIO offers electric locomotives as well. And there are many third-party suppliers that provide accessories (like tracks, trains, buildings and the like) that can easily be combined with any BRIO set.
#6 – Carrera Race Tracks
Okay, I get it! That sounds strange and may come to your surprise. But hear me out: Benni loves our Carrera Race Track!
Yeah, well! It’s expensive. I get that! And it’s probably not a toy that you buy exclusively for your 3-year-old. Probably not. For me personally, it’s a toy I wanted to own for my entire life (and didn’t get as a kid) so my (back then six months old) son was a very welcome excuse to finally buy a slot car track 🙂
Here’s the thing: Kids love toy cars. At the age of three, it doesn’t matter if it’s a boy or girl (just like boys can play with dolls), they simply enjoy them. And if they move by themselves, that makes them just more exciting.
Now you may say: Yes, but how can my 3-year-old drive a slot car? It’s way to fast! I’ll elaborate on that on a separate blog post, but the short answer is: If you get the right system, this works out very well: We own a Carrera 132 Digital, which allows you to reduce the car’s speed to an extent where they simply won’t “deslot” (or fly out of corners). It works very well. Now, with almost three years, Benni knows the system so well that he goes into the room where our race track is installed, turns it on by himself and just drives. That’s pretty impressive, isn’t it?
If the 300-Dollar digital version is too much for me, there are much cheaper sets like the Mario Kart Set, for example. You may consider them more appealing to kids but bear in mind that they do not offer that “slow down” feature I explained above. Hence, I suggest paying a bit more, get the more “adult” set: It works better for small kids!
Just know that you will need some space for this toy! For some people that’s a show stopper for sure.
If you want to learn more, please read my full review of Carrera Slot Car Sets here!
#5 – Orchard Board Game
At the age of three, kids are at a stage where they are capable of understanding and playing basic “rule-based” games, like simple board or card games.
Orchard is an amazing, super fun game for the entire family to familiarize your kid with rules in games. And it’s cooperative, which helps your kid get a feeling for winning and losing TOGETHER, rather than being better or worse than other players.
You, the players, throw a dice to collect fruit from the orchard before the crow comes and takes it away. If the players collect all the fruit, the entire family wins. If not, the crow wins and you start all over.
The game is beautifully illustrated and the game material is high quality painted wood. I highly recommend Orchard if you want to start playing games by rules together with your kid. Benni LOVES it!
If your kid is younger than two, you may consider getting First Orchard, which is a bit easier and faster to play. Also, the material is bigger, hence easier to hold and harder to swallow and therefore much safer!
#4 – Lego Duplo Sets
Lego Duplo Sets are great for three years old and I cannot think of a single set that would not be a winner when given to a child!
The plastic is high quality and the possibilities are endless. When starting out I would probably recommend getting the LEGO DUPLO Town Truck & Tracked Excavator. I yet have to meet a single child that is not totally excited about excavators at that age, and hence I am absolutely certain that your kid will love this set.
The only downside I noticed after an entire year of heavy usage is that the excavator’s joints tend to get a bit loose. But taking into account that this set is less than 15 bucks, we had (and are still having) tons of playtime (and fun) with this toy. I’d recommend it without a doubt.
If you want to invest a bit more, I’d recommend to either get the Airport-With-Airplane Set or the My First Train Set. They are both amazing and a lot of fun. Recommended for ages 2 to 99 🙂
#3 – Play Kitchen
When I was writing about the Workbench above I already tried to get those old role models out of the way: That boys play with cars and tools, and girls play with dolls and wear all pink clothes. That may be true for your kids and that’s fine. And while Benni definitely prefers cars over dolls, I don’t believe that it’s our job as parents to push our kids in one direction or the other.
With that being out of the way, I want to point out that we gave Benni his very own play kitchen for his second birthday.
He loves it to this very day because we placed inside our real kitchen. Now when mommy is preparing food in the kitchen he can either help her for real (which he loves to do) or he can prepare his own fantasy-food in his own kitchen.
We decided to get IKEA’s Duktik Mini Kitchen for him. It’s made of high-quality wood and comes with battery-powered cooking plates (led lights only, obviously), “microwave” and even a plastic sink. It’s really cool and I’m sure it will last for years to come!
If you’re not the IKEA guy or just want to get something else, here’s a hand-picked play kitchen selection for you to check out:
- KidKraft Ultimate Corner Play Kitchen with Lights & Sounds
- KidKraft Vintage Kitchen
- Little Chef Wooden Toy Play Kitchen with Accessories
- Step2 Little Bakers Kitchen Playset
However, make sure to also get some accessories like pans, pots and plastic food.
#2 – Lego Minecraft
Just like the Carrera Set I mentioned earlier, this one might surprise you. You may wonder why Lego, with all those small parts, should be something to give to a 3-year-old. So, let me put a small disclaimer here: I am NOT suggesting to give one of these sets to your kid to play with on his own. I suggest building these sets and playing with them TOGETHER with your kid. That’s where they shine!
Benni and I really love Lego’s Minecraft Sets. And there are quite a few reasons. Let me give you the three most important ones:
- Lego Minecraft Sets aren’t designed as “collectibles” (like other sets, e.g. Lego’s Saturn V and many other Ideas sets). They are designed as PLAY sets! It doesn’t hurt when your child grabs them and takes them apart! Not a bit. Instead, it’s fun, because you know you may now put them back together.
- Lego Minecraft Sets consist of many of the classic 2 x 4 and 2 x 2 bricks. Where many modern Lego City or Ideas sets heavily rely on 1 x X, very “thin” bricks, Lego Minecraft Sets remind me of the Lego Sets that I had when I was a kid. They are really made for kids.
- They usually consist of individual “modules”. What I mean by that is that if you want to change something, you do not have to take it apart and rebuild it from scratch, but instead you can take apart the modules and then rearrange them to get a completely different experience. That’s fun! And even a 3-year-old can do that easily!
Personally, we own these sets, which I would 100% recommend. They are all great and not too expensive to give them a try:
- LEGO Minecraft the Farm Cottage
- LEGO Minecraft the Zombie Cave (Yes, there are Zombies. But let’s not overcomplicate things: For your kid, it’s just a figure with a green head. Just name them “green guy”, or “Joe” or whatever you like and you’re kid won’t even care! Or take them out of the set, if you really don’t like them…)
- LEGO Minecraft the Chicken Coop
- LEGO Minecraft the Polar Igloo
And if you are like me and also play Minecraft on your computer, that’s an even bigger plus. Hey, why not set Minecraft to “peaceful”, put your kid on your lap and also build something on your computer!? Benni and I do that every once in a while. But that’s a different story; I’ll write a blog post soon why we enjoy it and why I think it’s a great idea! 🙂
#1 – Hubelino
So here we go: My #1 favorite toy for 3 year olds. I PROMISE you: You’re kids will love it. And you, as a parent, will love it too.
Hubelino is a Duplo-compatible marble run system. That sounds complicated, but let me explain the basics: You start by building a “base construction” with Lego Duplo bricks or the Duplo-compatible, white “construction-bricks” that you’ll get with the starter set. And then you’ll put the included marble run elements on top of that. As a result, you’ll get a highly stable, yet very versatile marble run that you can change, rebuild and extend as much as you like.
Benni and I love it and we play with it almost daily! It’s really incredible and until this very day, I have no clue why Lego themselves did never release a system like that.
And here’s the kicker: If you love it as much as we do, you can buy several extension sets like the 50-Piece Run Elements Expansion Set or 22-Piece Twister Expansion Set that allow you to build even longer and crazier marble runs.
Here are the top five reasons why I would prefer Hubelino over EVERY other marble run system I came across so far:
- Once built, the marble run is super stable. If you’ve ever played with Lego Duplo bricks, you know what I am talking about. Your kid cannot simply push it over… And if your kid is a three-year-old, you know that THIS is the number 1 issue with any construction toy at that age, right?
- The individual bricks and marble run elements are highly durable. They are pretty much indestructible! And they are 100% Made in Germany: The plastic is high quality and free of any kind of toxic materials!
- The marble run is very easy to build. Your 3 year old won’t be able to build it on his own. But together with YOU he or she will be able to build amazing marble runs in no time. And if you’re out of ideas there are manuals offered for free by Hubelino where they will show you step by step how to build amazing runs!
- Do you already own Duplo bricks? Great! Then you’re all set! You do not even have to buy the starter set. We just bought the 50 pieces extension set and combined that with our existing Duplo brick collection. And it’s so much fun! Don’t own Duplo bricks? NO PROBLEMO: Just get the starter set as it comes with everything you need: Marble run elements AND construction bricks.
- The entire system is expandable. Just buy more (and probably different) marble run elements and build even bigger runs.
Give it a try, especially if you already own an existing Duplo collection. It’s really special: I promise you HOURS of fun for your kids and yourself – most likely for years to come!
Are you hooked? Then make sure to read my FULL REVIEW of the Hubelino Marble Run System here!!!
Have Something To Add To This Story?
Do you have something to add to this story? I am always eager to learn. What is your favorite toy, age recommendation, play style when playing with your kid etc? Please drop a comment below or holla at me at chris@ThatToyDad.com – I’m looking forward to your feedback!
Dude… The Hubelino is absolutely what I would end up getting for my niece! When I was a kid, marbles were so incredibly fascinating and it’s not like only “the boys” can enjoy them. Even as an adult I know for a FACT that I’ll still be amazed and just as entertained as she is as we build out the marble slide! 😂
Such a great idea for that company to essentially combine lego construction and marbles together… that is an instant buy.
Hey Colton! Thanks for stopping by and leaving that wonderful comment. I can feel your excitement 🙂 Yeah, Hubelino is fun and, after all, such an obvious and perfect match with Lego Duplo, right? Kinda weird they never came up with this themselves!
By the way: If you are really into marble runs and want top up your game a bit, make sure to check out Spacerail kits and Gravitrax as well, as they are also tons of fun (but not made for kids in the first place, though my son loves playing with MY Gravitrax set every now and then 😀 ).
Have to stop writing now, need to go and play with marbles 😛
I wish you all the best and tons of fun playing Hubelino with your niece!
Thanks for reviewing the top 10 toys for a 3 year old. And I am just like you, I love toys as well. Growing up, I had such a wonderful memory going to the toy store with my father. Anyway, I love play workbench, I am sure my nephews will love this so they can be creative with their fixing imagination. The railway set is a fun one and we all will get to build it together which is a plus. Never heard of Hubelino before but it looks like something that my nephews will enjoy. Will give it a try.
Hi Nuttanee, my sons and I still love Hubelino to this very day and whenever we play with our Duplo bricks, our Hubelino track elements aren’t far away 🙂 It’s awesome. If you have a chance, make sure to check out my full Hubelino review as well! Thanks for stopping by and have fun playing with your nephews 🙂 chris
Seeing Carrera Race Track cars brought me back to my own childhood. I guess there are some toys that never get old ! Lego was around then, too.
Lego Minecraft looks like a great toy for me to get for my 4 year old grandson. I think he’s old enough for it now. Lego makes great learning tools.
Hi John! Thank you so much for your kind comment. I’m really excited to read that you liked my article and that I could bring back those childhood memories. I hope I could also provide you with some inspiration on how to spend quality time with your own kids and/or grandkids 🙂 All the best to you and your family, chris
That Hubelino set looks so cool. How well does it integrate with the Duplo set? We had legos in our house, and mega blocks wouldn’t go together with them.
We have always had legos in our house, and open ended toys like that are incredible. They never get old because there is always something new to create. You are only limited by your imagination. Many hours of creative fun have been spent around our lego bin!
Hey Jeff! Glad you liked my article and happy I could help 🙂 Hubelino integrates very well with Duplo. It’s 100% compatible, the marble run elements have the same dimensions as regular Duplo bricks and the quality of the plastic is also really good.
There are very few special bricks (besides the specific marble run elements) that are part of the starter set and that you won’t find in normal Duplo sets and make sense to own: There are some “hollow” bricks with cutouts that you can use to build small “bridges”. We don’t have them (as we don’t own the starter set) and you definitely don’t need them. However, they are nice to have and since Benni and I really enjoy our Hubelino set, I am thinking about getting a starter set to get ahold of some of these “special” bricks.
Thank you for this article . My son is 5 years old, he’s a fan of playmobil games. He loves to play magnetic games too and lately started to like board games. We started with Monopoly. He gives me a hard time with Lego; i build and he ruins 😀
Hubelino seems great, I’ll show it to him maybe he will love the idea.
Love your site! keep it up!
Hi LadyDi and thank you so much for your kind comment! Glad I could help 🙂 Let me know what your son thinks about the Hubelino set! I bet he’ll love it 🙂
Thank you for a great article.. I could not have found your site at a better time!
My friends son is coming up to 3 and I was wondering what to get a 3 year old that is fun and educational.
I think I am going to get him SmartMax Magnetic toy, I think even his dad may enjoy this!
I love your site.. keep up the good work!
Hi Moni! Thanks for your kind comment. I’m happy my post helped you! The SmartMax is an excellent choice. Benni and I played with it just yesterday and once again it proved to be an amazing toy. You won’t regret it: Your friend’s 3 year old will love it! Please say hello to him and wish him all the best 🙂
My son is not young anymore but you have now made me want to go and buy Minecraft and the racing game.
It’s always great to take some time and build something and then finish off the day with a little high intensity racing. These are some great ideas.
Hey Rick 🙂 Thanks for sharing your thoughts! I totally get that: Whether it’s Lego or a Slot Racing Track! They’re great toys and you don’t have to be a child at all to have fun with them. Especially on X-mas, when the entire family comes together, there’s nothing better than some intense slot racing action with grandpa, me and Benni 🙂 It connects generations; give it a try, you’ll love it!
This was perfect! I have 4 gkids, one on the way; ages 5-2.
My 4 year old loves legos, by that I mean he loves for me to build and for him to tear apart. But he does not want either of his train tracks taken apart, nor does the the 5 year old. As a matter of fact, if you hear whinning, it’s because their younger sibling is doing exactly that.
That said, Hubelino sounds awesome! Gotta have it. Thanks.
Hey CT. 4 kids!!! That’s amazing. I admire you. You and your wife must be amazing parents!!! Benni being 3 years old now seems to slowly understand that building a Lego set takes some time and effort, and that ripping it apart isn’t the greatest thing you can do to the person who built it 🙂 I always try to build together him (let him pick the parts, lead his hand etc.) and maybe that helps him get a feeling for that. Lately he’s no longer all about ripping these sets apart but rather playing with them. And when he wants to play with one of my Lego Technic sets he even comes and asks if I could help him… That’s pretty awesome!
Hubelino is great: Show it to your kids, I bet they’ll love the idea!
Hi Chris, I haven’t seen some of these toys for ages. The train set and racing cars took me way back to when I was a kid. Those were great times that I had with my dad. The Lego and SmartMax Magnetic toys are not only fun but educational as well. They are excellent for developing the creative side of a child’s brain.
All the best,
Hey Brian, you’re totally right: Lego and SmartMax are excellent toys to teach and educate kids. I’m an engineer myself and I bet that Lego played a big role in getting me excited about technology and the like. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
Wow, AnxietyPanda would sure have been one happy three year old with all of these amazing toys! AnxietyPanda especially likes the lego sets xD and the Hubelino looks amazing and like it will provide hours and hours of pandalicious entertainment!
Thanks for sharing!
Hi AnxietyPanda! I’m happy to read that you like my post. Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and don’t forget: Pandas (and dads) NEVER get too old to play with Lego Sets. Treat yourself every once in a while and pick one up! You won’t regret it, and it will remind you of your pandalicious childhood 🙂