If you have a 3 year old, this information is for you! I will show you the best learning toys for 3 year old’s and I will provide examples as to how you can use these toys to facilitate language and learning with your child. If your child isn’t quite 3 yet or you have younger children make sure you check out my best learning toys articles for babies and 2 year old’s:
As with the other articles in the Best Learning Toys series, I don’t always specifically mention pretend play in the language and learning opportunities sections, however all of the toys chosen are excellent for open ended pretend play!
To skip to a particular toy category, click on the link below.
6 Must Have Educational Toys For Preschoolers!
Vehicles are wonderful for language and learning and they are loved by both boys and girls. Try to expose your children to toys that may be marketed to the other gender. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a girl playing with cars or working at a toolbench. Just like there is nothing wrong if a boy wants to push a doll around in a stroller (my son loved doing this, actually I am pretty sure he still does – he is 6 now).
Language & Learning Opportunities of Vehicle Playsets:
♦ Vocabulary: Label the different vehicles (car, truck, boat, train, plane, bus, bike, firetruck, etc.). You can also go into more detail and talk about the parts of each vehicle (doors, windows, wheels, roof, steering wheel, lights, etc.). This helps children learn that a combination of smaller parts makes an item whole.
♦ Verbs/Adjectives: For example, drive, fast, slow, bumpy, smooth, go, stop, fly, float, etc.
♦ Prepositions/Concepts: Talk about where the car is going. For example, it could go “through” the tunnel, or “over” the bridge. It could also go “under” a bridge, or “on” the road.
If you have garage playset you can extend the language and learning opportunities. You and your child can “fix” a broken car, put gas in it, watch it drive up and down the ramp and so much more! If you don’t have a garage playset, you can still do these things, but you will need to use your imagination a bit more. If you are crafty, you can also build a road/ramp out of wood or cardboard!
You may be wondering if a train table is really a “must have” toy? It actually took me quite some time to decide whether or not to put this one on the list. However, I did decide to add it based on my children’s experience with our train table. My kids only used it for what it is meant to be, a train table, for about a year or so (we got it when my son was almost 3). It soon became our Lego table and now 3 years later we still have it and it gets quite a bit of use.
A train table makes for a nice way of displaying a train set. Make sure to get one with drawers because they can provide extra storage.
Pretty much all train tables come with scenery painted on the table top (roads, rivers, buildings, trees, etc). The train table itself is wonderful for pointing out new words as they relate to a city theme. Even if you don’t have a train set you can still drive toy cars/vehicles on it. And then you can store your child’s vehicles in the drawers.
I won’t go into all the language and learning specifics as they will be the same as for most of the other toys I am discussing.
As I mentioned, my kids are now using their train table as a Lego table. All of their Lego creations end up on the train table. They love building vehicles with Lego, so now their Lego cars, trains, boats and even space ships get to drive around the train table.
I love train tables for their versatility. And a train set is probably on every child’s list! These allow for hours of open ended play!
A pretend play kitchen is probably my MOST FAVORITE toy for children between the ages of 2 and 6. In my experience there are very few children who wouldn’t love a play kitchen. Therefore, it is a toy that you will have around for a long time and it will actually get played with. It is definitely the most loved toy at our house.
The creativity that is brought out through play with a pretend kitchen is amazing. It is also interesting to watch and compare the differences in the play styles between a 2 year old and a 4 year old, for example. A play kitchen will grow with your child.
I have already written several articles about how your child’s language development and learning can be enhanced with a play kitchen, so I won’t repeat myself here. If you are interested in learning more about why I so highly recommend play kitchens check out these articles:
Although a toy grocery cart may seem like an accessory, it is great from a language and learning perspective. A grocery cart can expand and extend the pretend play that can happen with dolls/stuffed animals and a play kitchen. However, if you don’t have a pretend kitchen, don’t worry. A grocery cart can be used without one. It would be a good idea to have some plastic or wooden play food and maybe a toy cash register so a pretend store or restaurant can be set up.
Learning Benefits of Toy Grocery Carts:
♦ Vocabulary: Assuming you have pretend play food, you can label all of the items of food. You can also label the grocery cart itself and talk about how it has wheels and a basket.
♦ Prepositions: Practice putting food or a doll “in” the cart as well as taking it “out” of the cart. Some grocery carts come with space to put items under the basket as the cart shown in the picture. Park the cart “beside” the chair.
♦ Verbs: Go, stop, push,
♦ Basic Concepts: Talk about opposites. For example, “push” the cart fast/slow” or “the cart is empty/full“.
♦ Counting: Count each item as you put it into the cart or take it out of the cart
♦ Social Skills: This applies more when there are 2 or more children playing together. Turn taking is a skill that will be practiced if there is only one cart. Children will also have to take turns deciding what items will go into the cart as well as whose turn it is putting something in or taking it out.
♦ Pretend Play Scenarios: Going to the store, taking a baby for a walk (pretend the cart is a stroller if you don’t have one), going on a trip (pretend the cart is a doll’s car), etc.
My kids still use their grocery cart quite regularly. However, the last time I saw them playing with it, I overheard them talking that it was a roller coaster and they put a doll in it and pushed it down the stairs. Now that is imagination!
How To Use Play Tents & Tunnels to Foster Language Development:
♦ Prepositions: These are some of the ways you can use prepositions – Go in the tent/tunnel. Take the doll out of the tent. Crawl through the tunnel. Run around the tent. Hide behind the tent. Throw the ball over the tent.
♦ Vocabulary: Of course you can talk about the tent and the tunnel. But, you can incorporate the vocabulary for what the children might be pretending the tent and tunnel are. For example, a camping trip. Talk about all sorts of camping related words: sleeping bag, fire, hiking, sticks, wood, cold, hot, bugs, etc.)
♦ Social Skills: 3 year old’s start moving from solitary and parallel play to associative and cooperative play. This means that they are starting to enjoy playing together with others. While they may not be totally in sync they are starting to enjoy playing with a peer. Tents and tunnels are great for this kind of play. Children can take turns chasing each other through the tunnel. They can also try to come up with ideas for other types of imaginary play.
For example, going on a camping trip. Or pretending the tent is a space ship or that the tunnel is a submarine. Don’t worry if this is a bit above the way your 3 year old is currently playing. Some three year old’s are starting to play this way but it is more common to see this type of play with 4+ year old’s. If your 3 year old has older siblings/friends they will get exposure to this type of play earlier on!
Children will also have the opportunity to work on turn taking skills when playing with siblings/friends in order to crawl through the tunnel.
♦ Imaginative Play: As I mentioned in the social skills section you can get quite creative with a tunnel/tent combo. If your child is struggling to come up with an idea, you can suggest some to him. My kids love using their tent and tunnel as a restaurant. They have asked me to crawl through the tunnel to get to their “secret” restaurant. Once inside, I am told to order food and they bring it to me via the tunnel!
Like the play kitchens, I have written articles dedicated to kids playhouses and play sets. So I won`t go into all the details here. If you are interested in learning more about the language and learning opportunities that can come about with a playhouse please check out these articles:
The activities that can be done with playhouses are similar to those that I mentioned in the Kids Play Tents and Tunnels section, however, I do believe that children will get more use out of a playhouse. But, keep in mind a tent and tunnel can be easily collapsed whereas a playhouse will need to remain in one place.
Why Are There Only 6 Toys?
I hope that this list of toys has been helpful for deciding what might be of interest and benefit to a 3 year old. I only choose 6 toys because if you are going to buy any toys for your preschooler these 6 are must haves! If you feel like I have missed an important learning toy for preschoolers, please let me know.
Do your children have any of these toys? If so, how do they use them during play?
Please share your thoughts in the comments below!