Top 12 Open-Ended & Minimalist Gifts for a 3 year old

The toddler years are the age of “I’ll do it myself”. We love encouraging that independence and
“striking while the iron is hot”, so to speak. Toddler years are the perfect time to get kids helping around the house and cleaning up for themselves. We learned the hard way when our oldest children were young that perpetually doing things for your kids can backfire when they hit adolescence and adulthood. As we have parented our 4 boys we have really leaned into the Montessori method to baby and toddler learning. What better time to get kids the things they need for hands-on learning, collaborative and self-directed play than birthdays and holidays?

If you are a new parent or haven’t tried this style of parenting before (a more intentional, minimal, fewer “toys” – approach), you might think some of these suggestions are lackluster in comparison to a singing, dancing, plastic toy. But, I guarantee all of these items will be loved longer and more appreciated than most of what can find in the Target Toy section. Some of my picks are “toy” of course, but I encourage you to think outside the box, focus on what kids need and can help them become highly efficient and confident young people. These are some of our favorite gift suggestions for the 3 year-old age group. All of these items we would buy all over again or recommend based on our experience with them. They either encourage independence, inspire imaginative play, and/or are high quality open-ended items. I’ve arranged them by price from low to high so you can find some ideas based on your budget. I hope you find some inspiration from these suggestions.

Books – books are hands down our favorite gift for all age groups. Some of our favorites for 3 year olds are Are You My Mother, Serious Goose & the Give a Mouse a Cookie Collection but you really can’t go wrong. There are so many fantastic books for toddlers to inspire their imaginations, keep them busy and develop their love for books and reading from an early age.

First Scissors & Knife – we have had many scissors over the years and these are by far our favorite for learning and for children with physical or other developmental delays.

  • Kitchen prep. Pre-Schoolers love to help in the kitchen. This first knife is perfect for an aspiring chef and can get toddlers into the kitchen to help prep dinner. Kids are also way more likely to eat what they help prepare. We bought an Opinel first chef knife that we purchased when our son was 5, but it might work for a 3 year old with direct supervision, use your judgement. We love it and its going to last us a very long time.

DIY Tentthese Sarah Slik clips are awesome for attaching blanket and sheets to make pretty much anything you already own into a DIY Tent.

Outdoor Play Items – 3 year olds love hats, rain jackets and rain boots. They also love getting dirty so gardening supplies are both practical and exciting for kids in this age group. Plus, whats better than a gift where your kid actually NEEDS the item versus just a want.

Art Supplies – you really cant go wrong with art supplies. Markers, crayons, paint, molding dough. They are all blown through and a staple of our Christmas season since our stash usually needs a refresher. We also love consumable gifts over lots of toys. We love this dough (since we are a grain free home), and my son looks forward to a new set every year. It also smells great!

Cooperative Board games – Kids around this age are able to begin playing simple board games like this one. We prefer cooperative games over “I win” games as they are much less upsetting and can get kids used to working together for a common goal instead of competing.

Duplo or Wooden blocks – We start these around 8 months but if you don’t already have some for your kiddo, its not too late. Some super basic wood blocks are wonderful and My 7 & 10 year olds still play with our duplos!

Helping tower – Get your little one helping out in the kitchen! A helping tower is an awesome and safe way to encourage help. We really love this one. It’s foldable and my kids fight over it at times. Its a gift that will work for a really long time. If you are super short on space they have ones that convert into desks for versatility, but its not a necessity. We use a chair or step stool and parent support in the kitchen for years.

Trains and track – These are a favorite for both girls and boys. Its easy to get carried away though. I would suggest a small set. Maybe 3-4 trains and about 10 pieces of track to start. Really any more gets overwhelming. The more overwhelmed a kid is, the less likely they are to play for a long period and the less likely they are to clean up independently. I try to remind myself that the best way for me to ruin one of my kids favorites, is to buy them more of the item.

Trike or Strider bike – Toddlers love activity and a good trike or even a strider bike (if they have a great flat place to ride) can be a lot of fun for them.

Memberships or Experiences – A membership to you local zoo, indoor playground, art or science museum or Bounce or Jump place is a gift that keeps on giving. Not only will it not take up space in your home, it will also be a great way to run off energy, keep a kid from feeling cooped up and often they run around $100 for the whole year for family memberships. We love getting our memberships renewed my family for birthdays and Christmas and our family loves giving them since they can often enjoy the activity with us! Our local playhouse also offers children’s plays so depending on your childs personality and interests, you might be able to get them a ticket to a play or show they would really enjoy!

Grimms Rainbows – 3 seems to be the perfect age to really enjoy this open ended building set, although kids of older and younger ages can definitely enjoy it as well.

So those are our favorite minimalist and open-ended gift ideas for a 3 year old. We hope this was helpful for you. If you have favorites you would like to share with our readers, please leave a comment.


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