Battery-Free Gift Ideas for 3-Year-Olds

Updated on October 26, 2017
Kierstin Gunsberg profile image

Kierstin is a mom to two little girls, not a fan of Popples, and is really, really good at removing crayon from practically any surface.

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All I can say about Amazon Prime's two day shipping is glory, glory, hallelujah. It is the reason I can look like I kinda have it together during birthdays and holidays since I became a mother, often putting off my gift shopping until the last, panicked minute. This past year, I was better prepared and got all of my Christmas shopping done before I'd even put up our silvery tinsel tree.

Having taken more time to plot out the finer details of what my girls would find wrapped beneath the tree, I decided it was important to me to focus on toys that let my daughters' imaginations take the driver's seat. This isn't to say that we have anything against the TV, Kindle or computer. Trust me, we use basically all of them daily. But there's something really special about settling in after a long birthday party or busy holiday morning and hearing nothing but the sweet sounds of children creating their own little world without having to dig through every drawer in the kitchen in search of those elusive double A's. Oy!

Is it just me though, or are classic, nostalgic toys expensive af? Like seriously, Google Shop "Wooden Toys" and you're looking at half this month's mortgage. Save yourself the money, time and hassle of searching for quality battery-free toys that provide longevity at a fair price because I've done it for you in this list of 15 toys that my three-year-old loves that don't require a single battery! (Bonus: they can all be found on Amazon with Prime 2-Day shipping. Fellow procrastinators, celebrate!)

All prices mentioned are approximate, visit the actual product for current price.

#1 The Learning Journey Match It! Counting

This learning toy is a series of self-correcting puzzle pieces that you must match up - one piece has a picture of various objects from boats to duckies and the other is the matching number. This is a really awesome game for parents to play with their preschool aged child to help them with not only counting in sequence, but also number recognition and practicing estimating since you'll be guessing which pieces match by first glancing at them. A lot of times my daughter and I have used these as conversation pieces without even putting together the puzzle. The pieces are large, so definitely not a choking hazard, and they come in a sturdy cardboard carrying case for easy storage.

#2 Schylling Cupcakes Tin Tea Set

Schylling Cupcakes Tin Tea Set
Schylling Cupcakes Tin Tea Set

This is one of the particular sets we own and though it may reek of gentle feminism, my nephew loves this set too (and would equally love any of the other twee sets in the Schylling collection). Being real, the tin tray that comes with this set bends rather easily but it also bends back into place easily too and I'd like to think that that well-played look only adds to this tea set's charm over time. My three-year-old fills the cupcake themed tea pot with a splash of water then takes care to divvy up the "tea" between the tea cups and drinks them all up. It's a fantastic way to get her to drink water, actually. Total bonus. The best part about these is that though they have been filled with water nearly every day since last Christmas, they don't rust. To clean them I take antibacterial wipe and swipe it over each piece before putting it away. Easy!

At under $15 this makes a really fun gift for any tea party loving three-year-old in your life (and the cupcake theme is especially adorable for a birthday gift).

 

#3 Manhattan Toy Nursing Nina Cat Nurturing Soft Toy

Topping out at $20, this cushy mamma cat and her three kittens were actually a gift to our youngest daughter on her first birthday. Still a wee nursling herself, I found the babies, who attach to Nina via magnetism (that's safely sewn beneath each cat's plush) absolutely charming. And apparently, so did our three-year-old. She immediately nabbed this mommy cat and her hungry trio before our birthday girl could even take the time to care (poor second kid) and claimed them as her own, clutching a small kitten in each hand before we leave the house and giving each one a unique but truly descriptive moniker that almost always involves its color. If you're still not sold, this feline family can be tossed in the wash on a gentle cycle if they find themselves in a sticky situation. Hoorah!

#4 Dancing Streamers

This isn't a particular brand but you can find all different colors and styles on Amazon. Our favorite is just $8 and the ribbon is a rainbow design that makes twirling feel extra elegant. I shoved these in my daughter and my husband's stocking one year and let's just say, this isn't only a gift suitable for three-year-olds. Whether you're waving this thing around inside of a snowy day or out on the lawn in the sunshine, this is a cheap and whimsical gift that encourages movement.

Oh, and cats love it too.

#5 Melissa & Doug Misty Unicorn Stuffed Animal

Look, I don't know what it is about three-year-olds and unicorns. Maybe it's weird subliminal marketing that happens before birth. All I know is that the obsession is real and this stuffed toy fulfills my daughter in a way that less unicorny stuffed animals simply do not. It's sparkly hooves, bright purple mane and tail might have something to with it.

At just under $13, Misty is about 12 inches long which makes her pretty convenient for travel, bedtime and easy locating in the event of a total meltdown.

#6 Melissa & Doug Wooden Magnets

I know what you're thinking, magnets and a three-year-old sounds like a super dumb idea. These are flat, large magnets, usually a few inches long, that come in a small wooden crate and each set is a different theme, from vehicles, shapes and farm animals to characters like Mickey Mouse's Clubhouse. They are easy to stick to the fridge and even easier to take off and make for some seriously extended pretend-play, almost like paper dolls.

I actually bought a long metal board from Ikea to use with these sets so that she can play with them anywhere she wants, whether it's her bedroom or the living room rug.

#7 Wooden Blocks

Wooden Blocks - 100 Pc Wood Building Block Set with Carrying Bag and Container (Natural Colored) - 100% Real Wood
Wooden Blocks - 100 Pc Wood Building Block Set with Carrying Bag and Container (Natural Colored) - 100% Real Wood

This isn't the actual set we have but it looks very similar to the much more expensive set my daughter received at Christmas and this one even comes with a carrying bag which ours did not.

She dumps all of her block out nearly every afternoon and tinkers with them while watching TV. We keep them in a fabric storage cube so they're easy for her to clean up by herself and when her little sister or cousin want to join in there's plenty of pieces to go around. If you deem the pieces too small for unsupervised play, you can just stick them at the top of a closet and bring them down for parent-child playtime before putting them back.

 

#8 Melissa & Doug Lace and Trace Shapes

Obviously we really dig Melissa & Doug in this house and these Lace and Trace Shapes are no exception. Cradled in a classic Melissa & Doug wooden box, this set comes with five wooden shapes - a slice of pizza (triangle), an orange (circle), a cracker (square), a kite (diamond), and a stop sign (octagon) - along with five coordinating laces for each shape so that your little one can pull the string through the holes along each object's edge while thinking about shapes and colors and practicing fine motor skills and hand/eye coordination.

Our daughter personally loves to use the laces to get the cat to come out of his hiding spot. So. Another cat-friendly toy right here.

Our actual cat enjoying the actual lacing string as mentioned.
Our actual cat enjoying the actual lacing string as mentioned. | Source

#9 ALEX Toys Little Hands Paper Bag Puppets

Our three-year-old loves doing crafts. I, however, do not love weeding through Pinterest posts to find individual projects and then trying to gather up each last googly eye and pipe cleaner needed for said project. The ALEX Toys craft kits make it super easy to give your child all of the supplies they need for a given craft with kid-friendly illustrated instructions to go along with it. All by herself (seriously!) my daughter made each paper bag animal puppet included in this set while I packed up for our big move. It kept her occupied and made it so that I could get through what is essentially my least favorite life-chore next to childbirth and going to the OB. She was so proud of herself she ended up doing her sister's kit too.

#10 Toysmith Garden Root Viewer

I'm not going to sit here and pretend with you like I didn't kill every last seed that came in this set. Looking back, it was dumb to leave our little seedlings outside.

In May.

During a frost.

Whoops. Hopefully the three-year-old in your life has a greener thumb than I and if not, at a price of just ten bucks, no one will be heartbroken if things go awry. Still, I include this toy because my daughter and I had a total blast sorting the seed packets, soaking the peat pellets and then filling the clear plastic tubes with moist dirt before gently pressing the seeds into the soft soil and watching them take root over the next few days (yes, we got roots!)

This toy opened up a lot of conversation and we bought a few books about flowers and seeds to go along with it. In fact there's another set at the top of the closet begging for a second chance (and a warm windowsill)...

#11 Hape Rainbow Wooden Counting Bead Abacus

Hape Rainbow Wooden Counting Bead Abacus
Hape Rainbow Wooden Counting Bead Abacus

First things first, this isn't the actual abacus that we own but it looks pretty darn similar to ours which I can no longer find for sale. I'm including it for three reasons - one, we do own a bunch of Hape toys and they are incredibly STURDY. Seriously, they get thrown against the wall (my poor walls...) tossed into toy bins, shoved into the back seat and even chucked into the bathtub *groan* and they're all still holding up fabulously. Two, it’s easy to take along to keep the kids busy when we go out and doesn’t make a noise other than the occasional pleasant clacking of wood, so we’re not annoying anyone when we’re out about about. And, three, it might look like a baby toy, but our daughter's wooden abacus encourages her to slide the beads while counting and the bright beads are an awesome opportunity to talk colors - when she's not busy trying to stand on it and at just under twenty bucks this makes a solid educational, STEM friendly gift, the kind that have been shown to increase a child’s success in school when utilized in early childhood.

When children are exposed to play that fosters knowledge in science, technology, engineering or in the case of this colorful abacus, mathematics, it’s believed to have a profound effect on their later ability to more easily absorb and retain information that relates to these four areas. As JD Chesloff says in a 2013 article for Education Week titled “STEM Education Must Start in Early Childhood”, “There is an exciting and powerful link between STEM and early childhood. Research confirms that the brain is particularly receptive to learning math and logic between the ages of 1 and 4, and that early math skills are the most powerful predictors of later learning.”

Less than $20 for a lifetime of necessary skills? Good deal, Hape, good deal!

 

#12 Battat Terra Horses in Tube Playset

We had already let Little E pick out a big, beautiful Hape dollhouse for her third birthday but in a rush to find a couple of cheap but special gifts to shove in a gift bag as a surprise during her birthday lunch I came across this amazing set of miniature plastic horses. Think toy soldiers for the equestrian set, this tube is fat, carrying toddler-handful after toddler-handful of horsies in a variety of colors. Ours have raced in my potted plants, camped out on the edge of the tub and grazed the sweet pastures of the living room rug since last year when we bought them. And at just under $10 for the set, if one or two or even a few get lost in the shuffle your little friend is unlikely to notice. Phew!

#13 National Geographic Little Kids First Big Book of Why

I know it's not a toy but this hardcover is less than $9 and has kept my three-year-old (and her dad) engaged for much longer than you'd think a three-year-old would stay focused on a read-aloud book. Each page features National Geographic's signature bold photography with questions and answers that go along with each page's theme. And here's the thing, this book works. It literally made my daughter start asking "Why?" and made us read the book so we could answer her questions about why we have skin, why the sky is blue and what every weird creature you can think of eats for lunch.

If you're trying to figure out what types of gifts parents of three-year-olds appreciate just keep in mind two things: Is this gift self-containing or does it come with it's own storage? And two, will this gift destroy the home?
If you're trying to figure out what types of gifts parents of three-year-olds appreciate just keep in mind two things: Is this gift self-containing or does it come with it's own storage? And two, will this gift destroy the home? | Source

#14 Hape The Ringer Wooden Ring Toss Game

One thing that isn't fair about games for kids is that they come with so.many.pieces. We've been gifted so many lovely games, from fishing games to matching games and always within the first day at least half the game is scattered under couch cushions and bed sheets and the game is no longer usable unless I feel like going on a treasure hunt after I've put the kids to bed which is almost impossible because let's face it, I never put the kids to bed, rather they finally feel badly enough for me that they fall asleep next to me.

What I'm trying to say is that this ring toss game is TOO EASY to handle and I love it and because of that my three-year-old can love it too because we actually get to play it together. It comes with a sturdy little wooden stand with four (safe) prongs, each of which is a different color and represents a different score. Try to toss the coordinating colored rings made of rope and painted wood onto the matching prong before adding up the points to see who's won.

#15 Melissa & Doug Mine to Love Doll Diaper Changing Set

Obviously, I was going to wrap up this list with a Melissa & Doug product, right? Yep. If there's one thing my three-year-old's dolls and stuffed animals do a lot of, it's poop and pee. Sometimes they make it to the potty seat but other times man, it's time for a fresh diapie. This diaper changing set comes with a flower printed diaper bag that latches shut with a velcro closure so that the jar of "diaper cream", box of wipes (with real/not real wipes inside!) and spare cloth diaper can stay safe inside on adventures. Plus, there's plenty of pockets for any extras like snacks, sunblock, a magazine, loose candy, used tissues, uncapped pens, or a dead FitBit that might get thrown in along the way.

You know how it goes.

What's the best toy under $20 you've found for your three-year-old child, niece, nephew, grandkid or best little buddy? I wanna hear about in the comments below! (No links though, sorry :( The spam filter hates them).

© 2017 Kierstin Gunsberg

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