Young Preschoolers (3,4,5 Year Olds)

All Toys

  • Preschoolers prefer toys with realistic detail and working parts
  • Increasing interest in dramatic and pretend play, by age 5, peak period for dramatic play, with all sorts of props
  • Period of peak interest in play scenes, small figures and cars
  • Most children in this age group can begin using toys with smaller components - If child is still mouthing objects, select toys without small parts
  • Toys should be sturdy:
    • Not likely to break easily into small pieces or leave jagged edges
    • No sharp or points or edges
    • Not made of glass or brittle plastic
  • Toys should be of nontoxic materials
  • Toys should have no electrical parts unless supervised by adult

Active Play

  • Push and Pull Toys
    • Small wagons
    • Small wheelbarrow
    • Push toys resembling adult tools- lawnmowers, vacuum, shopping cart
    • Doll carriages and strollers
    • From age 5;
      • full-size wagons, scooters
  • Ride-On Toys
    • Tricycles sized to child
    • 3 and 4 wheel pedal toys
    • Vehicles with steering mechanisms
    • Prefer realistic, detailed vehicles
    • Full side rocking horse
    • From age 4:
      • Low-slung tricycles
      • Battery-operated ride ons
    • From age 5:
      • Small bicycle with training wheels and foot brakes, sized to child
      • Bicycle helmet
  • Outdoor and Gym Equipment
    • Adult supervision recommended for gym equipment
    • Stationary outdoor climbing equipment
    • Slides (with side rails) and ladders
    • Swings with curved, soft seats
    • Balance board
    • From age 4:
      • Equipment with movable parts: small seesaws, hanging rings
      • Swings with flat seats, plastic or rubber belts
      • Rope ladders and ropes
      • Gym sets with enclosures for pretend house or fort
  • Sports Equipment
    • Balls of all shapes, sizes (If child is still mouthing objects, any object that appears to fit easily in the child’s mouth, keep it away from the child
    • Double-blade ice skates
    • Sleds size-graded (no handbrakes or steering mechanisms)
    • From age 4:
      • Lightweight softball and bat
      • Junior-sized soccer ball, football
      • Speed-graded roller skates (plastic wheels, no ball bearings for reduced speed)
      • Kites
      • Wading pool
    • From age 5:
      • Jump ropes
      • Skis (sized to child)
      • Flying disks (especially lightweight ones)
      • Flat nosed magnetic or Velcro darts
      • Inner tubes, kick boards, mattresses for beginning swimmers (adult supervision needed)

Manipulative Play

  • Construction Toys
    • Solid wooden unit blocks, large and small
    • Large, hollow building blocks (cardboard, wood, plastic)
    • Most types of interlocking building systems, pieces of all sizes (plastic rather than metal pieces)
    • No motorized parts
    • Prefer sets that make realistic models
    • Can connect pieces in specific order to create simple models
  • Puzzles
    • Fit in or framed puzzles: age 3, up to 20 pieces; age 4, 20 to 30 pieces; age 5; up to 50 pieces
    • Large, simple jigsaw puzzles (10 to 25 pieces).
    • Number or letter puzzles; puzzle clocks
    • Cardboard puzzles
  • Pattern-Making Toys
    • Bead stringing - longer, thinner string with stiff tip), large beads - (If child is still mouthing objects, any object that appears to fit easily in the child’s mouth should be kept away from the child)
    • Peg board with small pegs
    • Color cubes/color forms
    • Magnetic boards with shapes
    • From age 4:
      • Beginning interest in design material - mosaic blocks, felt boards; can follow, copy simple sequence
    • From age 5:
      •  Simple weaving (looper and hedge loom); small beads to string (1/2 inch); block printing equipment
  • Manipulative Toys
    • Matching toys by color, shape or picture; from age 4, by concept, letters (ABC), numbers (1 to 10)
    • Sorting toys; number rods
    • Number boards with smaller pegs
    • Simple counting toys; lock boxes
    • Nesting toys with multiple pieces and screw closing
    • From age 4:
      • Geometrical concept toys
    • From age 5:
      • Simple models of mechanical devices or natural objects; more complex lotto matching toys
  • Dressing, Lacing Stringing Toys
    • Frames/cards to button hook, tie
    • From age 5:
      •  Simple sewing kits with thick cloth & blunt needle (with supervision)
  • Sand and Water Play Toys
    • Large and small sandbox tools; bubbles
    • Wind-up bath toys; bath activity centers
    • From age 4:
      • Sand molds; water pump
      • Realistic working models of boats (no sharp metal parts)

Make Believe Play

  • Dolls
    • Realistic dolls with detail and accessories, especially baby dolls
    • Dolls with hair, moving eyes, movable limbs, special features
    • From age 5:
      • Child-proportioned dolls (can dress dolls if garments and fastenings are simple)
      • Paper dolls to be punched out
  • Stuffed Toys
    • Stuffed toys with accessories - ribbons, bells, simple clothes
    • Realistic-looking toys, replicas of famous characters
    • Music box toys
    • From age 5:
      • collecting toys in sets
  • Puppets
    • Simple sock or mitten puppets
    • Finger puppets
    • Simple puppet theater (no scenery)
    • From age 5:
      • Hand-and-arm puppets, more detailed (with limbs)
  • Role-Play Materials
    • Dress-ups, costumes of all types
    • Realistic, detailed equipment - By 5, want it to really work
    • Housekeeping and cooking equipment
    • Toy telephone; toy camera; doctor kits
    • Military costumes and props
    • Specialized doll equipment
    • Cash register, equipment to play store
    • Play stages, large mirror
  • Play Scenes
    • Scenes with a variety of realistic accessories and working parts
    • Favorite themes - garage, farm, airport, space, fort
    • Action/adventure sets; action figures
    • First doll house - simple, few rooms easy access, space to move objects around, sturdy furnishings
    • From age 5:
      • Can manipulate very small pieces; attention to realistic detail
  • Transportation Toys
    • Toy cars of all sizes - small metal cars, trucks with very realistic detail
    • Large-scale trucks, road machinery that really works (dumps, digs)
    • Action/adventure vehicle sets
    • Small, realistic trains
    • From age 5:
      • Small trains with tracks; can work most train coupling systems; can plan, build simple track layouts; wind-up and spring-driven cars
  • Projectile Toys - none before age 4
    • Soft, flexible projectiles
    • Action figures with projectile weapons
    • From age 5:
      • Guns shooting ping-pong or foam balls, soft darts

Creative Play - Arts, crafts, music

  • Musical Instruments
    • All rhythm instruments
    • Xylophones
    • Instruments that require blowing - harmonica, horns, whistles, simple recorder
    • Wind-up music boxes
    • Piano - one finger tunes
  • Art and Craft Materials
    • Large crayons with many colors
    • Color paddles
    • Magic markers
    • Finger and tempera paint
    • Adjustable easel
    • Brushes of various sizes
    • Clay, including modeling clay and tools
    • Chalkboards and chalk of various sizes
    • Scissors with rounded ends
    • Paste and glue
    • Simple block printing equipment
    • Pop-it beads
    • Large beads to string
    • Simple sewing kits (without needles)
    • From age 4:
      • Increased interest in art products; also can copy order - workbench, hammer, nails and saw (with supervision)
    • From age 5:
      • Smaller crayons; coloring books, water color paints, simple weaving loom, small beads to string; sewing kits with large, blunt needles
  • Audio-Visual Equipment (Adult Operated)
    • Parent operated records, tapes, or CDs (gentle regular rhythms, lullabies)
    • Hand-cranked music box, worked by child if crank is large and easy to turn
    • From age 4:
      • record and tape players for child to operate
    • From age 5:
      • radio

Learning Play

  • Games
    • Simple matching and lotto matching games based on color pictures
    • Dominoes, (color or number)
    • Board games
    • Simple card games
    • Bingo (picture)
  • Specific Skill Development Toys
    • Simple teaching toys for:
      • Matching/sorting, shapes, colors, letters/sounds, numbers, concepts
      • All electrically powered toys need adult supervision
    • From age 5:
      • Science materials - magnets, flashlights, shells and rocks, magnifying glass, stethoscope, prism, aquarium, terrarium; clock, printing set, toy typewriter or computer, simple calculator
  • Books
    • Sturdy books with heavy paper, cardboard pages
    • Short simple stories with repetition and familiar subjects
    • Simple pictures with clear color, few details
    • Pop-up books
    • Hidden picture books
    • Dressing books
    • Age 3 interests:
      • Here-and-now stories, animal stories, alphabet books, words and rhymes
    • Age 4 interests:
      • Wild stories, silly humor, information books, familiar places, people
    • Age 5 interests:
      • Realistic stories, poetry, primers, animals who behave like people