What toys should you get for 1- to 3-year-old children?

What toys should you get for 1- to 3-year-old children?
What toys are recommended for a 1- to 3-year-old child?

Depending on their age and skills development, a toddler is interested in different toys. Determine what your 1- to 3-year-old child finds especially fun.

What your 1- to 2-year-old child enjoys

A child of this age is still exploring their environment by their own means, sometimes getting around on all fours, then walking and soon running. They can also ride wheeled toys (e.g., firefighter truck) and become more skillful with balls.

Obstacle courses are always fun. The child can go over, under, or around obstacles (e.g., chair, blanket, cushion). It can be more fun when objects with different textures are included throughout the course to stimulate their sense of touch (e.g., cushions covered with satin, cotton, or velvet fabrics, wool or rubber mats).

In regard to fine motor skills, children this age like visible actions: screwing, unscrewing, stacking, and threading. They also enjoy creasing and tearing sheets of paper and they are starting to use a pencil. Large wax crayons are perfect for small hands, but varying the pencils (wax, wood, felt) is recommended to teach the child how to hold different pencils according to their size.

At this age, toddlers also display great interest in messy games doing finger painting or playing in sand, for example. It is a good idea to organize their space so they can play these kinds of games on their own initiative from time to time, for example by setting a large plastic tablecloth on the table or on the floor.

As they are gaining autonomy, a child this age likes being active and having some control over their environment. They therefore enjoy games where they feel in control, for example they like to collect, align, sort, empty, and fill.

What your 2- to 3-year-old child enjoys

At this age, a child is becoming increasingly agile: They have better coordination and balance. They can easily climb play structures, are more comfortable using stairs, and like to kick a ball. This is a good time to introduce the pedal-free bicycle (push bike) and, around 3 years old, the tricycle can be introduced.

From the age of 2, a toddler begins to use materials for a more specific purpose: They draw with a pencil, practise making cuts in paper with scissors, and soon they succeed in cutting small pieces of paper. Their hands are also more agile, so they can thread beads and build higher and higher block towers.

Their imagination and attention span are beginning to develop. They happily look through illustrated books and discover modelling clay, which they can use to create. They enjoy imitation games, and by observing their parents they have fun pretending. They then attempt to use plastic tools, prepare a meal in a toy kitchenette, and cradle their stuffed animal. Puppets are also fun. Children learn how to use them by imitating their parents. Puppets help to develop their imagination, language, and social skills.

A child of 2 to 3 years old now understands the concept of the permanence of the object, i.e., they understand that when they no longer see a person or an object, the person or object still exists. Thus, they enjoy playing hide and seek.

Toys recommended for a 1- to 3-year-old child
  • Toys to ride on wheels (18 months to 2 years old), push bike, tricycle
  • Finger painting
  • Bath paint
  • Washable felt pens
  • Wax crayons
  • Blackboard and chalk
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Modelling clay
  • Large beads to thread on a cord
  • Musical instruments
  • Block sets
  • Image books
  • Toys to pretend (crockery set, tool box, small cars, dolls, etc.)
  • Familiar household items (e.g., small hair brush, broom, bowl, whisk, etc.)
  • Association games (memory games, lottery games, etc.)
  • Puzzle (3 to 4 pieces)
  • Ball
  • Soap bubbles
  • Gardening kit
  • Puppets
  • Outdoor games (swing, slide, sandbox, etc.)

Should we go with the recommended ages on toys?

The recommended age displayed on packages gives a good indication of whether a toy is suitable for a toddler. It is best to avoid giving in to the temptation to buy toys that are too complex for your child’s age.

By giving your child the opportunity to play games that are appropriate for their age and development, you are allowing them to do activities consisting of an accessible, enjoyable challenge.

On the other hand, if your child finds a game too difficult to understand or perform, they will lose interest in this toy, even later, when they are old enough to use it.

Rotating toys to keep your child’s interest

Put away toys that your child has not played with in a while and take them out a few months later. They will then seem like new and this will generate renewed interest. Keep some storage containers within reach and others less accessible, and rotate them to stimulate interest in different games.

Things to keep in mind

  • A 1- to 2-year-old child is beginning to use pencils, is attracted to messy games like finger painting, and likes to thread, screw, collect, sort, and empty things.
  • Around 2 to 3 years old, a toddler becomes more skillful and can start using a bicycle without pedals, have fun in play structures, and practise using scissors.
  • At this age, their imagination is developing and they like to play by pretending, for example with plastic tools, a crockery set, stuffed animals, and dolls.


Naître et grandir

Scientific review: Valérie Ferron, M. Sc., occupational therapist
Research and copywriting: The Naître et grandir team
Updated: April 2021


Photo: 123rf.com/otnaydur


Useful links and resources

Note: Hyperlinks to other sites are not updated on a continuous basis. Thus, some links may not work. In such case, use the search tools to find specific information.

  • FERLAND, Francine. Et si on jouait? Le jeu au cœur du développement de l’enfant. 3rd ed., Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 240 pp.
  • FERLAND, Francine. Le développement de l’enfant au quotidien de 0 à 6 ans. 2nd ed., Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2018, 264 pp.
  • FERLAND, Francine. Le monde des jeux et jouets. Montreal, Éditions du CHU Sainte-Justine, 2013, 180 pp.
  • SANTINI, Céline and Isabelle LEDDET. 200 activités d’éveil pour des enfants de 0 à 3 ans. 2nd ed., Paris, Éditions First, 2019, 256 pp.