Favorite Gifts for 3-5 year olds!

Perfect Gift Ideas for 3-5 Year Olds that Inspire Learning and Development

In keeping in line with my last post on toys that inspire open-ended play, I thought I’d camp out on favorite toys during these magical preschool/kinder years!  I love this age.  It is a time when imaginations really start to kick into high gear and our children are eagerly exploring their environment.  They question everything and they love to use their senses to experience the world around them.

So here are some of our favorites for the 3-5 year old crowd:

Costumes & Books – My philosophy of education during this stage is to stoke their curiosity by learning about INTERESTING things. Kids love to ask questions. Introducing our kids to great books, encouraging free, imaginative play and talking with them about anything and everything gives them such a wonderful foundation.  As such, pairing costumes and books is a favorite gift combination as is reflected all throughout this 31 day gift guide series.

Of particular interest might be:

Stacking wood bowls: The perfect preschool Christmas gift!

Colored Wood Stacking Bowls.  I love Waldorf-inspired wood toys and these gorgeous bowls top the list.  My babies and toddlers love to stack them and find hidden ‘treasures’ that we’ll place under some of them.  My preschoolers have played lots of sorting games and they have come in handy as my boys have played all kinds of imaginary games – including ‘house’.  For all of their macho, rough and tumble tendencies, they also love family and have played ‘house’ with surprising frequency.  If bright primary color aren’t quite your thing they come in natural stain, cool or warm colors.  I was at my sister’s house this week and noticed that her kids have a set too which means that all 3 of us sisters have purchased these beauties for our kids!Beautiful wooden bowls and colored bugs are the perfect combo for developing important preschool skills.

Bug Counters (we use these for counting, building patterns, sorting by color or by type of bug, etc)  I love these and they pair beautifully with our wooden bowls.

Lauri toys are perfect for the preschool age!

Lauri Toys – Do you own any Lauri toys? They are simple, portable, and engaging. Plus they have an excellent replacement policy. Lose or break a part of your set and they’ll replace it!  If your kids are anything like mine, that’s a nice policy to have around.  Here are a few of our favorites:

  • Color/Shape Sorter - I love this peg stacker/sorter.  We’ve used it to learn colors and identify shapes.  Plus it is a great way to hone fine-motor skills!  It is a popular item that I’ll put in our bag when going to piano lessons or church and I need to occupy the little ones.
  • Pegs/Pegboard - another great Lauri toy.  I like the box and handle that stores it all, making it easy to tote around and quietly occupy the preschooler.
  • Fit-A-Space – this set packs a powerful punch.  It helps develop the pincer grasp (essential for writing), provides sorting opportunities, color comparisons, and fine-motor dexterity as you put the puzzle pieces back together.
  • See-the-Difference-Puzzle - This is a great puzzle that hones visual discrimination.

Pattern Blocks and Boards – Melissa & Doug has a great pattern block set.  Even a three year old can work on matching the colors/shapes to the boards.  Plus it is a great toy that grows with your child.  My older kids will make patterns on a table simply by looking at the pattern or will make their own.  I printed and laminated some extra pattern cards from Confessions of a Homeschooler that I keep with our set.

Kitchen Play – All kids love to imitate life and a good deal of our life is spent in the kitchen – cooking, cleaning, and eating!  Plus this is a great way to work on fine-motor skill development as you pour, stir, stack and cut!

  • Kitchen ideas: You can make your own with any of the ideas I’ve posted in my play kitchen pinterest board.  I love the diversity of ideas out there. (An outdoor mud kitchen could be fun too!)  You can also buy one.  I prefer wood and these options are beautiful: turquoise vintage kitchen, classic red, and I’m partial to this unfinished wood kitchen because it’s the one we own.   We found ours on Craigslist!  As long as something is in good condition, your kids won’t know that it isn’t new!}
  • Food: We love these two sets that promote imaginative play and fine-motor skill development: Pizza, Fruit cutting.  Here is an amazing collection of felt food tutorials if you are the DIY type!
  • Utensils: Greta enjoys her tin tea set and we’ve been happy with our Ikea dishes and pots/pans/utensils (crazy that you can also get these on Amazon) that she received for her birthday!

Gifts that Promote MOVEMENT.

Movement is so essential for wiring the brain to learn.  I enjoy giving gifts that inspire my kids to go outside, to play hard, and explore.

  • Balls, sports equipment and such make for great gifts.  We want our kids kicking, climbing and running.  All of these strengthen vestibular stimulation which in turn promotes learning.
  • We love our Plasma car and having a set of plastic cones.  This Spin n’ Saucer is a fun alternative indoor/outdoor toy to the Plasma car that provides lots of sensory stimulation.

Pairing a book and a real-life item make for some fun Christmas Gifts!

Flashlight + Book {Flashlight}
Flashlights and kids go together.  My dad has a set of mag-lights in different colors that he keeps at their house.  When the boys were younger, he’d come up behind and them and whisper and invitation to go hunting for “DANGER” with him.  These advenutrous boys of mine were all in.  I’m a big fan of wordless books and this book is breathtaking in showcasing the wonder awaiting discovery with a flashlight.

Umbrella + Book {Yellow Umbrella} 
I don’t think there can possibly be a child who doesn’t like umbrellas.  We’ve had a set of vintage-esque duck umbrellas in different colors for as long as we can remember.  My kids love them.  In fact, I wrote about how valuable they are as an open-ended play item back 5 years ago.  So why not give the gift of an umbrella and a book to go with it.  I stumbed upon this beautiful book at my sisters house several years ago.  It is nearly wordless and the illustrations are stunning.  I was bummed to see that it is out-of-print, but as long as you don’t mind buying a used copy, I think it would pair well with an umbrella and capture the imagination for some rainy day play.  This book seems to beg for a yellow umbrella!  We love our duck head umbrealla, but this one with the curved handle has great reviews for kid use and it is adorable.

Curious about cultivating these precious preschool years?  Here are resources that I love to share every time I speak on the topic:

10 Ways to Make the Most of the Preschool Years {resources from Heather Haupt's presentation}

To check out the whole series31 days of gift ideas that will spark and foster your children's love of learning and feed the imagination!

How to encourage open-ended play and why it matters!

Gift ideas that inspire open-ended exploration and play and WHY open-ended play is so important.

My 31 day series continues along.  For those of you just checking in, I’m on day 21 of a 31 day series on gift ideas that inspire learning.  We love to be intentional about what we give our children and it’s been fun to have the grandparents join us in the experience.  You can read more about it and find a list of all the posts in this series here.


Call me strange, odd, or quirky, but few things delight me more than sitting back and covertly watching my children play.  It is a beautiful thing to behold that imagination at work.  As a child, I told myself that I would never lose the ability to play pretend.  I desperately wanted to retain that part of childhood. Sadly, I have to say that I’ve lost my touch, although I still have my moments.  Despite my reduced skill, my appreciation for watching the imagination at work won’t ever fade.

What is open-ended play and why is it important?

Open-ended play is that magical place where a child’s imagination comes alive and they use resources around them in creative and fresh ways.  It is play without a destination or purpose in mind.

It is important because:

* It develops the imagination.

* It encourages creativity.

* It encourages problem-solving.

* It is the place where children make sense of what they’ve heard and learned.

* It’s the place where learning is cemented into long-term memory.

How do we cultivate and protect open-ended play?

  1. Protect Free Time – We do this by scheduling in down-time for our kids where there is no specific agenda.  We do this by reducing screen-time and other distractions at home during this “down-time” so they can play and explore.
  2. Don’t Micro-Manage – We need to give our kids time to be bored and then use discernment on when to step in and provide direction and when to step back and let them figure it out.
  3. Provide Open-Ended Toys – My hallmark for a good toy is one that does less so the child imagines more.  A child doesn’t need a toy perfectly suited for every whim.  Instead they should learn to utilize their imagination to make the toy or stick or whatever they have fit into their whimsical world.
  4. Encourage Creative Uses for Items You Already Own -  I alluded to this in my previous point.  If your child wants to play “pirates” for instance, encourage them to make due with what they have!  Once they catch the bug on this, the opportunities for play are endless.

10 Gift Ideas that Inspire Open-Ended Play

1. Fort Materialsfort
This can be as simple or elaborate as you want.  Giving your kids a set of PVC pipes and connectors can lead to hours of pretend play.  We used ours several years ago to build the dimensions for a family’s quarters on the Mayflower.  We simply cut them down into 2-3 foot long sections and included connecting pieces.

If you want something similar that comes with inspiration, instructions and is easier to store, than I highly recommend checking out FORT MAGIC: FORT BUILDING & CONSTRUCTION TOY KIT FOR KIDS!  These look amazing and would make a great group gift for all of your kids.  I like that it is thin, flexible and much easier to store.

2. Play Silks
If you’ve been reading here long, you know that I absolutely love play silks.  They are my all-time favorite “toy.”  They are a bit pricey, but the open-ended options with them are endless.  Considering the sheer (no pun intended) amount of play time these have seen, I’d make the investment again in a heartbeat! Play silks are simply 1 square yard of silk.  But with the addition of a child’s imagination they are magically transformed into belts, dresses, capes, knight costumes, Bible costumes and/or headdresses, campfires, rivers, and the list could go on. We have about 12 of them and use them every single day!  Plus they are compact, easy to store and easy to take with us when we travel!  We love the 100% silk playsilks from A Toy Garden, but you can also get a beautiful polyester playsilk set for half the cost.

3. Blocks
I wrote about blocks yesterday, but they deserve to be mentioned again.  Blocks are so versatile and open-ended, especially the big set of blocks as you can pretend the round tube blocks are microphones, goblets, etc and the others can stand in for dishes, roads, ice skates (yes, mine have played hockey on them and pretended to figure skate on the carpet).

4. Costumessoaring
In our family, we don’t rule out buying used at a thrift store.  One of my sisters bought the boys a costume collection from items she had thrifted.  We still play with that vest, extra cowboy hat, and the set of suspenders that came with that set. It was an awesome gift.  When building up your dress-up wardrobe, it is amazing how a few key pieces make a huge difference. Earlier in this series, I listed many costume recommendations.  Most of them can be used in open-ended ways.  Here are a few very general ideas to consider as well.

  • Skirts – Make or find a simple long skirt with an elastic waist.  These will really grow with your girls and last a long time. Paired with the right blouse it transforms into a variety of options.
  • Jackets – We’ve thrifted suit coats for the boys.
  • Hats – Hats are incredibly versatile.  The boys received a pilot hat for Christmas one year.  It has transformed into a sailor hat, a military hat and host of other purposes, transporting them into many realms.  Here’s some vintage blogginess about this lovely hat.

5. Open-Ended Props

  • Stick Horses – Yes, I’m mentioning our favorite stick horses again.
  • Hockey Sticks – Our hockey sticks have stepped in for guns, stick horses, fort building materials and a number of other things as well.  Who knew?
  • Baskets – Baskets are a wonderful addition for girls during pretend play too.  Thrift stores or garage sales are a great place to find beautiful baskets.

What would you add to this list?


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To check out the whole series, click here.31 days of gift ideas that will spark and foster your children's love of learning and feed the imagination!

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