Ask Design Mom: 3 year old gifts

January 22, 2008

Ask-Design-Mom Question:
Hi Gabrielle! Love your blog. I thought you would be the perfect person to ask. My nephew is turning three next week. He has *everything* an almost three year old could want or need. And not plastic stuff. Cool stuff — cause he lives in Brooklyn, and his parents are hip and all that. What is a good gift to get for him — got any ideas or websites or stores to visit? Andrea Birch

Design Mom Answer:
Great question, Andrea! And perfect timing what with my son’s three year old birthday happening just last Saturday. Here are some of the things Oscar loved receiving.

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Banana Monkey Car.
I have no idea where my friend picked this up, but I am in love with it. And Oscar was possessive about it from the moment it appeared. So great! I’ve left a message for my friend asking about the source — I’ll update as soon as I hear anything. This just in: she picked this lovely item up at Wisteria. Apparently no longer available :(

Doctor Kit with Wooden Accessories.
The same friend also gave Oscar a little German doctor kit that Oscar has carried from room to room since his party.

A Colorful Clock.
From age 3 kids start learning more and more about the concept of time. Tomorrow. Yesterday. In a minute. We picked up this Monkey faced clock at the holiday fair in Grand Central. When the alarm goes off it makes monkey sounds. You can find 5 different animal sound clocks at Streamline.

Cariboo & Bloom Puzzle.
These are both made by the Cranium company and I am a fan of every thing I’ve seen this company produce. Smart thinking and good design. We own 4 of their boardgames and love them dearly. 3-year-olds can’t get enough of Cariboo. Your nephew will want to play it 10 times every day.

Bloom is a new-to-me Cranium product line and sure enough, it’s another hit. You put together a puzzle and then use the little flip books they provide to spot things on the puzzle and circle them with erasable marker. Oscar loves it!

We picked this up at Target for $7. It’s just the right size for a 3 year old to try out. And it’s small enough that I don’t mind him using it in the house (it’s so cold outside!).

Wood Puzzles.
It’s hard to own too many good wood puzzles. Your nephew probably already has some, but he’s probably also tired of them. Oscar (and Betty) both love wood puzzles. Melissa & Doug is one good source. Their puzzles are sold all over the place.

Play Dough & Art Supplies.
Since the parents of the nephew are “hip and all that”, they’ll appreciate homemade jello playdough in lieu of the electric-colored commercial stuff. (Although kids love both kinds!). Put it in a good looking container and include a dino or doggie or car shaped cookie cutter and it will provide hours of fun. And the jello makes it smell really good too.

This is an appropriate time to mention art supplies as well. Kids go through markers, paper, glue and pipe cleaners faster than you might expect. They are always a welcome gift.

Sporting Equipment.
A few trips to the park and whatever sporting equipment your nephew has will be either thrashed or lost. My kids are always delighted to receive baseballs and bats, kickballs, bouncy balls, hockey sets, soccer balls, all of it. I love this beautiful leather basketball that Oscar received. (Couldn’t find the link but I believe it’s from Pottery Barn.)

What about you Design Mom Readers? What do you like to give for 3-year-old gifts?

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{ 18 comments… read them below or add one }

1 brandy January 22, 2008 at 3:19 pm

When my daughter turned three, we gave her a tambourine, a kazoo, and some Romper Stopmers. Remember those? Five months later, they are still favorites! And you really can’t go wrong with a grab-bag of art supplies at any age.


2 bethany January 22, 2008 at 3:26 pm

You can find some really great gifts for a three year old on Etsy. Here are a couple links that I like:

There’s lots more on Etsy-I just love supporting the artists who create such wonderful products!!


3 Super Zoe January 22, 2008 at 4:51 pm

Books are always good, and be sure to write in the front. I agree that parent-approved sports and music equipement is also great (I like maracas and a sombrero as a gift!) Art supplies, too. Cool blocks, things from foreign countries and faraway places (like New Jersey or Idaho) can be fun, too.

I agree that locally made gifts are always fun. And I would LOVE to get that wooden medical set for someone.


4 Genevieve January 22, 2008 at 5:02 pm

Wanted to let you know that one of Cranium’s games was just recalled for excessive lead levels in the paint. It’s called Cadoo and is for kids 7 and up. Hopefully you don’t have that one.


5 mamacita January 22, 2008 at 5:10 pm

If you’re on a budget: a flashlight (avail. at the Dollar Store); also, some more crayons are always welcome. If you don’t know the kid well enough to get him a home-run favorite-toy-of-all-time gift, you could do worse than to simply replenish the stuff his parents run out of all the time (crayons and paper, Playdoh, Legos, cool socks or pajamas, etc.). Even if it’s not the most glamorous gift, it’s still something necessary instead of burdensome clutter for his parents.


6 citymama1 January 22, 2008 at 6:47 pm

If the child has everything, might I recommend giving an experience instead.
-If you live in the area, a day at the aquarium or children’s museum might be fun to do together. Or you could pay for yearly memberships at these places.
-I also am a fan of magazine subscriptions. National Geographic Little Kids is excellent for three year olds. We have one for my daughter and she loves it. The pictures are fabulous and they have simple stories and “articles” that are fun to read together. And it’s the gift that keeps on giving! :)
- Tickets to their favorite musical groups are also fun. And there is no shortage of great entertainment in NYC.

Good luck.


7 Mamalang January 22, 2008 at 7:00 pm

My son loves his skateboard 2 years later (he just turned 5) even though he still isn’t very good on it.

Those are really cute toys!


8 Missy January 23, 2008 at 12:09 am

That banana car was in the last Wisteria catalog. There are a ton of other cute ones too!


9 Missy January 23, 2008 at 12:14 am
10 Just Katy January 24, 2008 at 10:09 am

Where do you go to buy the plastic cookie cutters? I’ve been hunting for some with NO luck.


11 Design Mom January 24, 2008 at 10:31 am

Hi Katy! I’ve had good luck finding plastic cookie cutters at Art & Craft Supply stores like Michaels and AI Friedman. The 2 pictured are made by Wilton.


12 Frugal Dad January 24, 2008 at 9:31 pm

It’s funny how the simplest gifts can be the favorites, over much more expensive store-bought items. My nephew is turning 3 soon, and I passed the ideas on to my wife who loved them. Thanks for sharing (the homemade doctor’s kit was our favorite).


13 MommySecrets January 24, 2008 at 10:30 pm

What a great list! My 3yr old also LOVES Cariboo and the Bloom puzzle. Other current favorites are Sorry, Uno, anything with Lightning McQueen, those Crayola markers that only work on special coloring pages, and playdough. Oh, 3yr olds are so much fun! If only we could bottle up their energy!


14 Anonymous January 25, 2008 at 2:18 am

I just made big list for the family of good gifts for my three year old:
Nerf football
Hippity hop
Croquet set:
Boat for the bath:
Krazy Kar:
Cool kids bathrobe
Post-It Notes
Interesting band-aids
Good site:

We splurged on an indoor swing:


15 Anonymous January 25, 2008 at 2:22 am

One more–Someone already posted superhero capes but I ordered some from this Etsy shop with customized initials and they looked pretty awesome:


16 To Think is to Create January 25, 2008 at 3:01 am

We got our 3yr old the German doc kit as well, and it’s become attached to his hip! Picked it up at, who have incredible European toys.

We also love Moolka’s wooden animals from the Holztiger line:


17 January 28, 2008 at 12:21 pm

These are all great gifts! I wish I could have read something like this before the holidays. We don’t see our 3 year old nephew very often so it was hard to decide.

I actually designed and printed a board game (posted here for free download:
and my husband screen-printed a few
shirts for him to “grow into.”


18 Anonymous July 31, 2008 at 1:49 pm

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