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, 20-30 pieces; age 5; up to 50 pieces.
    • large, simple jigsaw puzzles (10-25 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 & hedge loom); small beads to string (1/2 in.); block printing equipment.
  • Manipulative Toys
    • matching toys by color, shape or picture; from age 4, by concept, letters (ABC), numbers (1-10).
    • 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.