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My youngest just turned 3 years old, and what a fun age it is!! He is the last of five in the lineup of children in our household. Because we gave away most of our toys after our fourth child outgrew them, I have had to start fresh with toys for the baby of our family.
Like a lot of people, I am constantly battling the clutter in my home and trying to minimize our stuff by donating unused items as well as by simply buying less. But at the same time, I do want to make sure my littlest guy has all the best of the brain-stimulating toys his older siblings had. If a toy is worth it to me to buy again, you can be sure it’s a winner in my eyes.
What Makes a Toy Eco-Friendly?
So many toys made today can practically be considered disposable because the quality is low and they break before your children can even outgrow them. Often, these types of poorly made toys are made out of plastic. To make matters worse, once these crappy toys are broken, they can’t be recycled so they are thrown out. Then they will sit in a landfill for the next 1,000 years.
This is decidedly not an eco-friendly system.
Simply avoiding plastic toys as much as possible will go a long way toward reducing the negative impact on the environment. Zero waste toys made of wood or metal tend to be much sturdier and longer-lasting than plastic toys. A well-built, plastic-free toy will often last through many children. It can also be repaired more easily than plastic, lengthening its lifespan even more.
In this post, I’m sharing with you my top 10 list of plastic-free toys for a 3-year-old boy or girl. These are toys that jive with an eco-friendly lifestyle and a Montessori mindset, and that will withstand the test of time to last through multiple kiddos.
Best Zero Waste Toys For Three-Year-Olds
1. Balance Bike
A balance bike is a huge help in teaching a 3-year-old to ride a bicycle. What’s a balance bike? It’s a bicycle with two thick, inline wheels, no pedals, and no training wheels. Children learn to get the balance bike moving with their feet and then pull their feet up onto a center platform. Then, the child balances while the bike coasts.
We’ve been using a balance bike with our three-year-old and it is pretty remarkable what he’s able to do when not relying on training wheels! I think he’ll be an early two-wheel bike rider because of it.
Of course, it is super important to teach bike safety from the beginning so always be sure your little one is wearing a properly fitting helmet when they’re on a bike of any kind.
2. Kid-Sized Broom
A child-sized broom is such a great tool to allow little ones to help out with some housework while giving them a sense of independence and self-sufficiency. 3-year-olds love to help and to be given some responsibility around the house.
Make sure you get them a real, functional version that will hold up and not a cheap plastic toy version that doesn’t work well. The wooden broom shown above is the one I bought my son for his birthday, and it is holding up very well.
Ravensburger puzzles are excellent quality jigsaw puzzles. They come in different levels based on age and number of pieces. For my new three-year-old, the 24-piece puzzles are perfect. He is able to put them together on his own or with a little help without getting too frustrated. My son loves putting these together and feels SO proud when he finishes!
I recently purchased two of the 2-puzzle sets which is a great deal at under $12. Amazon has a pretty good selection if you’re a Prime shopper like me. Ravensburger’s website has a much more vast selection than what is available on Amazon if you want more options.
Wooden Montessori Puzzles
Montessori puzzles for preschoolers are similar to wooden peg puzzles for very young toddlers. However, these peg puzzles are more challenging and complex, because the pieces fit together rather than in individual cutouts shaped for each piece. This makes Montessori style puzzles perfect for a 3-year-old who is bored with “baby” puzzles but may not be quite ready for jigsaw puzzles.
Montessori puzzles tend to be of real-life objects, broken into logical parts or sections.
4. Cooperative Board Games
Age three is a fun age because this is when kids begin to develop the ability to sit and focus for a longer period of time, while also exhibiting some self-control. This makes a simple two- or three-person turn-taking game within the realm of possibility suddenly. It’s a great idea to test and develop this new ability with a simple game geared toward preschoolers. A game of Memory or a simple cooperative board game such as Hoot Owl Hoot, Sneaky Snacky Squirrel, or Count Your Chickens are all great choices!
5. Doctor Kit
This doctor kit is great for little ones because it has all the basic doctor equipment, and it is mostly made from wood. The stethoscope is a plastic piece, but the ointment bottle, thermometer, medicine bottle, are all wood. The caps even screw on and off of the bottles for great fine motor practice. I personally didn’t feel comfortable giving my son the pretend wooden pills that came with the set, so I removed those before giving it to him. A doctor’s kit can also serve double duty as a vet kit for any stuffed animal pets your child has!
6. Football, soccer ball, and/or basketball
Yes, a ball is a pretty basic toy. With all the flashy and high-tech toy options available today, it would be easy to not think of a simple ball as an excellent toy to gift. BUT, it really is one of the best, and here’s why: a ball can provide HOURS of entertainment, whether a child is playing alone or with someone else. A three-year-old is old enough to be able to coordinate the motor movements needed to bounce a basketball, throw a football, or kick a soccer ball. If they have older siblings, the desire to learn and practice these skills will be even greater! Make sure you get a mini/small size that a three-year-old can handle.
Creating and playing with playdough is a fun and engrossing activity when you are three! These wooden playdough toys are a sturdier and more eco-friendly alternative to the plastic ones. Your preschooler will love creating a variety of shapes and textures with these tools. I also added a few cookie cutters, and now have the ultimate zero waste play dough set! If your child is anything like my little boy, some homemade playdough and this set will keep him or her occupied for a long time!
8. Wooden easel & Art Supplies
Three-year-olds love to create artwork! An easel gives kids a designated place they can go to be creative on paper, with chalk, crayons, or paint! The sky’s the limit! An art smock and some art supplies are perfect accessories to give along with this awesome gift.
9. Dress Up Clothes
Beginning around age three, pretend and make-believe start to get really fun! A three-year-old’s imagination can run wild and allow them to act out many far-fetched (and entertaining) scenarios. Dressing up as real people, like doctors, firefighters, construction workers, and astronauts, as well as make-believe characters like fairies, superheroes, princes, and princesses, helps them develop these awesome imaginations. My 3-year-old son’s favorite dress-up outfits are currently a firefighter, doctor, and construction worker…oh, and Super Otis!
10. Picture Books
No gift list is ever complete without books, no matter what the age! Most 3-year-olds will be ready to handle paper-paged picture books without tearing them. (If yours isn’t quite ready, check out my top recommendations for board books.) 3-year-olds also have an attention span long enough to begin listening to longer stories. This opens up a whole new world of books available to explore!
There are SO many wonderful books out there! Here’s a list of some of my family’s favorite picture books. Click on any of the links to see them on Amazon.
If you have a three-year-old on your gift list, you won’t go wrong with any of the toys here!
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