Holiday Gift Guide: for Kids Three and Under!

One of my favorite parts of parenting is getting to experience holidays and develop new traditions with my family.  With just a few years under our belt, we are still sort of navigating the whole world of holiday gifting, or really just gifting in general.

I don’t like having tons of STUFF, and I don’t want my kids to grow up thinking they need a million toys, trinkets, and other shiny things.  I really aim to find quality things that can be used for (hopefully) a long stretch of time, and nowadays I look for things the boys can use and play with together, and maybe even learn something along the way. 

Our house has a playroom where most of the toys are kept, and rather than just overloading it, I try to practice the rule of clearing out and donating things as new things come in.  All of that to say, when it comes to gifts, we keep it pretty minimal.  At their current ages, one new thing is ONE NEW THING!  And it is still considered pretty darn exciting.

I actually haven’t done ANY holiday shopping yet this year (I still have plenty of time, right?), but I’ve been thinking about it a lot.  Knowing the kids are going to get toys and gifts from relatives and friends, I think I might actually just stick to practical stuff like fun water bottles and new shoes – things they actually need anyway.

I know a lot of parents practice the following gifting philosophy during the holidays.  Four gifts total – something they WANT, something they NEED, something to WEAR, something to READ.  I kind of love it!  Although I always end up adding little odds and ends here and there.  But I think it’s a great way to think about gifting!

I get lots of email and comments from people all the time asking where I bought something or for gift/toy ideas for certain ages.  And while I’ve never done a gift guide before, this year I thought it might be fun to share some of our favorite things for kids three and under!  I’ve broken it down into categories to streamline a bit – here we go!

And just a quick disclaimer, none of these products are gifted or sponsored in any way.  Just stuff we love and use, or things I’ve been eyeing myself.  I hope it gives you ideas for little ones you might be shopping for this year!  Some affiliate links are included, and I appreciate your continued support of this community!

Something they WANT

  • Cars and trucks and things that go

Bruder fire truck

I never understood the whole cars and trucks thing until I had two little guys.  They love to vroom from room to room, racing around with dump trucks, garbage trucks, fire trucks – you get the picture.  Graham was pushing cars by the time he was 7 or 8 months old, and Cullen still plays with his trucks every day, so these toys are well worth the expense.  Favorites among our playgroup are the Bruder trucks (garbage truck, cement mixer, and crane truck being the most popular!)  I am considering getting this fire truck to add to the fleet!

For younger kids, the Kid O Go Car and Tip Truck are great options, with handles for easy pushing.  WOW Toys are also great for both big and small – this Flip N’ Tip Fred garbage truck is one of the most played with toys in our house!

  • Play Kitchen and Imaginative Play


Cullen got this Ikea Duktig play kitchen for his second birthday, and it’s been a big hit with both boys.  I love that it is natural and white, rather than neon like so many other toddler toys.  And at $100 it is really reasonable compared to some of the fancier kitchens.  For their birthdays this year, the boys got the Little Colorado play refrigerator to go along with this, and now it feels like a complete set.  I like having the fridge to store the play food, and Graham loves to open and close the doors.  He also likes to climb inside of it!

Favorite kitchen accessories are:  Hape coffee maker, Hape toaster, Melissa & Doug pizza party, Melissa & Doug pancake set, Melissa & Doug magnetic kitchen bottles (<—great for little ones to take lids on and off!) and this mini shopping cart

As far as other imaginative play goes, Cullen is totally obsessed with Richard Scarry.  For his birthday, my mom got him a Busytown playset with all the little shops and characters, and he plays with this every day.  Obsessed!  Graham likes to eat the people too.

This might sound weird, but I’m considering getting him a little broom and mop set for Christmas.  He plays with them at friends’ houses and always runs for the one at school!  And I can never have too much help sweeping up the dog hair!

  • Building toys and puzzles


Like I said before, I’m really trying to build (no pun intended) a collection of toys that provide learning opportunities and a way to grow skills and interests.  Cullen really likes to build and create things, so I’ve tried to pay attention to that and get him some good building tools!  Current favorites include: 

  • Magna-Tiles – we have the 100 piece set and the 48-piece DX set, and he LOVES building cars and towers with these.  Because he likes building cars so much, I’m considering this Magformers Emergency Vehicles set for Christmas this year.  Graham actually likes these too, and tries to help set things up (and then of course, knock them down!).
  • LEGO Duplos – we don’t have a lot of these yet, but they are his favorite thing to play with at friend’s houses.  And while I think he could probably handle the small legos now, the Duplo size is better for having around Graham, so we’ll stick to these for a while. 
  • Memberships – we need to get out and about every day or the kids and I go nuts.  We have memberships to most of the museums around town, and they are the saving grace during our rainy season!  And during the summer, we are at the zoo multiple times each week.  Look for local childrens museums, science museums, natural history museums, zoos, aquariums, and more!
  • Classes or experiences – when the toy bins are overflowing, experiences and kids classes are a great gift alternative to more stuff.  Our kids have really enjoyed Lil Kickers soccer and Gymboree (both are national programs), and as they get older we’re looking at things like swimming lessons and music classes!
  • And perhaps the favorite thing of all – PUZZLES!  Cullen is a super-spatial kid, and he’s been really into puzzles since a young age.  We have a million puzzles, and he will sit and do them at the kitchen table by himself for long stretches of time.  It’s pretty cool to watch!  A few current favorites are this baseball puzzle and this fire truck puzzle.  We also love the Crocodile Creek travel puzzles to take on trips!  Okay, that’s enough for toys…

Something they NEED

Obviously need is a relative term when talking about little ones.  They don’t NEED much more than food in their bellies, warm beds, and lots of hugs and love.  But there are some “essentials” that are not fun toys, but still fun to have.  Here are some ideas!


  • Tot Talk placemats – we have two of these, and they are both useful and fun for kids.  Cullen has learned about half of the US states just by using this for daily meals.  Bonus for keeping the table clean. 
  • Mark-Mat – I am getting Cullen one of these for Christmas this year!  It is a silicone placemat that you can keep in your diaper bag, along with wipe-off markers for coloring and keeping toddlers entertained at the table.  We’re getting the Seattle space needle version, but there are many other cities as well as fun prints with animals and things.
  • Re-Play dishes – we just discovered these and I am IN LOVE.  I found ours at Fred Meyer and grabbed several sets.  They are super sturdy and made from recycled milk jugs.  Both boys use these every day!
  • Fun water bottles and cups – I am forever on the hunt for leak-proof water bottles and straw cups for the kids.  Our current favorites are Thermos Foogo bottles, Camelbak kids bottles, and Liberty Bottleworks (made in Washington!).

Something to WEAR


Thankfully my kids are still at an age where they let me dress them without too much protest.  And even though I choose most of their clothes, Cullen still gets excited about fun pajamas or dinosaur printed shoes (who wouldn’t!?).

  • Rain boots – these are essential in Seattle, but even elsewhere I know plenty of toddlers who love to wear boots and stomp in puddles.  We really like the LL Bean Puddle Stompers!  This year, I snagged Hunters at 75% off at a store that was going out of business – ridiculous but so cute. 
  • Funky shoes – in our house we love colorful Sauconys, printed TOMS, and See Kai Run Smallers for the little ones.
  • New pajamas – you can never have enough jammies right?  We get all of ours from Carters (whole store is 50% off right now!) or Old Navy (I stalk the 40% off coupons!), and they are so soft and cozy.  Cullen likes the two piece sets (so he can go potty if he needs to) and Graham rocks the fuzzy zip-ups.  Bonus points for matching sets for siblings!

Something to READ


The rule in our house is that you can never have too many books or puzzles.  I like to get both boys a few new books for each holiday and birthday, in addition to surprising them with something new to read whenever we travel.  Here are some of our favorites!

Richard Scarry – like I said before, Richard Scarry is king of the house.  In addition to the big hardback books, we have a bunch of the Pictureback books that are thin and light and great for travel (and also around $3!)

Elephant & Piggie – These funny Mo Willems books are some of our favorites, and since there are so many you can add to the collection for a long time. 

Lift-the-flap books – Graham’s current favorite, and Cullen loved these too.  We love Karen Katz, Sesame Street flap books, and  Dwell Studio books

Holiday books – tis the season, right?  This year I’m looking at Elmo’s Merry Christmas, I Spy Little Christmas, The Berenstain Bears Meet Santa Bear, The Best Christmas Book Ever, and The Night Before The Night Before Christmas.

Magazine subscriptions – this is another fave in our house!  Cullen LOVES getting his Highlights High Five magazine every month, and he reads them over and over again until they are ripped to shreds.  He also loves the My First Hidden Pictures books (which are perfect for travel!).

That’s everything I can think of for this year!  Hope it helps some of you are gifting for your own kids or other little ones in your life.  The biggest thing I’ve learned so far about holidays with kids is that it’s so much more about the festivities and fun than the actual gifts (at least at these young ages).  My kids will probably actually get very little, especially since they both just had birthdays.  We’re filling up our time with every seasonal activity I can squeeze in, and I love seeing how excited they get to watch holiday trains or see reindeer up close.  Post coming up soon about all our holiday fun this year! 

Happy shopping!

And now your turn – tell me what you are gifting this year!  Any good ideas I haven’t though of!?