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Five Great Toys for Young Children (ages 3 - 6)

Updated on October 19, 2015

Buying great toys for young children can be a challenge. While there certainly are plenty of toys flooding the market, I definitely don’t believe that most of them qualify as being “great.” To me, a great toy is one that gets continually used. It isn’t something that requires hours of adult time to assemble, nor a dozen batteries of differing size -- just to have kids entertained for a maximum of ten minutes. And then never again.

A neighbor of mine once told me that a toy is worth buying if it is one that kids can continually interact with, not just look at. Spending a vast amount of time assembling the latest gimmick of a figurine that lights up in different colors yet sits there, isn’t worth the money, and certainly not the time. So while the latest popular kid movie will inevitably lead to a saturation of the toy market by coming out with varying degrees of replica dolls, figurines, or the latest accessories -- all that reflects the movie’s popularity (I’m looking at you, Queen Elsa), here is a list of toys that are more than a gimmick, and more than merely something to look at. Furthermore, most of these toys are relatively inexpensive, and will prove their worth by getting played with time and time again.

Drill Activity Set

Description: This complete set comes with a sturdy plastic board with pre-drilled holes, along with several screws of varying colors and a few different tools such as screwdrivers and a drill. Many sets also include several cardboard patterns that can be duplicated onto the plastic drill board. While at first glance one may determine this is a great gift for boys, I believe this is a great toy for kids of ANY gender.

Adult Annoyance Factor – Other than a couple of batteries that need to be inserted into the plastic drill at the start, there isn’t any assembling needed. Because this set does have a lot plastic components I would recommend purchasing a small plastic bin for this toy set once you get sick of stepping on the two-inched screws that your little one will most likely leave all over the floor during and after play.

Why it’s Great – At first kids will be entertained as they use their dexterity with the tools to figure out how to drill the screws into the board, and how to remove them. Then, kids will be entertained by picking screws of certain colors and strategically drilling them into the board to create a pattern or a picture of their liking. Finally, because most sets come with pre-patterned cardboards, kids will be able to replicate this process onto the drill board; this requires more thought and concentration as kids continue to play with this item. Finally, kids using paper (or a blank pattern cardboard some kits include) can engineer or design their own pattern and then later replicate it using the board.

Wooden Train Set

Description: Each set will vary slightly, but all sets will come with some number of wooden track pieces of different lengths with varying shapes and angles. Train sets will typically include a few different train car components that adhere to each other magnetically. Many sets will also include accessories like bridges, train signs, buildings, and other items of décor to make the train landscape complete.

Adult Annoyance factor— Upon opening this for the first time in front of kids they will definitely expect you to assemble it for them, if they can’t figure out how all the pieces connect together right away. So be sure to keep the instructions on hand or even the picture of the completed track on the box cover since little ones will surely expect you to be an expert in train-track configuration. For those of us who don’t hold a Masters degree in Engineering, getting a connected track utilizing each track piece can be quite a daunting enterprise.

Also, since most train sets seem to have more doohickies and doodads than should be legal, I once again recommend getting a storage container for all the many parts.

Why It’s Great – Young children always seem to be thrilled interacting with a wooden train set, especially sets that do have all the goodies and extras. Even if they can’t assemble the track to its entirety right away, kids love pushing the trains around and around on a completed one! As kids do get a little older, they typically get more advanced creative in terms of their construction abilities. Because the wooden ones are pretty standard, you can even buy additional tracks or other components if your child takes an especial liking to it.

Clay or Fun Dough

Description – In case you have been living life in a cave until recently having successfully logged into the Internet, this is a pliable substance that can joyfully be molded into various shapes. Clay comes from the Earth. Fun dough can be made in ones kitchen with minimal ingredients, while some of us take the cheap and easy way and simply purchase Play doh at our local Target.

Adult Annoyance Factor—I could write a novel on this topic, but I’ll be brief. For starters, there is nothing fun about getting fun dough out of the carpet; therefore I’ve made the rule that this is a “kitchen only” kind of toy.

Constantly cleaning up dough remnants can make one crazy.
Constantly cleaning up dough remnants can make one crazy. | Source

Secondly, the gizmos and gadgets one can purchase to accompany dough is endless. And many of these gadgets are more on the side of machinery, which is also indicative in the listed price. When deciding what to purchase, I truly think a basic tool set is most ideal to have on hand. It’s cheaper, easier to store, and easier to clean than most of those complex mechanical devices on the market. Plus, with the variety of tools in the set, kids can get extremely creative in their dough designs day after day – or until you get fed up with the dough and throw it out.

Why it’s Great – As much as picking up remnants of play-doh is a pain, this is a great toy that can continually entertain. Plus, in terms of development, children can improve their dexterity as they shape the dough and use the tools. Finally, this is great activity because it can accommodate any number of participants. Whether it’s one kid, or the entire family, everyone can partake in the fun simultaneously.

Richard Scarry's Busytown Game

Description – This is a board game that is fantastic to those new to the world of board games. The goal of this game is to successfully advance your mobile across the board to get to the picnic before the menacing pigs gobble it up. Through the help of Gold Bug mystery cards, players can use their magnifying glass to locate designated items on the board in a under a minute, to advance extra spaces.

Adult Annoyance Factor – In all the kid games I have played, I’m a firm believer that this is one of the best. Batteries aren’t needed, there aren’t any crazy sounds or buzzers, and this game doesn’t require any assembly, other than setting the board up. And the kids can do that part.

Why it’s Great – Unlike most board games where there is a clear winner, while everyone else is automatically placed in the other category, this board game is about the outcome of the team. The other positive about this aspect of this game is that it has a great flow to it from start to finish. The Gold Bug mystery cards allow everyone to participate so it’s not just one person taking a turn all the time. This is one game that even as a parent, I get excited about playing.

Fisher Price's Mega Bloks vs Lego's Duplo

Description – Most people out there have heard of the brand Lego, and have seen the little bricks and tiles in the array of colors that can be constructed and snapped together to build something. The Bloks and Duplo toys are the basic, so to speak, building blocks of Lego – geared for a younger audience. The pieces are much bigger, making it easier for little hands to use.

Adult Annoyance Factor – The biggest issue I have with this toy is having a toy bin that contains both Mega Bloks and Duplo. Essentially they look the same, construct the same, and feel the same under bare feet, but they are not the same; therefore, these should not be combined. Just like you can’t use your ipad cord to charge your Kindle, you can’t sync a Mega Blok evenly into a Duplo one. To get around this serious issue, I seriously recommend deciding early on (perhaps right after celebrating that positive reading on the pregnancy test) if your household is going to endorse Mega Bloks or Duplo. And just like you have to declare a political party when you register to vote, make that decision and don’t swing from it. Be sure to share with relatives and friends which way your household has selected so future birthday and holiday gifts don’t result in propaganda from the other side.

Why it’s Great – Regardless of which brand you go with, these are a great toy staple to have in the house. I do recommend splurging and buying a set that contains a higher number of blocks since generally, the more blocks on hand, the more that can be constructed. Also, as kids get older, it is amazing to see their progression in what they are capable of building. In terms of toys, this is another one that the entire family can sit down together and play with.


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