By the time your child reaches his third birthday, he'll be ready for more challenging toys. After all, if he can put on his own T-shirt, take off his own pants, and wash and dry his own hands, he can certainly manage blocks and even simple memory or counting games. Most 3-year-olds love drawings, which means now's the perfect time to open a display gallery on the refrigerator.
At this age your child is a confident walker, runner, and jumper, and may even be able to balance on one foot for a second or more. That means it's time to let him play with scaled-down sports equipment. He may want to include other children in his games, and he'll really begin to relate to and focus on other kids, which allows him to play more structured games.
As he gets older, your toddler will become increasingly imaginative. He's no longer concerned just with his physical effect on the world and will start developing his own story lines, characters, plots, and adventures. Giving him clothes and props for pretend play – something as simple as a cardboard box can be a wagon, a spaceship, a fort, and so on – will help encourage this area of his development.
Play with your child: This is not something you need to spend money on, but this creates the most joyful memory. Teach him how to catch, kick, throw and hit a ball, when he is ready, play a mini soccer game with him in the backyard. You might discover a little Beckham!
Puzzles: Toddlers are developing their problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination at this age, and nothing tests their new abilities better than basic jigsaw puzzles. Look for ones with large pieces and a simple, easily recognizable picture. Some simpler ones come with trays that the pieces fit into.
Beginning board or memory games: You may not be able to find a board game very easily for a child younger than 36 months, but buy a simple one if you think he's developmentally ready. Your toddler's brain development will benefit from learning how to play board games such as Chutes and Ladders or a card game like I Spy or Memory. Particularly with memory games, he'll have fun trying to match things that are alike, and is likely to squeal in delight whenever he's successful.
Kid-size dishes, pots, and pans: Children this age love to pretend and play imaginary games, and one of the things they like best is to imitate Mom and Dad. A kitchen set gives them license to mix up all kinds of imaginary concoctions. Throw in a few empty sample-size food containers (tiny mustard jars, mini-jam pots, etc.) and your child could become the next Alton Brown.
Construction sets: Most toddlers this age are masters at stacking several blocks, but that doesn't mean the game loses its appeal. They especially enjoy blocks that lock together, such as Mega Bloks or Lego Duplos, because they can use their budding imagination – and hand-eye coordination – to build higher, more complex towers. Natural wood or colored blocks are also perennial favorites.
Art supplies: Your child will be ready and willing to experiment with art supplies, and it's your job to make sure he has the necessary tools of the trade. Invest in an art kit – look for one with a variety of art supplies – or assemble one yourself by gathering your own materials a little at a time and stashing them in a plastic lunchbox. Kids this age like crayons, watercolors, clay, collage basics like magazines and newspapers, construction paper, and tempera and finger paints. Just make sure everything is washable and nontoxic.
Outdoor equipment: As your child really starts to grow into his physical skills, he'll love toys that let him test his newfound abilities. Swings and sports equipment such as plastic balls and bats, miniature basketballs and hoops, soft soccer balls, and play golf sets are perfect toys for this age group.
Teaching tablets: I have seen too many times when Mom and Dad fighting for an iPad with their kid. Good news is you don't need to worry about how to use parental control on iPad any more. Also you can have the iPad to yourself without spending another $400. There are tablets that are cheaper and solely designed for children. They often have books, videos, musics and interactive games pre-installed, but you can always download more to it.