Preschooler Gift Guide: Unique and Developmentally Appropriate

Birthdays, Easter, Christmas and every other holiday seems to run up on parents like a freight train.  Yes, we want to encourage our children’s minds and bodies without filling our homes with more unnecessary junk.

Your preschooler may already have a wide array of toys.  It can be hard to locate new toys that will capture the interests of your little love.

How many times have you been frustrated when your child loves a toy in the store, but quickly loses interest with that same toy at home?  Perhaps the toy was actually too difficult or too simple for your preschooler.  Or perhaps it was more of the same toys they already own.

This year, I pulled down my child development textbook with a special quest to figure out which gifts would be developmentally appropriate for my little ones.

Check out the list below for some great gift suggestions and learn a little about the amazing child development happening right before your eyes.

Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills improve greatly as children move out of toddlerhood and into early childhood.  Most notably, preschoolers begin to draw shapes rather than scribbles.  They also make great leaps in mastering their bodies in the areas of potty learning, feeding themselves, and dressing themselves.  Encourage this fine motor development with the gifts below:

1.  Art Easel and Accessories

An exciting new art easel is a great way to inspire your little Rembrandt.  Check out this Melissa and Doug option on Amazon that is outfitted with a chalkboard, a dry erase board, and a paper roll dispenser.  Or THIS inexpensive option sold at Ikea.

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Standing Art Easel

Complete the art gift with this accessory set:

Melissa & Doug Easel Accessory Set

If you have a free-spirited artist, you may want to opt for these washable dry-erase markers and crayons.

Crayola Washable Dry-Erase Markers & Dry-Erase Crayons

And while you are giving the gift of art, give yourself the gift of peace of mind with this machine washable drop cloth and smock.

Waterproof Anti-slip Floor Splash Mat

Children’s Smock

2.  Green Toys Build-a-Bouquet

This toy allows children to stack flowers and leaves to create their own garden.  The small holes help children refine their eye-hand coordination and practice their pincer grasp.  This set is made from 100% recycled milk jugs and is recyclable as well!

Green Toys Build-a-Bouquet Floral Arrangement Playset

3.  Magnetic Fishing Puzzles

Preschoolers will have a great time using magnets to try and catch these sea creatures and bugs.  What a fun way to practice eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills.

Melissa & Doug Magnetic Wooden Puzzle Game Set

4.  Russian Nesting Dolls

Preschoolers will love opening each doll to find a smaller doll inside.  This toy will help them learn about comparisons and matching as well as improving their dexterity.  Caution – the center doll is small and you may not want it in your home if you have a younger child around.

Handmade Wooden Nesting Dolls

Gross Motor Skills

As toddlers grow into preschoolers, they become less top-heavy and their center of gravity shifts downward.  This shift greatly improves balance and allows preschoolers to experiment with throwing, catching, jumping, riding, and swinging.

1.  Trampoline

Let your little one jump with joy on this great trampoline.  If you want a toy that does double duty, check out this exercise trampoline that can also be used by adults for fitness. January is just around the corner, after all →

Fold & Go Trampoline

2.  Balance Challenges

Your kidlet is finally ready to tackle some balance challenges.  Give them the opportunity with these variable height stepping-stones or this foldable balance beam!

Gonge Riverstones

Gymnastics Balance Beam

3.  Plasma Car

For a unique ride-on toy, your preschooler can enjoy this Plasma Car.  Your preschooler simply swivels the handles back and forth and the car moves effortlessly along.  This toy can hold up to 220 lbs on smooth, flat surfaces so big kids can get in on the fun too!

PlasmaCar The Original by PlaSmart

4.  Martial Arts / Gymnastics / Dance Class

Encourage your preschooler’s gross motor development by enrolling them in a class! Simply take a look on Yelp to find local studios that offer your preferred course.

If you are struggling to find a studio, check with your city’s community center.  Oftentimes community centers offer inexpensive, short-term classes; a perfect introduction to a new environment.

If you would still like a present to wrap, buy a corresponding outfit piece such as a ballet leotard, soccer cleats, tap shoes, or a karate uniform.  For extra points, be sure to take your preschooler out for ice cream after their new class.


Cognitive Development

The preschool years are often called the “play years.”

A toddler may pretend to write with a pen, but she will not pretend the pen is a magical wand.  Toddlers tend to imitate adults and have trouble imagining objects as items that they are not.

Preschoolers, however, can break free from the reality of an object and see the alternative fantasy.  Early childhood is filled with imaginative play.

Preschoolers also engage in sociodramatic play wherein they make-believe with other children and formulate elaborate plots.  For example, a group of preschoolers may pretend they are working together in a deep-sea submarine to rescue animals.  Studies have shown that preschoolers who engage in more sociodramatic play are more socially competent.

1.  Play Cloths (Waldorf-inspired)

Stimulate your child’s imagination with play cloths! One cloth can be the water while the other cloths are used to build a fort.  A cloth can be a cape or a skirt, a picnic blanket, or a bouquet of flowers.  As simple as these seem, children love them.  Check out this set on Amazon or this set on Etsy.  If you fancy a visit to the fabric store, pick up some fabrics of your own and cut them into rectangles for a very fun and unique toy!

Simply Sweet Fabric Play Scarves

2.  Green Toys Tea Set

What better way to work on social skills than at a party?  This tea set is made from 100% recycled milk jugs and is also recyclable.  This toy meets FDA food contact standards and is dishwasher safe!

Green Toys Tea Set

3.  Baby Doll Carrier

Your preschooler can practice empathy and caretaking with this baby doll carrier.  This product is 100% cotton canvas and is machine washable.  For a wide variety of colorful Tula-inspired doll carriers, check out this site → Mommy and Me Market.

Angel Shine Baby Doll Carrier

4.  World Wildlife Fund Stuffed Animal Bucket

Stuffed animals are a hit with children the world over.  It’s no secret that you can buy them in numerous stores.  But with this option, your gift will help protect real animals in the wild as well.  It’s also tax deductible and oh so cute.  The bucket comes with a 5” x 7” formal adoption certificate, a 5” x 7” full-color photo, a 5” x 7” species spotlight card, 3 soft plushes in a wooden bucket (or bag), and free priority shipping.

WWF Build Your Own Bucket

Vygotsky’s Sociocultural Theory

The psychologist, Vygotsky, developed a theory of child learning called “scaffolding.”  In scaffolding, a caregiver offers appropriate support to a child so that the child can complete an advanced task.

For example, a child and parent might bake a cake together.  The preschooler may need help measuring the ingredients so the parent will explain which size cup is needed to scoop out the flour.  But, if the child is capable, the parent allows the child to pour the flour on his own.

This type of teaching offers support when needed, but also encourages independence when possible.

In several studies, parents who engaged in scaffolding with their children had children with advanced cognitive development and their children had more success when completing difficult tasks.

Additionally, quality time spent with a child increases positive attachment between both the caregiver and the child and has wonderful positive benefits for both participants.  Seriously.  Spending time together is always an awesome gift.

1.  Baking Set

Enjoy an afternoon with your mini-chef making bread, cupcakes, or cookies with this baking set.  Or keep it simple with some cookie cutters.

Chef’s Kingdom Kid’s Baking Set

Dinosaur Cookie Cutter Set

Woodland Cookie Cutters

2.  Gardening Set

Teach your little one to love and appreciate nature with this gardening set. Let them help you plant seeds, hunt for worms, or dig up weeds.  When you’re done in the garden, take this set right on over to the beach for some fun in the sand!  If you need help coming up with exciting kid-friendly activities in the garden, check out this book → Roots, Shoots, Buckets, and Boots (

Gardening Tools for Kids

3.  Puppets

Preschoolers love puppets, but they love playing with you even more.  Combine the two and get silly with your kiddo!

Melissa & Doug Zoo Friends Hand Puppets

4.  An Adventure

Consider giving your explorer the gift of an adventure!  This can be as simple or elaborate as you choose.

  • Wrap a picnic basket and commit to a picnic together once a month.
  • Purchase tickets to a local aquarium, zoo, science center, or museum for an educational adventure.  To give the gift, wrap a corresponding stuffed animal and affix the tickets to the animal.
  • Purchase tickets to a local amusement park and go together.
  • Give your preschooler a budget and take them shopping for their own gift.  Children appreciate the opportunity to exert control in their world. Let them select something that catches their eye, then top it off with lunch and ice cream together.
  • Elaborate Option:  Take your preschooler to Scotland and stay in a castle together where you pretend sword fight or wear princess dresses and dance in the great hall. Also, if you opt for this, can I come?


For the child that has everything…

What about for the child that has everything?

Often young children receive so many gifts at a holiday or party that the quantity is overwhelming.  It may take them weeks to play with everything they receive!  But you may still want to dote on your little tot.  What then?

College Money

If the parents have set up a 529 or Coverdell account, consider giving college money.  It’s no secret that college is expensive, but the need for a college education is increasing.  This is a wonderful gift that will grow over the years.  The parents appreciate it as well!  When your tiny genius is grown and headed off to university, they will sincerely appreciate your forethought.  And, as everyone is always saying, they grow up so fast.


Berk, Laura E. Development Through the Lifespan. Boston, Pearson Learning Solutions, 2014.

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