The Best Gifts for 4-Year-Olds, According to Child Development Experts
From puppets to blocks, we've got you covered.
Age 4 is a huge milestone year. Not only do many 4-year-olds go to preschool or start pre-kindergarten, they tend to become much more well-rounded, articulate opinionated little humans at this age. Most 4-year-olds start to share, ask tons of questions, and form solid friendships. Kids also become choosier about what toys they will or won’t play with around age 4. That’s why the best gifts for 4-year-olds are toys that play into these new, emerging capabilities while also taking kids’ own specific idiosyncrasies and interests into account. You want toys for 4-year-old boys and girls that are as open-ended as possible, meaning there’s no prescribed way to use them.
“Think about simple board games to use new thinking skills and emerging self-control as they wait for a turn and cope with losing, puppets to tell stories with, interlocking plastic blocks to create structures, a child-sized chalkboard for writing and drawing, or a bicycle or other wheeled toys so they can move their strong, growing bodies,” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs at Zero to Three. “And pretend play props are always a great idea, as they let kids make up and act out stories.”
Also, consider a toy’s longevity. Open-ended toys, ones that can be played with in limitless ways, are the gold standard. They include blocks of all shapes and sizes, such as Legos, and toys that mimic real-life objects and tools. As a general rule, the less a toy does, the more your kid’s imagination has to work. When it comes down to it, the best toys for 4-year-olds are those that let them play however they want.
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The Best Active Gifts for 4-Year-Olds
This wobbly board teaches kids about balance, helps them hone their gross motor skills, and supports up to 480 pounds worth of child. Plus, most of all, it's a hell of a good time because it's way harder than it looks. And it doubles as a bridge or a tunnel for playtime.
This tidy little set has nine different tools to help get your four year old pumped on interacting with the natural world. Age appropriate binoculars (i.e. they aren’t too hard to use), a flashlight, and a magnifying glass will encourage them to look closure at the wonders in the outside world around them while a multi tool and the carrying case will help develop basic situational awareness in the outdoors.
The Best Creative Play Gifts for 4-Year-Olds
Standing at an easel that offers enough space to create significantly lengthens the amount of time a four-year-old will devote to an art project. This Deluxe Wooden Standing Art Easel is the perfect height at 29.5-inches for budding artists to comfortably paint, draw, or practice letters. One side is a chalk board and the other is compatible with Melissa and Doug’s rolls of drawing paper for yards and yards of fresh white space to create.
The ultimate STEM toy for open-ended play — this wonderful kit is made up of washable felt pieces kids can used to build a motorcycle, a caterpillar, or anything else they think up. The felt pieces are flexible and snap together to make creatures or cars or what have you.
The Ultimate Fort Builder’s 45 sturdy 16-inch plastic poles coupled with their 25 connector pieces deliver the bones for an endless number of structures. The simple pole and connector system packs down into a reusable shopping bag when out of use but can build structures up to eight feet tall with some parental help.
This 100-piece domino play set encourages children’s spatial thinking abilities and color recognition, and fosters a basic understanding of physics. What goes up must come down. Kids learn that, and more, with this deceptively simple yet utterly cool domino set. It includes a bridge, a bell and assorted tricks that add extra drama to the domino racing game.
Kids learn all about gravity and balance when they play with these soft, foam magnetic blocks, which click together, rotate 360-degrees, and always attract to each other. There's literally no right or wrong or whatever way to play with these blocks, which is the whole point. Bonus: They're dishwasher-safe.
Kids use a working drill (yes, a real working yet kid-safe drill) to build this adorable race car, and then they drop the driver and his monkey pit crew pal to get moving. A great way to work on hand-eye coordination and problem-solving.
Not only is this a delightful and engaging magnetic toy, which it most certainly is. But it's also a fun way for kids to learn about feelings through play. They get three magnetic boards, and they put together 31 facial pieces to convey anger or sadness or joy or confusion or any combination thereof.
It's Jenga, with a twist: This 51-piece stacking game is governed by a roll of the dice. If the dice shows you a lion, the player needs to remove that corresponding block without topping the whole tower. It's a fun, cooperative game for the whole family to play together.
Kids get a clear activity board, along with 120 chunky plastic bolts, a reversible power drill, a screwdriver, a combination wrench, two drill bits, and 10 pattern cards. And then, they put their imagination to work, using their gross motor and critical thinking skills to drill the bolts into slots in the board, to create whatever pattern they dream up.
Dinner is served! Kids divvy up the pretend meals they just pretend cooked or grilled or steamed, and they count out how many servings they need. This lovely set comes with a pot, pan, lid, spoon, spatula, two plates, two sets of knives and forks, and a pair of salt and pepper shakers. It's math, creativity, and pretend play. All in one.
Your Jurrasic kiddo will enjoy hours of creative play with this multi-action Indominus Rex. A button on its back activates arm movement and sound effects, while a tail button triggers chomping jaws. It can fit an entire Lego minifigure in its maw.
Kids get insanely creative with Magna-Tiles, and this set has 15 colorful, shiny and glittery shapes including four mirrored squares, seven glitter squares and four equilateral triangles.Kids can use these magnetic blocks to create and build complex structures, which helps with critical thinking and problem solving.
The Best Educational and STEM Gifts for 4-Year-Olds
Four-year-olds have many, many, questions about the human body. One way to navigate both the potentially delicate and the overly intricate nature of answers to those questions is to take an age-appropriate look inside with a Body Puzzle like this excellent one from Hape. This is not only a tool to teach some basic biology, though, it also happens to be an excellent puzzle for little ones in its own right.
Real-world toys like this set help 4-year-olds make sense of the complicated, often overwhelming things they see in the adult world. And let's face it: Seeing a doctor can be a scary thing. This gorgeous medical kit is great for pretend play, as kids dole out pretend shots and take your blood pressure.
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