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.”
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.
Kids learn about balance and practice their gross motor skills as they lean to steer. This scooter has a steering stick that goes from 24 inches to 36 inches, so you get years of use out of it. This particular model gives preschoolers a smooth ride, and is solid enough for beginners.
The Best Creative Play Gifts for 4-Year-Olds
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.
Sure, Lego gets most of the glory. But Playmobil has some pretty standout building kits as well. Take this one. It's a playground with a skateboarding ramp, a climbing wall, and a zipline. Not to mention, a fully functional play space for miniature kids. It's something any kid recognizes.
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.
A playhouse, occupied by non-white characters, which then becomes a tower house, then again a residential house. A wonderful combo of pretend play and problem-solving/STEM, as kids build the house and then pretend to make dinner, read stories, and even play a guitar.
First, young builders use the 110 large, rounded, soft, brightly colored-pieces to either build the five pre-designed animals, or a creature from their imagination. Then, they use the app to scan in the QR codes, which reveal educational facts about the animals.
This specific type of dough is made from parent-friendly organic flour. And this particular set empowers your little chef to whip up creative meals using the prep tools, extruder, cutlery, and plate. It's a toy you can feel good about: The plastic components are made from post-consumer recycled plastic milk jugs.
The Best Educational and STEM Gifts for 4-Year-Olds
Junior meteorologists can get a handle on the weather by reporting back on what's going on outside. They turn the dials to show whether it's sunny or cloudy outside, how hot or cold it is, and if it's going to rain. All, while helping hone their fine motor skills.
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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