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The Best Gifts for 4-Year-Olds, According to Child Development Experts

From tunnels to pretend toys, we've got you covered.

Age 4 is a huge milestone year. It’s when many 4-year-olds start preschool. They become more vocal and expressive than 3-year-olds, not to mention choosier about what toys they will or won’t play with. When they become fixated on certain types of toys, nothing else will do (lucky you). The National Association for the Education of Young Children notes that kids this age have longer attention spans than toddlers; they ask a lot of questions and like to experiment with toys and play with friends. They might even know how to share. So when it comes to choosing gifts for 4-year-olds, there are a few things to consider. 

Capitalize on your kid’s newfound attention span by choosing toys for 4-year-olds that help them solve problems, like snap-together blocks, or toys that encourage pretend play and building, like dollhouses, furniture, cars, and construction toys. Toys that encourage creativity, including paints, child-safe markers, crafting kits, and modeling clay are also good, as are musical toys that allow kids to learn about rhythm and practice self-expression through music and sound. You can never go wrong with books, and because you don’t want a human sloth, you might consider toys that work your child’s large and small muscles, like wagons, tricycles, tunnels, plastic bats and balls, or even a workbench.

As a general rule, the less a toy does, the more your kid’s imagination has to work. And while electronic toys for little kids aren’t all bad, most of them have so many bells, whistles, and sounds that a kid only has to sit back and watch. When it comes down to it, the best toys for 4-year-olds are those that let them play pretend. Here are just a few.

This organic cotton play tunnel encourages your kiddos to run, slide, and crawl around. Plus, in a pinch, it becomes a handy fort.

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  1. What’s your go-to method for entertaining kids on days when they’re stuck indoors?
    Movies and television.
    Board games and puzzles.
    Arts and crafts.
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Tunnels are a great way for kids to let off some energy. And this one not only looks cool, it collapses nicely when they’re done playing.

A gorgeous guitar perfectly sized for four year olds.

This guitar has four tunable strings. It looks like it belongs at Coachella. And it lets kids explore the fundamentals of music and rhythm.

Don't want to invest in a whole play kitchen? Get this lovely breakfast kit instead.

Toys like this set, which kids see in their own kitchens, encourage immersive pretend play as they whip up breakfast for you or their friends.

Technically this is a construction toy, but because it's part of the Lego family, it becomes whatever you want it to be.

Kids become obsessed with cars and trucks, and this 26-piece set from Lego’s little cousin Duplo is a great way to give kids their fix. But the bricks are endlessly versatile and can be rebuilt into a ton of other stuff when paired with other Duplo sets.

One of the most perfect toys we've seen: Kids use these wooden magnetic blocks to dream up entire cities.

Kids use the magnetic construction blocks to build up a fire station they can take down and rebuild over and over and over again.

Kids build and decorate their own birdhouse.

Not only is this creativity in action, but this birdhouse lets kids hone their motor skills as they paint and decorate their own mansion for their fowl friends.

This colorful building set helps kids expand their engineering and structural skills while keeping them creatively engaged.

Kids get 42 pieces, including a wrench and screws, to construct what they want. And the wheels and googly eyes add creative and whimsical flair to the set.

A gorgeous play pram like this one encourages kids to act out real-world scenarios, like pushing their stuffed animals to the park.

Any four year old would go bananas over this wooden pram, filling it up with dolls and animals and other toys as they reenact real-world behaviors they see their parents doing.

By age four, kids recognize body parts. This set lets them create animals, faces, cars, flowers, and buildings.

This magnetic set is mess-free, and it lets four year olds use magnets to create whatever they want. From flowers to skyscrapers to dogs to mom and dad, the proverbial sky’s the limit. They can follow the enclosed puzzle cards, or freestyle. And when done, the magnets are stored in the wood carrying case.

Kids get insanely creative with Magna-Tiles, and this new 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 pretend play.

Budding equestrians will be into this beautiful, hand-painted stable and house by Schleich, which opens up a whole universe of horse-themed pretend play.

Another standout set, this house and stable feature movable stairs, a foldable table, tillable sunshade, moveable doors, and the horses can be rinsed off with the hose.

This 100-piece domino playset 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.

It's like slime, without the mess. This non-sticky stuff never dries out, and is great for hands-on sculpting.

Perfect for preschoolers, the play foam lets them shape it however they want, over and over and over again. Not only does it foster creativity, but it goes in the dark.

This crafting kit lets kids dream up creative creatures they'd never find in a nature magazine.

Who wouldn’t want to create a Meowmaid (Yes, that’s a half cat-half mermaid hybrid), just one of the creatures in this crafting kit. There are ready-made felt shapes available from — i.e. no need for needles and thread. Kids just stuff them, decorate them with stickers and other accoutrements, and wind up with a trio of cool creatures. It’s an ideal rainy day, screen-free activity.

This set is a stellar pretend and build toy, as kids stack the cars and drive the carrier around.

Kids load and unload the cars from the carrier, helping home their fine motor skills, and appreciation for big sets of wheels.

One of our most beloved toy brands ups the ante yet again with this STEM game that helps kids with problem solving.

Kids learn about spatial reasoning with this marble run, which is made up of 147 pieces. With this run, you get straight and curved rails, high-velocity funnels, red double-sided rocker, accelerators, blocks, levelers, bases and 50 marbles. Literally, there’s no room for boredom.

This pancake-balancing game helps kids get a handle on coordination, critical thinking, and counting. Also, it's hella fun.

Kids play this pancake stacking game by turning over a card and finding the first pancake. They put pancakes on spatulas and race to stack said pancakes in a relay-like race. Sounds complicated. It’s not.

This art set lets kids kids decorate their white pets with an assortment of colorful markers. And they can do this over and over again, by wetting their pets, washing off the colors, and doing it again.

It’s portable. It’s easy to clean up. And it unleashes kids’ imaginations, as they create their own creatures. Plus, it’s solid pretend play, since kids are also vets tending to their animals.

Yes, it's messy. But kinetic sand is a wonderful sensory toy that also encourages limitless creativity. Just use a baking sheet to contain it.

Kinetic sand feels like wet beach sand, but is made with natural sand that never dries out. Kids can build sandcastles galore, plus entire magical kingdoms. And it’s a great sensory tool, too. This kit comes with molds and tools to create walls, bridges and towers.

Kids this age are really into dressing up. As just about anything So get them started with this detailed and well-made chef's costume.

Your kid can dress up as a police officer, a firefighter, or a veterinarian. But this costume in particular includes a chef’s jacket, hat, oven mitt, three wooden utensils, plastic measuring spoons, and name-tag for pencil personalization.

Give your pretend chef his or her own kitchen for the ultimate in pretend play. This kitchen play set features an electronic stovetop burner with realistic cooking sounds and flashing lights, plus it has its own built-in coffee station.

As parents, we can’t resist anything that includes coffee, the elixir of survival. This toy kitchen has a built-in coffee station, comes with 21 cooking accessories, features an oversized refrigerator and large oven that double as storage space, and even has a hangout for pets. Apparently, health codes don’t apply in pretend cooking land. 

Unleash his or her inner artist with this high-quality, durable easel, perfect for budding creatives.

Four year olds love to draw, so here’s an easy way to help them do it. This set also includes a dry-erase board, chalkboard, a locking paper roll holder, a child-safe paper cutter, four easy-clip grips and two plastic trays for markers, chalk and other supplies.

Yes, they do get underfoot, but these Zoob builders include gears, axels and joints that snap, click, and pop together, so you can build actual toys that you can actually play with.

These Zoobs helps kids develop hand-eye coordination, and unleash their imagination because they can create whatever they want. They’re meant for slightly older kids, but we think it’s never too early to start.

By age four, kids can throw balls over their heads. Help them build their skills by tossing beanbags through openings in this fun game.

This game is double-sided, works indoors and outside, and includes eight beanbags, plus two play options.

This popular game, for 2-8 players, helps kids develop focus, visual perception skills, speech-language skills, and fine-motor skills.

By age four, kids love board games and can follow along. While this isn’t exactly a board game, we promise, your child won’t be bored when he or she competes to spot symbols.

This activity set includes buttons, dough, crayons, doilies, flowers, feathers, eyes, bags, pipe cleaners, frames, boards, stickers, paper, tissue, and a glue stick.

No more rainy day blues, with this glorious activity set. By age four, kids can draw and even use scissors, to keep ’em busy with this fun set.

No, they're not fancy. And no, they're not tricked-out. But this classic toy lets kids build whatever they want.

With 327 pieces, your kid can create an entire universe from his or her imagination.

Kids can try their hand at treating animals.

This 24-piece set encourages imaginative play by letting kids treat a plush cat and dog with tools like a stethoscope, syringe, tongue depressor and tweezers.

Kids can draw inspiration from their favorite show while engaging in active, imaginative play with this set, which allows the pups to look for trouble through a periscope and rush to the rescue via an elevator, zip line, and police truck.

Take paper planes to a whole new level.

Kids get the chance to build 10 different styles of planes with this set, which includes a storybook and illustrated directions.

With six rooms and furniture included, this dollhouse leaves tons of room for open-ended play  that won’t get repetitive.

Everyone loves playing doctor.

Let kids play the doctor, mimicking their own check-ups with wooden tools, which may be more durable than their plastic counterparts.

Take a trip to the farm, without the smell.

Spark their creativity with this farm set, encouraging kids to imagine the inner lives of pigs, sheep, and cows alike.

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