Age 4 is a huge milestone year. Not only do many 4-year-olds go to preschool or start pre-kindergarten, but they’re also becoming much more well-rounded, articulate little humans with ideas and opinions aplenty. They start to share, ask tons of questions, and form solid friendships. They also become choosier about what toys they will or won’t play with, so gifts for 4-year-olds should build on these new, emerging capabilities while also taking kids’ own specific idiosyncrasies and interests into account.
“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.”
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. 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.
These gorgeous wood building blocks are the foundations of open-ended play. They help kids practice hand-eye coordination and learn about balance and gravity. Oh, and they can begin to recognize letters and start spelling out words.
A smart blend of architecture and building blocks, this set lets kids move London landmarks around to create their own landscape or city. There's a black cab, the London Eye, and the British Museum to let kids unleash their creative planning skills.
The new and improved Botley lets kids work on their grasp of screen-free coding. This Botley has eyes that change colors, and he can perform 45 degree turns and even has night vision capabilities. Kids program him to move in different directions or put on a light show.
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.
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 have to work together to feed the hairy, hungry creature. And in doing so, they learn to take turns, play collaboratively, and how to creatively solve problems together.
These offbeat, handmade wool puppets are a fantastic way for kids to act out stories and immerse themselves in pretend play.
Another spot-on game for kids and parents to play together, this one gives their fine motor skills a workout. Kids use their small muscles and problem-solving abilities to stack the blocks, move them, and reposition them to keep the tower intact.
A wood gorgeous guitar perfectly sized for 4-year-olds, with tunable strings. It looks like it belongs at Coachella. And it lets kids explore the fundamentals of music and rhythm.
Kids get moving, explore their physicality, practice gross motor skills, and unleash their inner speed demon with this beautiful tricycle, which has a weight limit of 48 pounds. It has a controlled turning radius that prevents tipping over.
Encourage kids to unleash their creativity and practice their drawing (AKA fine motor) skills with this two-sided easel. One side is a chalkboard, the other a white erase board. This set comes with two roomy storage bins for chalk and markers.
These 112 interlocking blocks connect together and let kids build towers or cars or dinosaurs or castles or, or, or.
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.
By age four, kids recognize their own body parts. This magnetic set lets them create animals, faces, cars, flowers, and buildings. 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 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.
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.
It's like slime, without the mess. This non-sticky stuff never dries out, and is great for hands-on sculpting. Not only does it foster creativity, but it glows in the dark.
This pancake-balancing game helps kids get a handle on taking turns, engaging in critical thinking, and playing nicely with others. They put pancakes on spatulas and compete to stack said pancakes in a relay-like race. Sounds complicated. It's not.
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, which includes a chef’s jacket, hat, oven mitt, three wooden utensils, plastic measuring spoons, and name-tag for pencil personalization..
A gender-neutral dream house that lets kids play together and act out scenarios they see at home or at school. With six rooms and furniture included, this dollhouse leaves tons of opportunity for open-ended play that won't get repetitive.
Demistify what happens at the doctor's office with this very cool set. It includes an X-ray machine, a medical cart, weight scale, an exam table and light, medical charts, stethoscope, and a blood pressure cuff.
This magnatab allows kids to 'draw' by using a magnet to flip over metal spheres, revealing their silver-colored underside. It's like the modern-day etch-a-sketch, and can be used to draw over and over again. And it glows in the dark.
The best toys are the ones that serve as mere accessories to a child's imagination, and this miniature stage is a great way to level up your kid's finger puppet game. The pockets provide great storage for puppets.
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