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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.”

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.

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 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.

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.

Teach preschoolers the basics of geography with this globe puzzle; the six puzzle pieces represent Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa, and North and South America, while a stationary bottom piece represents Antarctica. Each piece is sized for little hands.

Give their hand-eye coordination and reasoning skills a solid workout with this building kit. It includes 139 pieces, such as nuts, bolts, blocks, a hammer, and pliers, all kid-sized and kid-safe.

Teach your 4 year old to take turns through this engaging and sweet game. It's a memory game in which a player will grab two ladybugs from the board and if the card placed underneath reveals they are a match, that's a point. Whoever has the most ladybugs wins.

Things don't get any more fun than hurling a pin at these soft creatures and knocking them over. The weighted bottoms make the game ever more challenging, as kids develop their hand-eye coordination.

It's the age-old question: How many animals can you stack on top of a barn? Well, it depends. Kids stack a horse, cow, pig, puppy, rooster, sheep, duck, kitty, and goose, and the challenge is to make the whole thing stable, without it collapsing. And no two shapes are the same. It's a great way to challenge those logic and motor skills.

What's better than stickers? Puffy stickers, of course. Kids this age are generally obsessed with all things that stick to stuff. This set is loaded with reusable stickers and has its own carry case.

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.

This 42-piece set of beautiful magnetic wood blocks, with enough to go around so two kids can play together, teaches them about gravity and problem-solving, while also working on their motor skills.

Not only do kids learn to problem solve as they build this colorful cafe. But they engage as they help bake, serve, and deliver the cupcakes, they do so by engaging with figures that are actually diverse.

Another spot-on game for kids and parents to play together, this one puts their fine motor skills to the test. Kids use their small muscles and problem-solving abilities to stack the blocks, move them, and reposition them to keep the tower intact.

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.

If you're ok with screens and have an iPad, this is one stellar set for your 4 year old. They follow along with the app, and then create things by hand using the Osmo base. Kids learn to recognize letters and phonics, work on their pre-drawing skills, and engage in imaginary play. When the creature on screen, for example, tells your child about the letter A, said child uses the included silicone sticks to practice letter forming on the Osmo base. Plus, kids play dress-up using the 19 cardboard pretend play costume pieces.

It's never the wrong time for ice cream. This stand is the epitome of pretend play, as kids take orders, design the menu, and serve food to their customers.

Sure, it can get messy, but that's why we have vacuum cleaners. This moldable sand is scented (really!) and can be turned into anything from cupcakes to cats to cars.

It's tough to find quality screen-free coding sets for kids this young, but here's a wonderful option. They work on their problem-solving and critical thinking skills as they program this little bot, using cards rather than an app. The robotic mouse follows 40+ commands, and the set includes 30 coding cards, 25 maze pieces, and a cheese wedge.

Not only does this plush puppet theater look like the real deal, but there's a chalkboard for playwrights to announce current and upcoming productions. It has a non-tip base, bright curtains, and a clock so kids can learn to tell time while also planning their curtain calls.

These 64 long-lasting soy wax crayons are shaped precisely for little hands, specifically created to strengthen kids' grip muscles and improve fine motor coordination. While also letting kids be as creative as they want.

This majestic flamingo teaches kids about counting and weights, as they figure out how many colorful chicks they can balance on each wing. It's great for two players, as they work together and take turns.

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.

These 112 interlocking blocks connect together and let kids build towers or cars or dinosaurs or castles or, or, or.

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.

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.

Getting vaccinations can be scary. So make it much less so with this beautiful medical kit, which makes kids comfortable about being around medical equipment. It includes a syringe, a stethoscope, and of course, a blood pressure cuff. Plus it's great for pretend play.

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.

It's never too early to instill a love of animals in preschoolers. And this set delivers. It includes 15 toy animal figures: an adult and baby giraffe, adult and baby lion, adult and baby panda, adult and baby deer, an adult and baby whale, a penguin, a toucan, a fish, a rabbit and a squirrel. Kids learn to problem-solve as they build this 121-piece set.

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.

Sure, this cash register sneakily teaches kids about math. And yes, it shows them the basics of what it means to have and spend money. But it's also a good time, as they pretend to run a store, or a cafe, and charge their customers using the bar code scanner and card reader. Plus, they need to count out exact change.

If you want to get your kids outdoors, there's one surefire way to do it without bribery: Get them a mud kitchen. Sure, it's messy. It's why we have showers. This one is made of wood, and comes with a starter set of stainless steel pots and pans with a mixing whisk. It also includes a removable splash tub, and ample storage.

Want to get your kids outdoors? Give them this adjustable telescope, beautifully made from bamboo. Explorers get 8x magnification so they can see bugs and blades of grass up close.

Kids this age love hauling things around. And hauling around doesn't get any better than with this doll stroller, which is either forward-facing or rear-facing. It's also ideal for taking stuffed animals or perhaps even a truck out for a walk.

From its lightweight design to its wrist-strap, this is a great periscope for kids. They can hide behind a tree, use it to spy on animals (or each other) and explore nature.

First, kids look through the magnifying glass, which magnifies things four times. And then they whistle when they spot something really, really notable.

The sky's the limit with this 4.7 foot long rocket ship playhouse. It includes capsule windows, a door that opens and closes, and four stabilizer fins. Kids pretend to be astronauts, aliens, explorers, or whatever else they can dream up.

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.

Pinball is fun. We get it. But this kid-sized pinball game also teaches them to solve problems while also working on their motor skills. The goal, of course, is to try to keep the ball in play as long as possible.

Ella Fitzgerald, a musical icon and trailblazer, is immortalized thanks to this Barbie. It's a great way to encourage pretend play, while also talking to kids about history and those helped make it.

Dolls are nurturing toys, teaching kids how to care for something. This doll is cuddly, washable, and wears clothes with a fabric hook and loop closure for easy changes.

So your car broke down? Happens to the best of us. Your 4-year-old mechanic will simply pop open the hood, pool out the enclosed tools, and fix the problem. This detailed set has a steering wheel, gearshift, horn, brake, accelerator, turnable car key, air conditioner, radio, side mirrors, hood lift support and screw jack. The mechanical tool in the front can be used to change tires, because tires do have to be changed.

The perfect starter scooter, this has a stable a lean-to-steer design and a weight limit of 110 pounds, so it will serve you well for years.

Kids learn about colors, shapes, and numbers as they work together to get the very cute bugs to safety before the stinkbugs invade.

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.

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.

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 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.

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