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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.

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.

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.

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 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.

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.

The ultimate in free play, as kids use their brains (and their hands) to create 2D and 3D patterns both on the board, and off the board. There's no right or wrong way to use this set. Which is what it makes it just right.

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.

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.

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

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.

A wonderful way for kids this age to start understanding the concept of time: Their very own daily calendar that displays the day of the week, as well as the date, weather, and season. It can help with transitions, and give kids a sense of control as they grasp that on Tuesday, they have soccer.

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.

Playing with foam is a tactile, sensory experience. Using that foam to form numbers teaches kids about numeric literacy while also working their fine motor skills.

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.

Yeah, this robot looks cool and weird and fun. It's all those things. It's also a challenge for kids' coordination and planning skills as they snap, drill, and decorate the robot they put together, using their imaginations.

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.

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.

Kids of course need food to serve up. And this set not only makes veggies accessible and appetizing, but it comes with a 'knife' that they use to chop everything up, thus working on those fine motor skills.

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.

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.

Not only does this plush puppet theater look like the real deal, but it has a real curtain that rolls down, and a double-sided backdrop. Perfect for acting out intricate stories in small spaces.

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.

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.

Summer means ice cream, and what's perhaps better than ice cream? Treats kids can make themselves, using this scented sensory sand. It never dries out, and with this set, kids can mix, mold and create their own custom sundaes and cones.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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