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What you should actually be gifting 4-year-olds, according to experts

These presents are perfect for your developing preschooler.
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/ Source: TODAY

Best gifts | Educational toys | Play sets | Creative toys | Active toys | Games and puzzles | Pretend play | Dolls and stuffed animals | Books | Meet the experts

The best gifts for 4-year-olds help their imaginations come alive. As they leave age 3 and turn 4, little ones are enthralled by storytelling, pretend play and exploration.

They are also immersed with friends and start playing collaboratively instead of just playing side by side, so the best toys for 4-year-olds can be shared.

“They tend to have clear preferences on what they like or want to do,” says Tovah Klein, director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development and author of “How Toddlers Thrive.”

Their pretend play is a little more complicated as they come to understand narratives and differentiate between fantasy and reality, says Marie Conti, head of The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the American Montessori Society. Capes and dress-up props, as well as outdoor toys or science gadgets, allow them to explore their world.

We rounded up several unique gifts for 4-year-olds that will keep their minds and their bodies moving.

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Bestselling gifts for 4-year-olds

Best gifts for 4-year-olds

Skillmatics Guess in 10 Junior Animal Kingdom

Ask questions to guess the animal on the card in this problem-solving game that doesn’t require reading. With a handy storage box to keep the game organized, this game nurtures the curious nature of a 4-year-old.

Tee Turtle Reversible Axolotl Plushie

This stuffed animal turns inside out to change its mood from happy to angry and back. The original octopus was a hit on TikTok, but it’s also effective for a 4-year-old learning about emotions.

Crayola Less Mess Painting Activity Kit

This mess-free painting kit includes a genius innovation — paint that won’t spill, even if you turn it upside down. Washable paint sticks, stencils, stickers and more complete the Crayola kit.

Target Toy Shopping Cart

Kids want to be part of the fun of shopping! This Target toy shopping cart is inspired by the real thing and even has some grocery staples like whole milk and some guilty pleasures like ice cream sandwiches. A target trip is not complete without a beverage in hand and this toy shopping cart has a slot for its portable coffee cup.

Mag-Genius 3D Magnet Tiles

Let their creative side break free with these 3D Magna Tiles. Watch them build skyscrapers galore as they snap the tiles together while developing hand-eye coordination, fine motor skills, problem solving techniques, and more.

Dynamo Wooden Domino Set by Hape

Old-fashioned dominos can create hours of play, and this set includes some bells (literally) that a traditional set doesn’t. Comprised of over 100 pieces, this set helps develop engineering skills as they learn about balance and spatial awareness.

Casdon Toys DC24 Dyson Ball Toy Vacuum

Have a little one who likes to clean? Get them their own Dyson inspired vacuum. This toy is just like the real thing from the twist-and-turn ball to the clear cylinder. 

Kinetic Sand Mermaid Palace Play Set

Sand boxes are always a hit with 4-year-olds, and this portable version lets them have sensory fun at home. With three types of kinetic sand and tools to shape it, mermaid fans can create sandcastles galore.

Slumberkins Yak

Each Slumberkins has a story to promote emotional growth, and they’re now at the center of an Apple+ series. Offered with two easy-to-read board books and an affirmation card, the Yak is all about self-acceptance!

Learning Resources Switcheroo Coding Crew

Give your child a jump-start on learning to code without a screen, with this fun STEM set that lets kids solve missions and discover hidden tricks.


Purrble is more than just a stuffed friend — it’s an interactive toy meant to help with emotional regulation and anxiety. With a dynamic heartbeat and a simple language of sighs, giggles and grunts, Purrble has sensors that respond to touch. If Purrble’s heart races, you can calm it into a purr by holding it tight, and see if your own heartbeat slows in the process.

Best educational toys for 4-year-olds

Learning Resources Cash Register

This cash register helps make counting fun, while encouraging pretend play.

Learning Resources Coding Critters

Your 4-year-old can begin to learn to code with this fun set that lets your little one show a creature how to fetch, play hide-and-seek and more.

Best play sets for 4-year-olds

Toyk Dinosaur World Road Race

With over 13,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon, this bestselling toy train set is sure to please both kids and parents alike. The setup is easy and the fun lasts for months.

Lego Classic Creative Brick Box

“If you’re buying Legos, just buy regular Legos. Don’t feel like you have to buy pink ones because you have a girl,” Conti says.

If you need to organize your Legos, here are five brilliant (and mom-approved) hacks for keeping them tidy and out of your bare foot’s way.

Melissa & Doug Cookie Bake Set

This cookie bake set puts a sweet spin on playtime. The set includes 12 sliceable cookies, 12 toppings, a toy knife, spatula, cookie sheet and kitchen mitt to learn kitchen safety through play.

Melissa and Doug Super Smile Dentist Play Kit

They might have just had their first dentist appointment, and whether it was tear-free or not, help them become more familiar with the tools and devices used with this play set that comes complete with braces, pretend teeth, examination tools and more.

Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set

Made with high-quality silicone and innovative suction construction, these little suckers make bath time (and play time!) so much fun.

Monster Jam Official Grave Digger vs Megalodon Racing Rivals

"My nephew loves driving these monster trucks up and down the apartment halls with my boyfriend," says senior editor Jess Bender. "Both are designed to take on a lot of damage, which delights my nephew because he loves to crash his cars into walls and sabotage my boyfriend’s game during race time."

Imagination Generation Express Coffee Maker Set

If they love to mimic their parent’s morning routine, they can now take it one step further with this wooden play set, complete with an espresso maker, milk and cream, as well as two mugs to sip out of.

Insect Lore Deluxe Butterfly Garden Gift Set

Klein and Conti both love bug jars or insect boxes for kids this age.

Hot Wheels City Transforming T-Rex Ultimate Hauler

"This is more of a sanity saver for my sister-in-law since it helps organize my nephew’s expansive Hot Wheels collection, but he loves it because it’s a dinosaur that devours his cars like nobody’s business," says Bender. "He also loves that it makes gnarly sounds and its tail turns into a race track!"

Lovevery Planner Play Kit

This Lovevery planner play kit gives kids practice in thinking ahead and understand the concept of time. It's a subscription service that delivers 12 toys every three months.

Best arts and crafts and creative toys for 4-year-olds

Crayola Tie-Dye Chalk Eggs

"In an effort to get my nephew away from screen time, I retrieved some bold chalk for him and his sister to play with in the backyard during the warmer months," says Bender. "Each chalk egg produces some pretty psychedelic patterns with each scribble and doodle, so I think he’ll be pretty impressed by that. Also, his parents will love how easily it washes off!"

Crayola 5-in-1 Dinosaur Creativity Kit

With coloring pages, paper to create origami figures with, pop-up story pages to decorate, crayons, markers and more, their creativity can take new heights via these dinosaur-themed crafts.

Ooly Chunkies Paint Sticks

All the fun of painting with none of the mess. These portable paint sticks reuire no water and are easy for little hands to hold.

Janod Confetti Ukulele

For the little musician in your life, this ukulele is sturdier than most toy versions at a similar price point.

Best active toys for 4-year-olds

My Sweet Love Umbrella Stroller for Dolls

This stroller lets big brothers and sisters role-play before caring for the real thing. It's lightweight, foldable and can hold up to an 18-inch doll.

Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow

As kids age, more of their toys become battery-powered and involve a screen which is why a toy that gets them moving outside is such a favorite. Conti recommends outdoor toys like this one for 4-year-olds. This toy is a shopper favorite, landing the number three spot on Amazon's most gifted list for toy foam blasters and guns. 

LED Jump Rope

This modern take on an old-fashioned favorite promotes gross motor activity (aka exercise) and is one toy they won't age out of for a long time. With comfortable foam handles and a rechargeable multi-light rope, it's one all the kids (and adults) will want to take for a spin.

Toss And Catch Game Set

This toss and catch game set is fun for the whole family. The waterproof material on the lining of the paddles makes it perfect for a summer day at the beach or the lake.

Little Tikes Trampoline

This three-foot trampoline from Little Tikes is the perfect gift for 4-year-olds. There's even a handlebar for stability so they can jump around and be safe.

Best games and puzzles for 4-year-olds

Melissa & Doug Classic Card Game Set

They're never too young to partake in family game night, and these classic card games allow them to join in the fun. With Old Maid, Go Fish! and Animal Rummy, introduce them to the simplest of games thanks to this set.

Skillmatics Found It Scavenger Card Game

This Found It scavenger hunt game will help 4-year-olds learn on the go as they search for objects. This game is made for kids ages 4-7 and helps develop boosts their observation skills.

Petit Collage Floor Puzzle

Perfectly designed for little hands, this jumbo floor activity helps improve a preschooler's hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills. As a bonus, this puzzle is made with environmentally friendly materials like recycled paper and vegetable-based inks.

ThinkFun Zingo Bingo Game

Four-year-olds are starting to learn about games with rules. This simple variation on bingo works well for pre-readers and early readers, thanks to the clear images and easy-to-read words.

Best pretend play for 4-year-olds

Naturalistas Peety Deluxe Styling Head

For the child with beautiful textured hair, this styling head (considered to be the first all-Black, texture-specific kind on the market) provides them with the chance to learn how to care for their natural coif. Peety even comes with several regal accessories, including a tiara that can fit on their growing noggin.

Melissa & Doug Pet Vet Play Set

This kit lets little ones play doctor on the stuffed animals that are included in every purchase.

Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Counter

Cooking, serving food and playing "restaurant" are key elements of a 4-year-old's pretend play.

Barbie Dreamhouse

While they may have been too young sit still long enough to watch the cinematic sensation that took the world by storm this summer (and still is!), they're not too young to send their Barbie dolls down the longest slide that the Dreamhouse has had to date. This house also features 10 different play areas, including a pet palace to host the included furry friend.

Best dolls and stuffed animals for 4-year-olds

Squishmallows Hugmee Bluey Plushy

The Squishmallow Hugmees plush is an A-plus gift for the 4-year-old who loves hugs. This stuffed toy is perfect for relaxing at home, watching a movie or as a comfort item while traveling.

Warmies Weighted Sloth

This Sloth Warmies plush can provide 2-3 hours of soothing warmth and cool comfort. This weighted plush can be microwaved or put in the freezer and is scented with real dried French lavender for anxiety relief.

Barbie Skippers First Job Target Doll

Continue to play into their Target obsession with this Barbie doll that includes a cash register set-up. With a gift card and magazine end cap, a cash register, basket with foods and a reusable bag to place it all in, they can add this set to their pretend town.

Jellycat Pacey Pufferfish

For an ultra-soft plush, Jellycat is the way to go. With a number of collections and stuffed animals, they even have a line of food items, including pizza, sweet corn and more.

Pacey Pufferfish includes a smooth underside, with a textured upper half and ribbed fins.

Healthy Roots Gaïana Doll

The Gaïana Healthy Roots doll was created with curly girls in mind. This doll has washable and styleable hair teaching kids about different hair textures.

All Seasons Kids Wooden Dollhouse by Hape

This sturdy, open doll house has three stories and lots of room to play alone or with friends. Fun touches like a slide and enough space for imaginations to roam.

Best books for 4-year-olds

“The Sour Grape,” by Jory John and Pete Oswald

In this latest installment of the “food group” series that includes “The Good Egg“ and “The Bad Seed,” Grape holds a lot of grudges. His revelation that feeling negative is no fun leads him to a sweet ending.

“The Three Billy Goats Gruff,” by Mac Barnett and Jon Klassen

This modern retelling of the classic fairytale adds a dash of humor, a touch of absurdity and a hint of foreboding that together prove irresistible.

Funny books like this are great for 4-year-olds. "It’s important for kids to have fun with reading," says Nina Lindsay, a director for the Association for Library Service to Children.

“Where Is Bina Bear,” by Mike Curato

Bina Bear is hiding in plain sight, but for good reason. He’s an introvert at a party, a relatable idea for many kids who don’t love the birthday party circuit.

“Chester Van Chime Who Forgot How to Rhyme,” by Avery Monsen and Abby Hanlon

Chester Van Chime loves to rhyme, but one day he wakes up and can’t complete them. Children will love filling in actual rhymes that Chester forgets, with a winning message about finding joy in creation.

“Being a Dog: A Tail of Mindfulness,” by Maria Gianferrari and Pete Oswald

This kid-friendly introduction to mindfulness encourages children to live in the moment, with a guided breathing exercise to help.

“No Bunnies Here,” by Tammi Sauer and Ross Burach

A nervous bunny tries to persuade a hungry wolf that there are no bunnies in sight, despite the presence of incredible amounts of bunnies.

“Luna’s Green Pet,” by Kirsten Pendreigh and Carmen Mok

Luna’s family lives in a building with a strict no pet policy, so she finds a creative solution and adopts a wilted plant she names Stephanie. Parents who don’t want a pet might appreciate the ingenuity, plus instructions for caring for your own plant pet.

“Knight Owl,” by Christopher Denise

Owl is desperate to be a knight, despite his relatively diminutive stature. When he’s faced with a dragon, he’ll use his smarts and kind disposition to keep the peace.

Meet the experts

  • Marie Conti is Director of Regional Community Relations for American Montessori Society. She was the former head of The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Conti is based in Greater Philadelphia.
  • Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D., is Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York, as well as the author of “How Toddlers Thrive." She focuses on young children's social and emotional development, as well as parents' experiences raising them. Klein is also an adjunct associate professor and teaches a year-long course on toddler development.
  • Nina Lindsey is a director for the Association for Library Service to Children where she serves as the liaison to the education committee.

Don’t forget to check out Shop TODAY’s other gift guides to find the perfect present for every kid on your list including babies, 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds and 10-year-olds.