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If you have to come up with a gift for a 4-year-old and you're stumped on what to get them, we've got some expert advice to help you.
The best gifts and toys for four-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.
“They tend to have clear preferences on what they like or want to do,” said 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, said Marie Conti, the 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.
This holiday season, we rounded up the best gifts for 4-year-olds that will keep their minds and their bodies moving.
To quickly jump to the category you're looking for, click on the links below or keep scrolling to see all 42.
- Bestselling gifts from this article
- Best toys for 4-year-olds
- Best creative toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
- Best active toys for 4-year-olds
- Best books for 4-year-olds
Bestselling gifts from this article:
- Amazon Melissa & Doug Examine & Treat Pet Vet Play Set, $29.47
- Amazon Zingo Bingo Game, $19.99
- Amazon Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow Rocket, $14.99
- Bookshop Ready, Set, Draw!, $13.79
Best toys for 4-year-olds
This smart device lets children select their own setting and characters to generate stories — perfect for screen-free entertainment.
From the co-founder of the original weighted Gravity Blanket comes these weighted stuffed animals, designed to help with sleep and anxiety.
“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 said.
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.
Train sets are great for building spatial skills, Klein said.
Dolls let 4-year-olds play house and work through separation as they enter school years.
Critter figures fit perfectly in your home or in their own Cozy Cottage.
Perfectly designed for little hands, this jumbo floor activity helps him or her improve their hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills. As an added bonus, the out-of-this-world puzzle from Petit Collage is made with environmentally friendly materials like recycled paper and vegetable-based inks.
This detailed set encourages storytelling and pretend play.
Cooking, serving food and playing "restaurant" are key elements of a 4-year-old's pretend play.
Made with high-quality silicone and innovative suction construction, these little suckers make bath time so much fun.
These magnetic tiles are favorites among preschoolers and beyond. “Kids will play with those for hours,” Conti said.
12. Lincoln Logs
Lincoln Logs are back — there's a reason they're a classic.
13. Candy Land
“It’s just a fun game that kids love to play,” Conti said.
This costume (which makes him or her look like a real-life hero!) is great for hours of dress-up play.
“Dressing up dolls and figurines can help master the day-to-day chore of dressing oneself,” said educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.
Klein and Conti both loved bug jars or insect boxes for kids this age.
This kit lets little ones play doctor on the stuffed animals that are included in every purchase.
Best creative toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
All the fun of painting with none of the mess.
Let your little one unspool for epic drawings and paintings or make your own highway that can cross the dinner table.
For the little musician in your life, this ukulele is sturdier than toy versions, at a similar price point.
Perfect for the little one who’s learning how to spell M-O-M.
Whether they're on the move or staying at home, your crafty child can keep busy making bracelets for their bestie wherever they are.
KiwiCo has a variety of subscription boxes for kids of different ages to inspire them to explore STEM activities from just a few months old through their teens.
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.
This noncompetitive game by "Press Here" author Hervé Tullet invites the whole family to unleash their creativity by combining prompts that may have you drawing a pattern as fast as you can or sketching trees upside down.
A fun way to work on letters and numbers or just sketch for fun.
Best active toys for 4-year-olds
Energetic youngsters will love bouncing around the backyard or around the house (hopefully away from fragile items!) on a classic Hopper Ball. It also promotes coordination, balance and exercise!
For a life-size trampoline, this option from Little Tikes is the perfect gift for 4-year-olds. There's even a handle bar for stability, so they can jump around and be safe.
This award-winning toy lets big brothers and sisters role play before caring for the real thing! It's lightweight, foldable and can hold a 14- to 17-inch baby doll.
This old-fashioned favorite promotes gross motor activity (aka exercise).
Perfect for kids ages 18 months to 5 years old, this balance bike by Strider has an adjustable seat and handlebar to grow with kids as they're learning.
Conti recommends outdoor toys like this one for 4-year-olds.
Best books for 4-year-olds
It all starts with a little gum in your hair. Then come the scissors, the butter and some other ill-advised solutions dreamed up in this hilarious, cumulative story.
Funny books like this are great for 4-year-olds. "It’s important for kids to have fun with reading," said Nina Lindsay, president of the Association for Library Service to Children.
This beautiful picture book from the creators of Newbery and Caldecott Honor-winner, "Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut," highlights the wonderful ways to celebrate a child's humanity.
Barnabus is an adorably failed science experiment who lives in a lab with other creature mash-ups. When they escape the lab, they also lose the need to be someone else's idea of perfect, which is a powerful lesson for maturing kids.
This follow-up to "Kevin the Unicorn: It's Not All Rainbows" has a message unusual for picture books: It's okay if friends don't quite click.
There's a new kid in Max's class, and there's something about Sam that Max just can't put his finger on. Sam helps Max discover he might have a little wild thing inside, too.
It's time to join the band in this funny introduction to all the instruments in a school orchestra.
This timely read by Caldecott honoree LeUyen Pham celebrates the essential workers and community members who've come together in the face of Covid-19.
Piglette is a refined sort of pig who yearns for the greener pastures of Paris but learns there's no place like her sty.
When the world seems scary (like when you're starting school), this book has a strategy for soldiering on.
Still looking for the perfect gift? Be sure to check out Shop TODAY’s Gift Guide to shop for everyone on your list, including:
- 39 interactive gifts the 5-year-old in your life won’t want to put down
- The ultimate gift guide for kids at every age — from babies to teens
- 47 toys for toddlers that your little one will be thrilled to unwrap
This gift guide was originally published on Nov. 21, 2017.