The best gifts for 4-year-olds, according to child development experts

Leaving age three and entering age four is all about imagination. Little ones are enthralled by storytelling and pretend play and love to explore.

They are also immersed with their friends and starting to take turns instead of just playing side-by-side.

“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, the head of the 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 (magnifying glasses, bug jars, shovels for dirt) allow them to explore their world

These are the best gifts for 4-year-old boys and girls in 2018:

1. Lego Classic Medium Creative Brick Box, $28 (originally $35), Amazon


“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 5 brilliant, mom-approved hacks for keeping them tiny and out of your bare foot's way.

2. “The Legend of Rock, Paper, Scissors,” $12 (originally $18), Amazon


This new release from Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex sets up a back story for the legendary battle. The Association for Library Service to Children calls Daywalt’s “The Day the Crayons Quit” a “new classic.”

3. Green Toys Jump Rope, $10, Amazon

Green Toys

This old-fashioned favorite promotes gross motor activity (aka exercise).

4. Wooden Marble Run, $34, Amazon


“When they’re finding ways to make the marble go down the marble run, that’s engineering,” Conti says.

5. “Love, Triangle,” $10 (originally $18), Amazon


Geometry comes to life in this sweet story about friends who get bent out of shape.

6. Little Sister Star Toy Mouse in a Box, $26, Anthropologie


“The one good thing about Barbie dolls is it’s good for fine motor skills getting them dressed, but it’s pretty limiting, too,” Conti says. These little mice from Maileg also have wardrobes you can take on and off.

7. Insect Lore Giant Butterfly Kit, $43, Michael's


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

8. “The Book of Mistakes,” $13 (originally $19), Amazon


This sweet debut picture book is full of lively illustrations that celebrate messing up.

9. Playmobil Take-Along Pirate Stronghold, $24 (originally $40), Amazon


This detailed set encourages story-telling and pretend and is easy to take along (or put away).

10. Kapla Blocks, $50, Amazon


Conti loves these wooden building sticks. “They build in very different ways with those than we do with bigger blocks,” she says.

11. Zingo, $20, Amazon


Four-year-olds are starting to learn about games with rules. This simple variation on BINGO works for pre-readers.

12. Enkeeo Balance Bike, $55 (originally $140), Amazon


Klein recommends physical toys like this balance bike that will get a 4-year-old ready to ride.

13. Boogie Board Ewriter, $25, Walmart


A fun way to work on letters and numbers, or just sketch.

14. Lincoln Logs, $43, Amazon


Lincoln Logs are back. There's a reason they're a classic.

15. Melissa & Doug Personalized Fire Chief Costume, $27 (originally $30), Amazon

Melissa & Doug

Great for hours of dress-up play.

16. Candy Land, $13, Amazon


“It’s just a fun game that kids love to play,” Conti says.

17. American Girl Doll, $149, Amazon


“Dressing up dolls and figurines can help master the day-to-day chore of dressing oneself,” says educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.

Looking for more suggestions? Check out the gift guide for babies, 1-year olds, 2-year-olds and 3-year-olds. Or try Good Housekeeping’s 2017 ‘Best Toy Award’ winners or Amazon's top 2017 toy list.