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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,” 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 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 (usually $35), Amazon
TODAY editors, writers and experts take care to recommend items we really like and hope you’ll enjoy! Just so you know, TODAY does have affiliate relationships. So, while every product is independently selected, if you buy something through our links, we may get a small share of the revenue.
“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 5 brilliant, mom-approved hacks for keeping them tiny and out of your bare foot's way.
2. "The Legend of Rock Paper Scissors" by Drew Daywalt and Adam Rex, $9 (usually $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 called Daywalt’s “The Day the Crayons Quit” a “new classic.”
3. Green Toys Jump Rope, $11, Amazon
Also available for $13 at Walmart.
This old-fashioned favorite promotes gross motor activity (aka exercise).
4. Marble Run Toys 60 Pieces Wooden Classic Ramps Track Building Construction Set, $36, Amazon
“When they’re finding ways to make the marble go down the marble run, that’s engineering,” Conti said.
5. "Love, Triangle" by Marcie Colleen and Bob Shea, $17 (usually $18), Amazon
Also available at Barnes & Noble.
Geometry comes to life in this sweet story about friends who get bent out of shape.
6. Maileg Princess & The Pea Stuffed Mouse and Play Set, $50, Nordstrom
“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 said. These little mice from Maileg also have wardrobes you can take on and off.
7. Insect Lore Deluxe Butterfly Garden Gift Set, $31, Amazon
Klein and Conti both love bug jars or insect boxes for kids this age.
8. "The Book of Mistakes" by Corinna Luyken, $13 (originally $19), Amazon
This sweet debut picture book is full of lively illustrations that celebrate messing up.
9. Playmobil Take-Along Pirate Stronghold, $30, Walmart
Also available at Target.
This detailed set encourages storytelling and pretending and is easy to take along (or put away).
10. Kapla Blocks Octocolor 100 Piece Set, $50, Amazon
Conti loves these wooden building sticks. “They build in very different ways with those than we do with bigger blocks,” she said.
11. ThinkFun Zingo Bingo Game, $20, Amazon
Also available at Target.
Four-year-olds are starting to learn about games with rules. This simple variation on BINGO works for pre-readers.
12. Enkeeo No Pedal Balance Bike, $50, Amazon
Also available for $63 at Walmart.
Klein recommends physical toys like this balance bike that will get a 4-year-old ready to ride.
13. Boogie Board Ewriter, $30 (usually $35), Walmart
Also available for $20 at Target.
A fun way to work on letters and numbers, or just sketch.
14. K'Nex Lincoln Logs, $36 (usually $42), Amazon
Also available at Walmart.
Lincoln Logs are back. There's a reason they're a classic.
15. Melissa & Doug Fire Chief Role Play Costume Dress-Up Set, $27 (originally $30), Amazon
Great for hours of dress-up play.
16. Candy Land, $13, Amazon
“It’s just a fun game that kids love to play,” Conti said.
17. American Girl Doll, $60, Amazon
Also available for $91 at Walmart.
“Dressing up dolls and figurines can help master the day-to-day chore of dressing oneself,” said educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.
Looking for more suggestions? Check out the gift guide for babies, 1-year olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds and 5-year-olds. Or try Good Housekeeping’s 2017 ‘Best Toy Award’ winners or Amazon's top 2017 toy list.