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The best gifts and toys 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 taking 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 Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, and a board member of the American Montessori Society. Capesand dress-up props, as well as outdoor toys or science gadgets (like magnifying glasses, bug jars and shovels for dirt) allow them to explore their world.
When we release our 2019 gift guides, we make sure all prices are current. But prices change frequently, so there’s a chance the prices are now different than they were the day of publication.
Best toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
Four-year-olds are starting to learn about games with rules. This simple variation on bingo works well for pre-readers.
Funny books like this one 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.
“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 tidy and out of your bare foot's way.
This kit lets little ones play doctor on the stuffed animals included.
Conti liked outdoor toys like this one for 4-year-olds.
“When they’re finding ways to make the marble go down the marble run, that’s engineering,” Conti said.
This set makes art creation easier without needing to hold a crayon and Conti noted that it slips into a bag as easily as an iPad for restaurant play.
This old-fashioned favorite promotes gross motor activity (aka exercise).
Stuff We Love
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 trees upside down.
Klein and Conti both loved bug jars or insect boxes for kids this age.
Klassen's darkly funny hat trilogy is a modern classic.
This detailed set encourages storytelling and pretend play.
Dolls let 4-year-olds play house and work through separation as they enter school years.
Stores are another fun way to pretend and small objects help with fine motor skills.
Critter figures fit perfectly in the grocery store or Cozy Cottage.
For little ones full of questions, this humorous book of answers will delight.
Conti said there's nothing like a Tonka truck for hours of play. The garbage truck is another crowd-pleaser.
Cooking, serving food and playing "restaurant" are key elements of a 4-year-old's pretend play.
Klein recommended physical toys like this balance bike that will get a 4-year-old ready to ride.
A fun way to work on letters and numbers or just sketch.
These magnetic tiles are favorites among preschoolers and beyond. “Kids will play with those for hours,” Conti said.
Conti is a big fan of magnetic wood blocks like these.
Parents know five minutes can be endless to a little one, unless it's time to leave the playground. This fun text shows it all both ways.
Lincoln Logs are back. There's a reason they're a classic.
When the world seems scary (like when you're starting school), this book has a strategy for soldiering on.
30. Candy Land
“It’s just a fun game that kids love to play,” Conti said.
“Dressing up dolls and figurines can help master the day-to-day chore of dressing oneself,” said educational toys expert Lauren Leisk.
Conti recommended these wooden building sticks. “They build in very different ways with those than we do with bigger blocks,” she said.
Car lovers will enjoy the mesmerizing motion of this ramp.
Train sets are great for building spatial skills, Klein said.
Finding the perfect present can be a challenge, but Shop TODAY's up to the task. Try our interactive gift finder to sort gifts by price, person and interest. And no matter who you're looking for, we've got gift guides for everyone on your list, including:
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