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46 best gifts for 4-year-olds in 2021, according to experts

These presents are perfect for your developing preschooler.
Image of a family enjoying opening presents together in their pajama's on Christmas morning
TODAY Illustration / LOUISE BEAUMONT / Getty Images
/ Source: TODAY

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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, we've got some expert advice to help you.

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 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, 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 46.

Don’t forget to check out Shop TODAY’s 2021 Gift Guide to find the perfect present for everyone on your list!

Best toys for 4-year-olds

Loog mini three-string electric guitar

Let your little rock stars jam out on this electric guitar that's perfect for small hands and budding musicians.

Hape Quadrilla marble run

This marble run is a hands-on building set that also plays a tune down the xylophone rail, with exciting twists to the finish.

Crate & Barrel Treehouse Play Set

This fun treehouse is great for animal figures or doll play.

Storypods Storytelling Music Player

This screen-free storyteller features high-quality audio stories and cuddly "crafties" that include different content. It even lets kids record their own stories or songs.

West Elm Modern Doll House

Dolls and dollhouses let 4-year-olds play house and work through separation as they enter school years.

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.

Lunii My Fabulous Storyteller

This smaller audio device lets children select their own setting and characters to generate stories — perfect for screen-free entertainment.

Moon Pals Weighted Stuffed Animal

From the co-founder of the original weighted Gravity Blanket comes these weighted stuffed animals, designed to help with sleep and anxiety.

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 of The Wetherill School 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.

Brio Metro Railway Set

Train sets provide hours of entertainment and are great for building spatial skills, said Barnard College's Klein.

Calico Critters Hopscotch Rabbit Family

Calico Critter figures fit perfectly in your home or in their own Cozy Cottage.

Petit Collage Outer Space 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, the out-of-this-world puzzle from Petit Collage is made with environmentally friendly materials, like recycled paper and vegetable-based inks.

Melissa & Doug Ice Cream Counter

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

Fat Brain Toys Squigz Starter Set

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

Magna-Tiles 100-Piece Set

These magnetic tiles are favorites among preschoolers and beyond. “Kids will play with those for hours,” Conti said.

Candy Land

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

Melissa & Doug Fire Chief Role-Play Costume Dress-Up Set

This costume (which makes him or her look like a real-life hero!) is great for hours of dress-up play.

Great Pretenders Reversible Unicorn/Dragon Cape

Sometimes you feel like a unicorn; sometimes you feel like a dragon. This fun reversible dress-up cape lets your 4-year-old have it both ways.

American Girl WellieWishers Willa Doll

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

Insect Lore Deluxe Butterfly Garden Gift Set

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

Melissa & Doug Pet Vet Play Set

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

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 creative toys and gifts for 4-year-olds

Ooly Chunkies Paint Sticks

All the fun of painting with none of the mess.

Melissa & Doug Tabletop Paper Dispenser

Let your little one unspool for epic drawings and paintings or make your own highway that can cross the dinner table.

Janod Confetti Ukulele

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

Mudpuppy Pattern Pop Wooden Magnetic Letters

Perfect for the little one who’s learning how to spell M-O-M.

Kid Made Modern On-The-Go Friendship Bracelet Kit

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 Subscription

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.

Ready, Set, Draw!

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.

Boogie Board Scribble and Play

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

Best active toys for 4-year-olds

Hedstrom Blue Striped Hopper Ball

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!

Little Tikes Trampoline

This 3-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.

Corolle Umbrella Baby Doll Stroller

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.

Glovion LED Jump Rope

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

Strider 12 Sport Balance Bike

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.

Stomp Rocket Jr. Glow

Conti recommends outdoor toys like this one for 4-year-olds.

Best books for 4-year-olds

"Change Sings: A Children's Anthem," by Amanda Gorman and Loren Long

The debut picture book from Amanda Gorman, the youngest-ever inaugural poet, tells the story of a young girl leading a group of characters on a musical journey to make change in their communities and the world.

"Aaron Slater, Illustrator," by Andrea Beaty and David Roberts

The latest in the series that includes "Rosie Revere, Engineer" and "Ada Twist, Scientist" (now a Netflix series!) is Aaron Slater, a boy who loves to draw but struggles to read.

"The Smart Cookie," by Jory John and Pete Oswald

This follow-up to "The Bad Seed," "The Good Egg," "The Cool Bean" and "The Couch Potato" shows there are many ways to be smart.

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.

"Have You Ever Seen a Flower?" by Shawn Harris

This vibrantly illustrated picture book asks thought-provoking questions that encourage children to truly "see" a flower with all their senses, so deeply that they might even become the flower.

"Help Mom Work from Home," by Diana Murray and Cori Doerrfeld

Highly relatable to many pandemic parents, this handy how-to guide tells kids how to add a little pizzazz to Mom's workday with a little glitter and a four-legged assistant. (We'd say don't try this at home, but you probably already have.)

"Jenny Mei Is Sad," by Tracy Subisak

This sweet book tackles tough emotions with a light touch, showing how to be a supportive friend for the sad and not-so-sad times.

"What Can You Do With a Rock?" by Pat Zietlow Miller and Katie Kath

For the kid with pockets full of rocks, this will help find new uses for them, explore rock basics, and even show how to cultivate other treasures in their lives.

"Mel Fell," by Corey R. Tabor

Mel can't wait to learn to fly — but her first try isn't so lucky as squirrels, ants and other creatures humorously try to break her fall. This clever book uses a book-turning plot twist to help Mel back up.

"Tiny Barbarian," by Ame Dyckman and Ashley Spires

Tiny just became a barbarian today, with the help of a colander for a helmet. He'll have to tackle fearsome foes like broccoli and (shudder) the dark.

"Are You a Cheeseburger?" by Monica Arnaldo

A raccoon and seed meet in a garbage can, with seed hoping to be planted, and the raccoon hoping for cheeseburgers. Could seed become a cheeseburger plant? It's all about hope, anticipation — and friendship.

Still looking for the perfect gift? Be sure to check out Shop TODAY’s 2021 Gift Guide to shop for everyone on your list, including:

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This gift guide was originally published on Nov. 21, 2017.