The best gifts 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 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.
We rounded up several unique gifts for 4-year-olds that will keep their minds and their bodies moving.
Best gifts for 4-year-olds
Ask questions to guess the animal on the card in this problem-solving game that doesn’t require reading. With a handy storage box to keep the game organized, this game nurtures the curious nature of a 4-year-old.
This stuffed animal turns inside out to change its mood from happy to angry and back. The original octopus was a hit on TikTok, but it’s also effective for a 4-year-old learning about emotions.
This hopper ball is for the kids who have energy to burn! The ball can be inflated in under 5 minutes with the air pump included and is sized for kids age 3-6.
This mess-free painting kit includes a genius innovation — paint that won’t spill, even if you turn it upside down. Washable paint sticks, stencils, stickers and more complete the Crayola kit.
Kids want to be part of the fun of shopping! This Target toy shopping cart is inspired by the real thing and even has some grocery staples like whole milk and some guilty pleasures like ice cream sandwiches. A target trip is not complete without a beverage in hand and this toy shopping cart has a slot for its portable coffee cup.
Old-fashioned dominos can create hours of play, and this set includes some bells (literally) that a traditional set doesn’t. Comprised of over 100 pieces, this set helps develop engineering skills as they learn about balance and spacial awareness.
Fans of the Disney movie “Lightyear” can fly their imaginations to infinity and beyond.
Based on the fearsome dinosaur in the latest "Jurassic World," this 21.5" articulated dino chomps and roars with the press of a button. A Jurassic World Facts app has augmented reality that can make dinosaurs appear in any room.
Sand boxes are always a hit with 4-year-olds, and this portable version lets them have sensory fun at home. With three types of kinetic sand and tools to shape it, mermaid fans can create sandcastles galore.
Each Slumberkins has a story to promote emotional growth, and they’re now at the center of an Apple+ series. Offered with two easy-to-read board books and an affirmation card, the Yak is all about self-acceptance!
Their bigger counterparts have been a fan-favorite for a few years but the spotlight is now on the miniature Squishmallows. These mini figures get their own cozy ski chalet with this set that comes with four two-inch plush toys.
Purrble is more than just a stuffed friend — it’s an interactive toy meant to help with emotional regulation and anxiety. With a dynamic heartbeat and a simple language of sighs, giggles and grunts, Purrble has sensors that respond to touch. If Purrble’s heart races, you can calm it into a purr by holding it tight, and see if your own heartbeat slows in the process.
Best educational toys for 4-year-olds
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.
This cash register helps make counting fun, while encouraging pretend play.
Give your child a jump-start on learning to code without a screen, with this fun STEM set that lets kids solve missions and discover hidden tricks.
Best play sets for 4-year-olds
Calico Critter figures fit perfectly in your home or in their own Cozy Cottage.
This cookie bake set puts a sweet spin on playtime. The set includes 12 sliceable cookies, 12 toppings, a toy knife, spatula, cookie sheet and kitchen mitt to learn kitchen safety through play.
“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.
With over 13,000 verified five-star ratings on Amazon, this bestselling toy train set is sure to please both kids and parents alike. The setup is easy and the fun lasts for months.
Klein and Conti both loved bug jars or insect boxes for kids this age.
They might have just had their first dentist appointment, and whether it was tear-free or not, help them become more familiar with the tools and devices used with this play set that comes complete with braces, pretend teeth, examination tools and more.
Made with high-quality silicone and innovative suction construction, these little suckers make bath time (and play time!) so much fun.
If they love to mimic their parent's morning routine, they can now take it one step further with this wooden play set, complete with an espresso maker, milk and cream, as well as two mugs to sip out of.
This Lovevery planner play kit gives kids practice in thinking ahead and understand the concept of time. The brand is a Tiktok favorite with the subscription service delivering 12 toys every 3 months for $120 a box.
Best arts and crafts and creative toys for 4-year-olds
With coloring pages, paper to create origami figures with, pop-up story pages to decorate, crayons, markers and more, their creativity can take new heights via these dinosaur-themed crafts.
All the fun of painting with none of the mess.
A fun way to work on letters and numbers or just sketch for fun.
For the little musician in your life, this ukulele is sturdier than most toy versions at a similar price point.
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!
This stroller lets big brothers and sisters role-play before caring for the real thing. It's lightweight, foldable and can hold up to an 18-inch doll.
As kids age, more of their toys become battery-powered and involve a screen which is why a toy that gets them moving outside is such a favorite. Conti recommends outdoor toys like this one for 4-year-olds.
This modern take on an old-fashioned favorite promotes gross motor activity (aka exercise) and is one toy they won't age out of for a long time. With comfortable foam handles and a rechargeable multi-light rope, it's one all the kids (and adults) will want to take for a spin.
This toss and catch game set is fun for the whole family. The waterproof material on the lining of the paddles makes it perfect for a summer day at the beach or the lake.
This three-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.
Best games and puzzles for 4-year-olds
They're never too young to partake in family game night, and these classic card games allow them to join in the fun. With Old Maid, Go Fish! and Animal Rummy, introduce them to the simplest of games thanks to this set.
This Found It scavenger hunt game will help 4-year-olds learn on the go as they search for objects. This game is made for kids age 4-7 and helps develop boosts their observation skills.
Perfectly designed for little hands, this jumbo floor activity helps improve a preschooler's hand-eye coordination and problem-solving skills. As a bonus, this puzzle is made with environmentally friendly materials like recycled paper and vegetable-based inks.
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 pretend play for 4-year-olds
For the child with beautiful textured hair, this styling head (considered to be the first all-Black, texture-specific kind on the market) provides them with the chance to learn how to care for their natural coif. Peety even comes with several regal accessories, including a tiara that can fit on their growing noggin.
This kit lets little ones play doctor on the stuffed animals that are included in every purchase.
Cooking, serving food and playing "restaurant" are key elements of a 4-year-old's pretend play.
While they may have been too young sit still long enough to watch the cinematic sensation that took the world by storm this summer (and still is!), they're not too young to send their Barbie dolls down the longest slide that the Dreamhouse has had to date. This house also features 10 different play areas, including a pet palace to host the included furry friend.
Best dolls and stuffed animals for 4-year-olds
This Sloth Warmies plush can provide 2-3 hours of soothing warmth and cool comfort. This weighted plush can be microwaved or put in the freezer and is scented with real dried French lavender for anxiety relief.
Continue to play into their Target obsession with this Barbie doll that includes a cash register set-up. With a gift card and magazine end cap, a cash register, basket with foods and a reusable bag to place it all in, they can add this set to their pretend town.
For an ultra-soft plush, Jellycat is the way to go. With a number of collections and stuffed animals, they even have a line of food items, including pizza, sweet corn and more.
Pacey Pufferfish includes a smooth underside, with a textured upper half and ribbed fins.
The Gaïana Healthy Roots doll was created with curly girls in mind. This doll has washable and styleable hair teaching kids about different hair textures.
This sturdy, open doll house has three stories and lots of room to play alone or with friends. Fun touches like a slide and enough space for imaginations to roam.
Best books for 4-year-olds
This modern retelling of the classic fairytale adds a dash of humor, a touch of absurdity and a hint of foreboding that together prove irresistible.
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.
A nervous bunny tries to persuade a hungry wolf that there are no bunnies in sight, despite the presence of incredible amounts of bunnies.
Bina Bear is hiding in plain sight, but for good reason. He’s an introvert at a party, a relatable idea for many kids who don’t love the birthday party circuit.
Chester Van Chime loves to rhyme, but one day he wakes up and can’t complete them. Children will love filling in actual rhymes that Chester forgets, with a winning message about finding joy in creation.
In this latest installment of the “food group” series that includes "The Good Egg" and "The Bad Seed," Grape holds a lot of grudges. His revelation that feeling negative is no fun leads him to a sweet ending.
Owl is desperate to be a knight, despite his relatively diminutive stature. When he’s faced with a dragon, he’ll use his smarts and kind disposition to keep the peace.
Luna’s family lives in a building with a strict no pet policy, so she finds a creative solution and adopts a wilted plant she names Stephanie. Parents who don’t want a pet might appreciate the ingenuity, plus instructions for caring for your own plant pet.
This kid-friendly introduction to mindfulness encourages children to live in the moment, with a guided breathing exercise to help.
Meet the experts
Marie Conti is Director of Regional Community Relations for American Montessori Society. She was the former head of The Wetherill School in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania. Conti is based in Greater Philadelphia.
Tovah P. Klein, Ph.D., is Director of the Barnard College Center for Toddler Development in New York, as well as the author of “How Toddlers Thrive." She focuses on young children's social and emotional development, as well as parents' experiences raising them. Klein is also an adjunct associate professor and teaches a year-long course on toddler development.
Don’t forget to check out Shop TODAY’s other gift guides to find the perfect present for every kid on your list including babies, 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, 9-year-olds and 10-year-olds.