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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, allow them to explore their world.
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- Bestselling toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
- Best toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
- Best creative toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
- Best active toys for 4-year-olds
- Best books for 4-year-olds
When we release our 2020 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.
Bestselling toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
Conti recommends outdoor toys like this one for 4-year-olds.
This kit lets little ones play doctor on the stuffed animals included.
Four-year-olds are starting to learn about games with rules. This simple variation on bingo works well for pre-readers.
4. Candy Land
“It’s just a fun game that kids love to play,” Conti said.
This detailed set encourages storytelling and pretend play.
Best toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
“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.
Train sets are great for building spatial skills, Klein said.
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.
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.
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.
10. Lincoln Logs
Lincoln Logs are back — there's a reason they're a classic.
“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.
Klein and Conti both loved bug jars or insect boxes for kids this age.
Car toys are great for motor skills (no pun intended) and imaginative play.
Conti prefers cuddly dolls made of natural materials that aren’t too gendered. This one also gives back. For every doll sold, 10 meals are provided to children in need.
Best creative toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
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.
A fun way to work on letters and numbers or just sketch.
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.
For the little musician in your life, this ukulele is sturdier than toy versions, at a similar price point.
Perfect for the little one who’s learning how to spell M-O-M.
Best active toys for 4-year-olds
This old-fashioned favorite promotes gross motor activity (aka exercise).
Klein recommended physical toys like this balance bike that will get a 4-year-old ready to ride.
Best books for 4-year-olds
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.
For little ones full of questions, this humorous book of answers will delight.
When the world seems scary (like when you're starting school), this book has a strategy for soldiering on.
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.
Klassen's darkly funny hat trilogy is a modern classic.
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:
- Gifts for babies
- Gifts for 1-year-olds
- Gifts for 2-year-olds
- Gifts for 3-year-olds
- Gifts for 5-year-olds
- Gifts for 6-year-olds
- Gifts for 7-year-olds
- Gifts for 8-year-olds
This gift guide was originally published on Nov. 21, 2017.
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