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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 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, the 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.
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- Best-selling 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
Don’t forget to check out Shop TODAY’s 2020 Gift Guide to find the perfect present for everyone on your list!
Best-selling toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
Conti recommends outdoor toys like this one 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 and early readers thanks to the clear images and easy-to-read words.
This kit lets little ones play doctor on the stuffed animals that are included in every purchase.
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.
A fun way to work on letters and numbers or just sketch for fun.
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.
Critter figures fit perfectly in your home or in their own Cozy Cottage.
This detailed set encourages storytelling and pretend play.
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.
8. Lincoln Logs
Lincoln Logs are back — there's a reason they're a classic.
9. 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.
Klein and Conti both loved bug jars or insect boxes for kids this age.
Best creative toys and gifts for 4-year-olds
All the fun of painting with none of the mess.
Let your little one unspool for epic drawings and paintings or make your own highway that can cross the dinner table.
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.
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.
Best active toys for 4-year-olds
This old-fashioned favorite promotes gross motor activity (aka exercise).
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.
Best books for 4-year-olds
It all starts with a little gum in your hair. Then come the scissors, the butter and some other ill-advised solutions dreamed up in this hilarious, cumulative story.
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.
This beautiful picture book from the creators of Newbery and Caldecott Honor-winner, "Crown: An Ode to the Fresh Cut," highlights the wonderful ways to celebrate a child's humanity.
Barnabus is an adorably failed science experiment who lives in a lab with other creature mash-ups. When they escape the lab, they also lose the need to be someone else's idea of perfect, which is a powerful lesson for maturing kids.
This follow-up to "Kevin the Unicorn: It's Not All Rainbows" has a message unusual for picture books: It's okay if friends don't quite click.
There's a new kid in Max's class, and there's something about Sam that Max just can't put his finger on. Sam helps Max discover he might have a little wild thing inside, too.
It's time to join the band in this funny introduction to all the instruments in a school orchestra.
Even when we're stuck inside (like everyone these days) there are ways for the outside to get in. This rhythmic book celebrates a mindful union with nature.
Piglette is a refined sort of pig who yearns for the greener pastures of Paris but learns there's no place like her sty.
When the world seems scary (like when you're starting school), this book has a strategy for soldiering on.
Still looking for the perfect gift? Be sure to check out Shop TODAY’s 2020 Gift Guide to shop 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.