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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.
- Best toys 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 2021 Gift Guide to find the perfect present for everyone on your list!
Best toys for 4-year-olds
Let your little rock stars jam out on this electric guitar that's perfect for small hands and budding musicians.
This marble run is a hands-on building set that also plays a tune down the xylophone rail, with exciting twists to the finish.
This fun treehouse is great for animal figures or doll play.
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.
Dolls and dollhouses let 4-year-olds play house and work through separation as they enter school years.
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 smaller audio device lets children select their own setting and characters to generate stories — perfect for screen-free entertainment.
From the co-founder of the original weighted Gravity Blanket comes these weighted stuffed animals, designed to help with sleep and anxiety.
“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.
Train sets provide hours of entertainment and are great for building spatial skills, said Barnard College's Klein.
Calico Critter figures fit perfectly in your home or in their own Cozy Cottage.
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.
Cooking, serving food and playing "restaurant" are key elements of a 4-year-old's pretend play.
Made with high-quality silicone and innovative suction construction, these little suckers make bath time so much fun.
These magnetic tiles are favorites among preschoolers and beyond. “Kids will play with those for hours,” Conti said.
“It’s just a fun game that kids love to play,” Conti said.
This costume (which makes him or her look like a real-life hero!) is great for hours of dress-up play.
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.
“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.
This kit lets little ones play doctor on the stuffed animals that are included in every purchase.
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
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 most toy versions, at a similar price point.
Perfect for the little one who’s learning how to spell M-O-M.
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 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.
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 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 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.
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.
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.
Conti recommends outdoor toys like this one for 4-year-olds.
Best books for 4-year-olds
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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 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 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.
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:
- 39 interactive gifts the 5-year-old in your life won’t want to put down
- The ultimate gift guide for kids at every age — from babies to teens
- 47 toys for toddlers that your little one will be thrilled to unwrap
This gift guide was originally published on Nov. 21, 2017.