The Best Gifts for 4-Year-Olds, According to Child Development Experts

The Best Gifts for 4-Year-Olds, According to Child Development Experts

Age 4 is a huge milestone year. Not only do many 4-year-olds go to preschool or start pre-kindergarten, they tend to become much more well-rounded, articulate opinionated little humans at this age. Most 4-year-olds start to share, ask tons of questions, and form solid friendships.  Kids also become choosier about what toys they will or won’t play with around age 4. That’s why the best Christmas gifts for 4-year-olds are toys that play into these new, emerging capabilities while also taking kids’ own specific idiosyncrasies and interests into account. 

“Think about simple board games to use new thinking skills and emerging self-control as they wait for a turn and cope with losing, puppets to tell stories with, interlocking plastic blocks to create structures, a child-sized chalkboard for writing and drawing, or a bicycle or other wheeled toys so they can move their strong, growing bodies,” says Rebecca Parlakian, the senior director of programs at Zero to Three. “And pretend play props are always a great idea, as they let kids make up and act out stories.”

When it comes to Christmas gifts, consider a toy’s longevity. Open-ended toys, ones that can be played with in limitless ways, are the gold standard. They include blocks of all shapes and sizes, such as Legos, and toys that mimic real-life objects and tools. As a general rule, the less a toy does, the more your kid’s imagination has to work. When it comes down to it, the best toys for 4-year-olds are those that let them play however they want.

This wobbly board teaches kids about balance, helps them hone their gross motor skills, and supports up to 480 pounds worth of child. Plus, most of all, it's a hell of a good time because it's way harder than it looks. And it doubles as a bridge or a tunnel for playtime.

Another spot-on game for kids and parents to play together, this one gives their fine motor skills a workout. Kids use their small muscles and problem-solving abilities to stack the blocks, move them, and reposition them to keep the tower intact.

A wood gorgeous guitar perfectly sized for 4-year-olds, with tunable strings. It looks like it belongs at Coachella. And it lets kids explore the fundamentals of music and rhythm.

Looks easy, right? Wrong. Kids work on their motor skills, while doing some serious concentration, as they try to balance the six birds on the 10 branches.

Things don't get any more fun than hurling a pin at these soft animals and knocking them over. The weighted bottoms make the game ever more challenging.

Want to get your kids outdoors? Give them this adjustable telescope, beautifully made from bamboo. Explorers get 8x magnification so they can see bugs and blades of grass up close.

From its lightweight design to its wrist-strap, this is a great periscope for kids. They can hide behind a tree, use it to spy on animals (or each other) and explore nature.

First, kids look through the magnifying glass, which magnifies things four times. And then they whistle when they spot something really, really notable.

The sky's the limit with this 4.7 foot long rocket ship playhouse. It includes capsule windows, a door that opens and closes, and four stabilizer fins. Kids pretend to be astronauts, aliens, explorers, or whatever else they can dream up.

A gorgeous train set, with some added oomph: Kids arrange the tunnels and station, and the train stops, honks the horn, backs up, or blinks its lights. It's compatible with all other Brio train set.

Kids fire up this ultra-detailed grill, serving up bell peppers, steaks, and sausages, and using tons (thus working their motor skills) to flip the food. The grill has double-sided grates, a collapsible side table, moveable wheels, and an open-and-close hood.

Junior meteorologists can get a handle on the weather by reporting back on what's going on outside. They turn the dials to show whether it's sunny or cloudy outside, how hot or cold it is, and if it's going to rain. All, while helping hone their fine motor skills.

Pinball is fun. We get it. But this kid-sized pinball game also teaches them to solve problems while also working on their motor skills. The goal, of course, is to try to keep the ball in play as long as possible.

Ella Fitzgerald, a musical icon and trailblazer, is immortalized thanks to this Barbie. It's a great way to encourage pretend play, while also talking to kids about history and those helped make it.

It's never the wrong time for ice cream. This stand is the epitome of pretend play, as kids take orders, use the scooper to fill the cone, and count out change.

This 42-piece set of beautiful magnetic wood blocks, with enough to go around so two kids can play together, teaches them about gravity and problem-solving, while also working on their motor skills.

These 64 long-lasting soy wax crayons are shaped precisely for little hands, specifically created to strengthen kids' grip muscles and improve fine motor coordination. While also letting kids be as creative as they want.

Dolls are nurturing toys, teaching kids how to care for something. This doll is cuddly, washable, and wears clothes with a fabric hook and loop closure for easy changes.

So your car broke down? Happens to the best of us. Your 4-year-old mechanic will simply pop open the hood, pool out the enclosed tools, and fix the problem. This detailed set has a steering wheel, gearshift, horn, brake, accelerator, turnable car key, air conditioner, radio, side mirrors, hood lift support and screw jack. The mechanical tool in the front can be used to change tires, because tires do have to be changed.

The perfect starter scooter, this has a stable a lean-to-steer design and a weight limit of 110 pounds, so it will serve you well for years.

Kids learn about colors, shapes, and numbers as they work together to get the very cute bugs to safety before the stinkbugs invade.

This specific type of dough is made from parent-friendly organic flour. And this particular set empowers your little chef to whip up creative meals using the prep tools, extruder, cutlery, and plate. It's a toy you can feel good about: The plastic components are made from post-consumer recycled plastic milk jugs.

Kids work on their fine and gross motor skills, and engage in pretend play, as they complete fixer-upper chores around the house. This child-sized tool kit includes an adjustable carpenter's belt, hammer, wrench, level, screwdriver, nut, and bolt.

These gorgeous wood building blocks are the foundations of open-ended play. They help kids practice hand-eye coordination and learn about balance and gravity. Oh, and they can begin to recognize letters and start spelling out words.

The new and improved Botley lets kids work on their grasp of screen-free coding. This Botley has eyes that change colors, and he can perform 45 degree turns and even has night vision capabilities. Kids program him to move in different directions or put on a light show.

Real-world toys like this set help 4-year-olds make sense of the complicated, often overwhelming things they see in the adult world. And let's face it: Seeing a doctor can be a scary thing. This gorgeous medical kit is great for pretend play, as kids dole out pretend shots and take your blood pressure.

These offbeat, handmade wool puppets are a fantastic way for kids to act out stories and immerse themselves in pretend play.

These 112 interlocking blocks connect together and let kids build towers or cars or dinosaurs or castles or, or, or.

By age four, kids recognize their own body parts. This magnetic set lets them create animals, faces, cars, flowers, and buildings. From flowers to skyscrapers to dogs to mom and dad, the proverbial sky's the limit. They can follow the enclosed puzzle cards, or freestyle. And when done, the magnets are stored in the wood carrying case.

Kids get insanely creative with Magna-Tiles, and this set has 15 colorful, shiny and glittery shapes including four mirrored squares, seven glitter squares and four equilateral triangles.Kids can use these magnetic blocks to create and build complex structures, which helps with critical thinking and problem solving.

This 100-piece domino play set encourages children’s spatial thinking abilities and color recognition, and fosters a basic understanding of physics. What goes up must come down. Kids learn that, and more, with this deceptively simple yet utterly cool domino set. It includes a bridge, a bell and assorted tricks that add extra drama to the domino racing game.

It's like slime, without the mess. This non-sticky stuff never dries out, and is great for hands-on sculpting. Not only does it foster creativity, but it glows in the dark.

A gender-neutral dream house that lets kids play together and act out scenarios they see at home or at school. With six rooms and furniture included, this dollhouse leaves tons of opportunity for open-ended play that won't get repetitive.

This magnatab allows kids to 'draw' by using a magnet to flip over metal spheres, revealing their silver-colored underside. It's like the modern-day etch-a-sketch, and can be used to draw over and over again. And it glows in the dark.

Sure, this cash register sneakily teaches kids about math. And yes, it shows them the basics of what it means to have and spend money. But it's also a good time, as they pretend to run a store, or a cafe, and charge their customers using the bar code scanner and card reader. Plus, they need to count out exact change.

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