The 17 Best Gifts for the 4-Year-Old in Your Life
Shopping for children is tough, and if you think it gets harder every year, you’re probably right. After all, considering their employment status, kids can amass a truly impressive amount of stuff in just a couple years. But if you’re struggling to find something fresh to gift a 4-year-old, don’t fret. This parent-approved list has something for every pre-K kid, so you can pick a present they will enjoy more than once.
Pretend play is fun for kids as young as two, but the average 4-year-old has likely gone beyond the basics and elevated it to an art form by now. In fact, you might have noticed how uncannily realistic their imaginary worlds can be. (Yes, that stuffed bunny is spitting out her dinner while groaning in disgust.) It’s a big-ticket item, but a dollhouse is an investment that will get years of use. This one from Hape has a spacious interior and chunky accessories for frustration-free fun, and it wins grown-up style points for its gender-neutral, attractive wood design.
2. Decorate your own magnet craft
If you know a child who just started pre-K, you likely know a little about their action-packed, fun-filled school schedule—they make necklaces, go on scavenger hunts, do aerobics, write the next great American novel, etc. Basically, there’s never a dull moment, and if there is, it was planned! Do a pre-K parent (or yourself) a favor and give the gift of a ready-made crafting project. There are plenty of options, but the decorate-your-own magnet kit is particularly great, since it means they’ll be able to see school drawings stuck to the fridge with their own homemade magnet creations.
Melissa and Doug ($5)
3. Brainy blocks
Creativity and visual reasoning skills get a boost with these bright-colored plastic tiles, which can be used to create an image from one of the 36 activity cards or, for those who prefer to do their own thing, an original geometric work of art.
Small World Toys ($22)
4. See and Spell learning puzzle
The Melissa & Doug See and Spell puzzle is a fun and approachable toy designed to introduce preschoolers to the basics of making words. The puzzle consists of eight double-sided, illustrated boards with cut-out words and colorful wooden letters that fit right in. Younger kids could certainly bypass the reading element by sifting through all the letters to find the best visual match, but a 4-year-old, armed with alphabet knowledge, will love it as a first foray into literacy.
Melissa & Doug ($20)
5. rubik's cubes
The perfect puzzle on the go! This set of Rubik's Cubes is great because it’s challenging but not unrealistic, and the color-matching aspect makes the goal both intuitive and pretty. Start with the easiest and progress to more complicated cubes as your child’s visual problem-solving skills develop, and never underestimate the virtue of a restaurant or car toy that doesn’t involve a screen. (No one wants to hear the Paw Patrol theme song if it can be avoided.)
No one likes to be stuck indoors on frigid days. And while grown-ups can console themselves with a hot toddy and vitamin D supplement, the preschool population has it particularly rough when the playground is snowed over. Enter: Indoor exercise equipment. This trampoline is sturdy, safe and easy to store, thanks to the folding handlebar feature. Gift it to a young person this winter and it will get a lot of love. More than your treadmill? That’s up to you.
Little Tikes ($50)
7. Marble Run
These magnetic cubes connect to make impressive structures à la Magna-Tiles, but there’s an added STEM challenge—the cubes have built-in pipes and chutes that must be properly aligned to achieve a functioning marble run. Four-year-olds will love the engineering project, and the excitement of seeing wooden balls race, swirl and fly down a track of their own creation is pretty cool too.
Best Choice Products ($28)
8. Play Foam
Squishy, sensory, moldable mystery material—kids love it and parents prefer it dollars to doughnuts over Playdoh because it doesn’t dry out within a couple hours (or ever!) and won’t leave behind curiously sharp crumbs. Playfoam can be used to make anything from basic shapes to pretend birthday cakes, and preschoolers who are learning to write the alphabet will also enjoy squishing it into the shape of different letters. Although the stuff literally never dries out, it can attract hair and dirt (yes, gross) but that’s easily avoided when promptly stored in the included carrying case.
Educational Insights ($20)
9. First Big Book of Space
Curious 4-year-olds are famously good at revealing gaps in the general knowledge of grown-ups (I was a liberal arts major, kid...). Don’t rush for the smartphone, though—storytime is a better way to explore all those questions and a great opportunity for bonding and snuggles, too. The National Geographic First Big Book series is great for this age group as the books handle a variety of complicated subjects with simple, fact-filled text and bold photographs and illustrations. The First Big Book of Space is a particularly good one because...space is far out, man!
10. Crazy Forts
The finished product here is a pretty significant feat of engineering—so expect your child to need some help with this fort-building activity. That said, the hands-on building process makes following directions fun, and the finished fort is big enough to accommodate up to three preschool people. (Bonus: Now that there’s a fort in your house, you can chill for a bit, since the kid in question will probably start having lots of secret meetings with her stuffed animal collection.)
Crazy Forts ($40)
11. Design and Drill Activity Center
The Design & Drill Activity Center is another engaging STEM gift, but this activity is pretty unique since it combines construction and engineering with artistic creativity. The toy itself is pretty simple, consisting of one battery-operated drill, a couple manual tools, and a whole bunch of colorful screws designed to fit into a plastic peg-board. But the possibilities to play and create are endless. Preschoolers can attempt to recreate designs of differing complexity by using the included activity cards, or they can make original pictures on the pegboard. Either way, coordination and imagination are put into high gear.
Educational Insights ($41)
12. Peek-a-Doodle-Doo Memory Game
It’s hard to find a good game for a 4-year-old—aso many of them are either too complicated for the kid or excruciatingly boring for the adult. (Word to the wise, Candyland is NOT as fun as you remember.) Peek-a-Doodle-Doo is really a winner and the chicken theme is silly-meets-genius. Plus, the fact that it’s a memory game means both your brains will be a little sharper after one round.
Fat Brain Toy Co. ($22)
13. Watercolor Crayons
Got art enthusiast on your hands? He’ll love vibrant, bendable watercolor crayons, which, unlike your standard Crayola, won’t splinter or disintegrate after one encounter with a kid’s kung-fu grip. The selling point, though, is that they really are three art supplies in one—little artists can draw with them like crayons for a bold effect, then experiment by blending their art with a damp sponge or painting over it with a wet brush for a magical watercolor effect.
14. Domino Kit
Fine motor skills and patience get a workout with this classic activity, and by age 4 the task of designing and erecting a domino track is likely to be more fun than fury. Take the engineering challenge up a notch with fun accessories (windmill, ball on track, bell) that teach spatial reasoning skills and contribute to an even more spectacular end result.
15. Bike (with training wheels)
Even with training wheels attached, any 4-year-old will swell with pride when presented with the real deal of bikes, and chances are you’ll be pretty damn proud too the first time you see your little guy gliding off down the sidewalk. JoyStar bikes are particularly great for learning because they’re comfortable, durable and well-proportioned. They also look a lot cuter than most with simple, gender-neutral color combinations and a cognac leather seat—très chic!
Joystar ($100 to $300)
Playing doctor is an obsession for tiny people, and by age four, most kids are ready to apply their surgical skills to the classic board game victim (er, patient). Operation has been a favorite for decades because it’s fun and funny and can be played alone, with a grown-up or with a friend. It’s so much fun, in fact, we bet your child won’t even realize her fine motors skills are being honed.
17. Solar System Planetarium
This crafty kit from 4M allows preschoolers to learn about the planets while painting and decorating their very own glow-in-the-dark solar system mobile. The manufacturer recommends the product for kids 8 years and older, most likely because that’s the youngest age that a child could independently produce a good result. With the help of a grown-up, though, it’s definitely a suitable project a 4-year-old. And when it’s done, you’ll end up with an adorable, little night-light.