Your little munchkin is 4 years old. Time is flying by! It’s time to load up on educational toys, for 4 year old birthday gifts and everyday gift ideas. At this age, four-year-olds are “really focusing on social and emotional development. While the academics do come into play, their ability to ask for what they need and to regulate their emotions in an age-appropriate way is paramount,” says Pamela Morris, MSEd, Early Childhood Director of the Early Childhood Learning Center in Chandler, AZ,
As for key things to keep in mind when selecting toys or gifts for 4 year old boys and girls, Dr. Jillian Roberts, a clinical childhood psychologist, says it’s important to note that no two children are alike. “The first important thing to note is that each child’s development will look different. Although there are certain developmental milestones that we expect to see most children meet at similar times, the times at which children develop certain skills can still vary.” She adds, “It’s also normal for some children to be more advanced in one area (i.e. language skills) than another (i.e. motor skills).”
According to Roberts, a 4-year-old typically sits at the same pre-operational developmental stage as a five-year-old. “The pre-operational stage of development can be defined by the ability to think about things more symbolically, more complex language skills, and better memory and imagination,” she says.
Another important thing to remember, says Lisa B. Fiore, Professor and Co-chair, Education & Director of the Child Homelessness Initiative at Lesley University, is that a 4-year-old’s attention span is longer at this age than in previous years. “So they are able to – and enjoy! – spending more time on tasks and engaging in play for longer periods of time. They also might like to work alone on tasks, which doesn’t mean that they don’t enjoy time with peers. Sometimes a child’s primary goal is to come up with a plan, carry out the plan, and enjoy the sense of accomplishment in reaching their goal.”
With all these recommendations in mind, Scary Mommy has curated the best gifts and educational toys for the 4-year-old in your life.
Building Sets for Toddlers
“Toys like LEGO or Magna tiles are perfect for independence building,” says Morris. “Especially when they are the open-ended sets, which means they don’t have to follow the directions to make it look one way.” Adds Fiore: “They’re also great for children’s creativity, fine motor skill development, collaborative or individual play.”
Remember when you were a youngin’ and ALL you wanted to do was play with your big brother’s Lego set? When it comes to building toys that categorize under creative play, don’t underscore the power of a colorful (and classic) set of Legos blocks. Girls, boys, young, old… everyone (even the grandparents) can partake in the fun. Bonus: Knowing kids, they’ll have no trouble spending hours bringing their creations to life. This medium-sized building kit (484 pieces included) contains 35 brick colors and 18 tires and wheel rims. It comes in a big ol’ plastic storage box for easy cleanup at the end of the day. From toy trains to one-eyed monsters and tiger figurines, there’s no limit to your kid’s creativity. Natie from Amazon says that it’s a great starter Lego set: “We purchased this set for our 5-year-old who enjoyed playing with Legos at our local library. As soon as it arrived, we opened it and proceeded to build right away. The set came with a small manual of suggested projects that were very easy for my 5-year-old-to follow along with.”
In our heyday, Tinkertoys were the ish. Fast-forward to now and you’ve got Brain Flakes (WTF is that??) paving the way for a whole new generation of little engineers. But hey, if the kids get a hoot out of it, then who are we to complain? We’ll take our quiet time whenever/however we can get it. This set contains over 500 interconnecting discs that “click” together upon impact. Each colorful plastic disc is about the size of a quarter (perhaps, a wee bit bigger). Whether your child just wants to build sh*t or is looking for a project to pique their interest, each set includes an idea booklet with step-by-step instructions. Parents and teachers on Amazon call Brain Flakes a fantastic product, especially when it comes to stimulating a child’s creativity and imagination. Kara says, “I incorporate the Viahart Brain Flakes into our Makerspace/STEM centers. The students love building and designing with Brain Flakes. They are easy for students as young as pre-school to use by themselves.”
Arts & Crafts for Toddlers
As their skills become more complex and their creativity flourishes, “four-year-olds are more inclined towards creative activities like painting, drawing, and other arts and crafts,” says Roberts, adding the development of fine motor skills also contributes to their growing ability to take part in these activities (i.e. the ability to hold and use scissors might not have been possible at younger ages).
Spring has sprung! What better way to get your squad in the mood for warmer weather than this Egg Painting Party Kit from Kid Made Modern? This kit includes everything you’ll need to achieve Picasso-level brilliance—no trip to Michaels or your local craft store required (can we get an amen for that?). From a set of six wooden eggs to a fun assortment of arts and craft supplies (mini pom poms, neon sequins, googly eyes, etc.), seriously, just watch their creativity soar. A woven wood basket—to display the eggs in—is also included so that you can show off your kids’ mad skills later. If you’re new to Kid Made Modern, then you’ll be happy to know that all their products are made of high-quality, environmentally friendly materials. It’s tempting to outfit your kiddos in their Easter Sunday best, but take our advice: wait until after the project is done. With paint (and messy glitter) involved… well, you know that’s always a recipe for disaster. From cutesy Easter-inspired motifs to flying-egg-monsters, let the egg painting take its course.
Create refrigerator-worthy masterpieces without the mess using this simple (and honestly a little trippy!) Scratch Art set by Melissa & Doug. It includes 16 scratch art sheets (4 rainbow, 4 white-coated rainbow, 4 light-catcher, and 4 silver holographic), two stylus tools, and three easel frames for endless creating. When the black or white coating is scratched away, a rainbow or glittery silver design is unveiled before your eyes. Plus, when the masterpieces are made, there are also two hang strips included so that four-year-old artwork can be put on display. While one Amazon customer raves that it’s “Great for a budding artist or younger child,” another says, “I have yet to meet a kid that doesn’t love these!” Equal parts delightful and educational, this scratch art set is a great way to build your child’s artistic confidence from day one.
Plush Toys for Toddlers
“Children’s attachments are very important at this age,” says Fiore. “Having a soft and cuddly toy can help them feel safe and secure, as well as promote physical squeezing, hugging, and sensory stimulation that they might not otherwise have the opportunity to enjoy. Comfort is very important, and soft, plush toys can provide that readily.”
Your little ones may be begging for a pet, especially at this age when they keep hearing all their friends talking about their pups, but we’d bet you can put it off just a little longer with a plush stuffie replacement. Yes, they may not lick the kids faces or bark, but they do snuggle really well at bedtime. Shimmer Stars Bubble the Puppy comes with a whole lot of sparkle (and not the glitter kind). Her wand stores 200+ colorful, shimmering stars that your LO and their new pet can wear together. They can be matchy or each try out a new, coordinating look. The best part is there is no glue, and the shimmer shapes can be removed just as quickly as they can be re-used.
The set also includes a headband with matching ears and a glitter comb to keep the kids happily caring for their own pet without you even needing to feed or walk anything else in your life. Now if by chance you already have a pup, you can also choose between Jellybean the Cat, Twinkle the Unicorn or Pixie the Panda.
How many stuffed animals is TOO many stuffed animals? Asking for a fellow mom friend. Odds are, your L.O. has been begging for a ginormous jellycat, so why the eff not?! Rather than snag one from the county fair, save yourself the time, energy, and tokens by purchasing this one directly from Amazon. The 22-inch Jellycat plush Octopus will wrap any four-year-old in soft cuddles all through nap time. (May we add that it’s also the perfect travel buddy for long-ass road trips in the car.) Each velvety tentacle wiggles and hangs which makes this stuffed toy stand out amongst the rest as an instant favorite. That coral-pink hue is also all sorts of dreamy. We love that this jellycat is a happy octopus and not a scary one that leads to nightmares.
This cutie avocado is the perfect size for snuggling, amirite? The crazy soft 7-inch stuffed avocado doubles as a nap pillow and any little one will be so tempted to smoosh into it until it turns into guacamole. Bonus: It makes for a super cute, unique gift at any age. When it comes to superfoods that are packed with nutrients (ahem, definitely not anything you’d find at McD’s), what better way to teach your child about good health habits. J.blue on Amazon says, “I had seen these stuffed avocados when I was at an arcade in a claw machine with my nephew. We were trying to get one but weren’t successful. So happy they sell them on here. I was worried it would be really small, the price was a bit steep but it was a pretty good size despite being described as “mini”. My nephew loves it and I was able to get it very fast with my prime membership.”
Puzzles for Toddlers
“At this age, then, most children will be wanting to move into a more imaginative and interactive place, where games are richer and more complex,” says Roberts. “Things like building blocks, puzzles, or games that get them to think like little scientists or little engineers will draw upon inspiration they now have inside of themselves to either create or solve a problem.”
The world’s at their fingertips with this award-winning Learning Resources Puzzle Globe that teaches kids geography basics through interactive tactile play. The rotating globe teaches continent names, oceans, famous landmarks, and more. When it comes to developing early fine motor skills, it doesn’t get more hands-on than this. The globe itself contains six puzzle pieces that represent each continent (Asia, Europe, Australia, Africa and North and South America) in addition to a bottom piece that represents Antarctica. Whether for homeschooling, the classroom, or just for fun, this is one educational tool you won’t want to be armed without. Katie S. from Amazon says that it makes geography fun. She adds, “My 4 year old loves this. She has been taking it apart and putting it together nonstop. It’s a fun geography lesson, as we talk about the different continents. There are small pictures on each continent to help her make connections.”
Toddlers can learn about shapes, numbers, and counting with this super colorful 3-in-1 CozyBomB Wooden Number Puzzle. Made of natural wood and layered in natural, water-based paints, this gorgeous Montessori set really does make a perfect gift for the four-year-old who is just itching to hit new milestones. It contains 10 numbers, 10 shapes, 1 board, 10 sticks, and 55 rings for hours of play. You know kids: They’re easily attracted to anything that’s visual and appealing to the eye (hence why they can’t sit still in the waiting room!). Beyond basic motor skills (like hand-eye coordination), this toy will teach them how to sort, stack, count, and name colors. This customer on Amazon agrees that “It’s also great for hand eye coordination. Excellent all in one toy. Colors are bright and puzzle pieces are wooden, so very sturdy.”
Pretend Play for Toddlers
Fiore says pretend activities are “so important. Too often there is not enough time for this type of play as concerns about academic skill acquisition eclipses this type of play.” According to Fiore, pretend play., i.e. playing house and other mini-adult role play games, “allows children to work through conflicts in their own reasoning as well as their own family and home environments. This play promotes empathy and understanding of differences, conflict resolution, and sharing/taking turns.”
Go big or go home with a dollhouse that’s nearly the size of your living room. KidKraft’s Majestic Mansion Dollhouse will be a huge hit with your child (literally). Standing at over four-feet tall with four levels, eight rooms, and a 34-piece accessory kit (including a grandfather clock, a piano, and retro sofa), it provides kids with oodles of room for pretend play. This actual dream home also features an elevator that rises and lowers between the second and third floors, in addition to a garage with doors that swing open. The only thing missing: a hot pink convertible (obvi). Each of the wallpapered rooms is quaint and charming… and once you add in furniture and dolls, your girlies won’t be able to step away. Note to moms: If you’re planning on gifting it as a present, don’t wait until the last minute (i.e. the night before) to put this bad boy together.
Spark your child’s creativity with these gift and toy guides for every age!