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Magna-Tiles, dolls, role-play toys, and more delight preschoolers and encourage their development.
Medically reviewed by Lyndsey Garbi, MD
At 4 years old, a child suddenly seems more like a little person than a baby (cue the happy tears). They’re more imaginative, creative, and energetic than ever before, and you’ll notice that they’ve started to develop strong preferences for specific things. Gone are the days of just rolling a ball around or being fascinated by their face in a mirror. Four-year-olds want to engage in imaginative play where they can act out everyday scenarios, wear dress-up clothes while pretending to be someone else, and stimulate their growing brains by building tiny villages with blocks. This is also the age where they start to actually play with others instead of just beside them, so it’s an exciting time for building relationships. The best toys for 4-year-olds are going to be fun and educational, as well as made with their development in mind.
In order to present you with the most thorough list of fantastic toys for a 4-year-old, we conducted a survey with 774 real parents and caregivers from our research panel and 101 members of our staff. We asked them questions about what toys their child loves the most, why they love them, and what feels unique and exciting about them. We also questioned them about details like assembly and durability because as entertaining as a toy might be, we also know it needs to be convenient for parents and caregivers as well.
When looking for the best toy for the 4-year-old in your life, you’ll hit it out of the park if you give them something that fosters their imagination and social and emotional skills, as well as something that helps them learn. Since kids this age are starting to become more passionate about the things they’re interested in, keep the movies, shows, and books they love in mind, too. The toys we list here check all of these boxes and more.
Magna-Tiles 100-Piece Clear Colors Set
Preschoolers are generally incredibly interested in building things, and Magna-Tiles are a perfect way to encourage that. Simple and easy to use, these magnetic tiles are versatile and fun to play with. “Our Magna-Tiles have had so many different lives,” one parent noted in our toy survey. “My sons have made storage boxes out of them, skyscraper after skyscraper, domino-like falling effects, car garages. … They are the most versatile toy we own.”
The classic 100-piece set is a great place to start for basic building, but Magna-Tiles also offers themed sets, like a jungle one with magnetic animals. They’re also easy to store, especially if you purchase the storage bin and play mat.
Price at time of publication: $120
Crayola Scribble Scrubbie Safari Animals Tub Set
This age is probably when you’ll notice a child becoming more interested in arts and crafts aside from just coloring a blank piece of paper (although they’ll still love that too). The Crayola Scribble Scrubbie sets give them an opportunity to color on something new while engaging in imaginative play. This set comes with four animals that can be colored with the included markers, and then washed off in the little tub so that they’re ready to be colored again. It comes in a bunch of different versions, and all of them are adorable.
Price at time of publication: $24
Glo-Pals Lumi Water-Activated Bath Toy
Bath toys that go beyond the usual squirter animals and don’t immediately become covered in mold are always welcome in this house, and my daughter is absolutely obsessed with her Glo-Pals toy. These unique little toys light up once they go underwater, making bath time more exciting, magical, and calming. They have flexible arms and legs for easy play and come in a variety of different characters. They also automatically turn off when they’re dry.
Aside from being cute and fun, they support sensory development and help with color recognition and fine motor skills. I like that this particular set comes with extra light-up cubes, which will need to be replaced every 30 uses or so. Make a note that if these are used regularly, you will need to buy replacement cubes.
Price at time of publication: $25
Hot Wheels 20 Car Gift Pack
You can’t go wrong with a classic like Hot Wheels cars and trucks. In our survey, several parents mentioned Hot Wheels as one of their child’s favorite toys. Parents love how simple these toys are, mentioning that they’re great for traveling or taking on the go. They also appreciate that these toys don’t make annoying sounds or require a complicated assembly. “It shows commitment to a play concept and has encouraged a deepening of his exploration with cars and wheels,” one parent notes. There are endless things you can do with these little cars and this pack comes with a variety of different cars and trucks.
Price at time of publication: $30
Skillmatics Educational Game : Search and Find
The Skillmatics Search and Find Game is a fun way for kids to work on their observation skills and build their vocabulary. It comes with six different activity mats that encourage them to find and circle specific objects. What we love about this one is that it’s dry-erase, so you can wipe it clean to play with it again later on. It even comes with a cute achievement certificate that they’ll love to receive. My 4-year-old absolutely loves search-and-find games, and I think it’s a great balance of education and entertainment.
Price at time of publication: $20
Teamson Kids Little Chef Paris Wood Play Kitchen
If the 4-year-old in your life doesn’t already have a play kitchen, now is the time to get one! It leads to endless hours of imaginative play, and there’s so much they can do with it when you add some fake food and utensils. While there are tons of options out there, I personally love this Teamson Kids wooden model. It isn’t overly complicated, and it has plenty of space for a lot of fake kitchen items without taking up too much real estate in your house. I bought it three years ago, and it’s one of the only toys we own that I can say my child plays with every single day. She loves “cooking” whenever I do and playing with it alongside her sister.
I’ve also been really happy with how this holds up to daily play. It’s durable, and there are no scratches or nicks on it. It’s easy to clean and looks adorable too. If you have the space, it’s definitely worth the money.
Price at time of publication: $170
Play-Doh Starter Set
I’ve had Play-Doh lying around my house for a few years, but it wasn’t until around my child’s fourth birthday that she actually started playing with it. This Play-Doh Starter Set is a great place to begin (hence the name). It comes with four different doughs and accessories, like a little knife, scissors, and a roller, all of which are great for helping kids with fine motor skills and keeping them busy. I also like that this one comes in a plastic bag, making cleanup and storage easy.
Several parents recommended this option in our survey too, with one parent saying, “It holds his attention for 20-plus minutes.” One thing to note? Play-Doh is messy and can get all over the place, so if you want something clean, this isn’t it.
Price at time of publication: $12
eeBoo Tea Party Spinner Game
Games are great educational tools for 4-year-olds, but it’s important to find ones with directions that are easy enough for them to follow so that they don’t get frustrated or burnt out. This eeBoo Tea Party game is a favorite in my house. I love it because it’s cute, easy to follow, and doesn’t encourage a lot of competition. My child loves that it’s fun and she can play it with us. The concept is simple: Try to collect an item from each category to create a perfect tea party plate. My daughter has also played with it on her own for tea parties with her dolls. I also appreciate that this doesn’t have tiny game pieces I have to worry about losing.
Price at time of publication: $22
LEGO Disney 100 Celebration Train
Disney fans will love the Lego Disney 100 Celebration Train, which features several beloved characters and the cutest little train cars, in honor of Disney’s 100th anniversary. It’s a 200-piece set that includes an engine, parade floats, and mini figurines. Preschoolers will love building the train and engaging in imaginative play with the little figures, and they’ll be honing skills like concentration and communication as they go. Some Lego sets are too intricate for younger children, but this one was made with little hands in mind, and it’s a great way to get them started on building things.
Price at time of publication: $37
Orijin Bees Baby Bee Doll
Representation matters, and we love that this baby doll was inspired by the brand founder’s mission to help her daughter feel confident in herself. The name “Orijin Bees” is actually an acronym that means “Our Representation Is Just Inclusion Normalized, Beautifully Empowering Every Soul.” There are several different doll options, each with moveable limbs, realistic-looking hair, and a happy, smiling face. They also each come with a matching hair accessory for a child to wear as well, and they’ll love being able to have the same item as their doll. Dolls are a great way to foster imagination and to help young children act out real-life situations for social and emotional development.
Price at time of publication: $50
Crayola Ultra-Clean Washable Markers
At 4 years old, children are better able to hold markers for coloring and drawing. This is also when I really started trusting that my daughter (most likely) would not color the furniture around her or fail to put the cap back on. This set of Crayola markers is inexpensive, comes with the basic colors, and truly is washable. I never have a problem getting it off my kids’ hands or clothing. “Every house needs them,” one parent noted in our toy survey. They have the added benefit of being able to pack when traveling.
Price at time of publication: $4
Dream Big Princess Me Reader
Not many 4-year-olds can read on their own just yet, but they might love looking through books or having you read to them. This “tablet” comes with eight books, and as they flip through the pages, they’re prompted to press a button so that it reads the book to them. It’s easy for them to follow, and my daughter absolutely loves it. In addition to this audio help, the words are still printed on the book, so kids and parents can read along. They feature classic stories and the illustrations are nice to look at. There are also several other book themes available in the Me Reader format.
Price at time of publication: $33
Fisher-Price Little People Light-Up Learning Camper
The Fisher-Price Little People sets are made for small hands to grasp and move around. This Light-Up Learning Camper is great for imaginative play, as it comes with some figures and little accessories to make a realistic-looking setup. The camper has electronic elements that light up and make noises like phrases and music. It also comes with a little car that can tow the camper. There are so many creative things a 4-year-old can do with this set, and what I love about the Little People line is that everything can be placed inside one item for easy storage.
Price at time of publication: $23
Melissa & Doug Wooden Pizza Play Food Set
Play food opens the door for a lot of creative and open-ended play, whether you have a toy kitchen or not. We like that this Melissa & Doug Wooden Pizza set offers a little bit more in terms of engagement. It comes with a pizza cutter, and each piece is connected by little Velcro dots so kids can “cut” through the slices. It helps with fine motor skills and makes what they’re doing feel even more realistic. It also comes with a lot of toppings for them to add to each slice, and the pizza box it comes in is great for storage.
Price at time of publication: $28
Tender Leaf Toys Weather Watch - Educational Wooden Weatherboard for Kids
This is a great age to get your child interested in everyday things that are actually quite fascinating, like the weather. We love that this Tender Leaf Toys Weather Watch board is interactive, making it fun to learn about different types of weather and encouraging kids to observe what’s going on around them. They can use this each day to identify how sunny or cloudy it is, what the temperature is, what season it is, and even how windy it is.
A weather toy like this is also a nice part of a family routine each morning. My daughter gets a kick out of looking out the window to determine what the weather is each day. It also doesn’t hurt that this board is beautiful to look at and makes a nice display in their room.
Price at time of publication: $65
Mastom Fashion Princess Dress-Up Shoes and Tiaras
At around 4 years old, many children become invested in dressing up and role-playing. While you’ll want to stock up on some dress-up clothes, accessories can add just a little more joy to their games. This inexpensive set of princess-inspired shoes and tiaras is great if your little one loves to dress as a princess. My daughter loves that she can easily slip the shoes on herself, and the tiaras don’t seem too uncomfortable. It also comes in a cardboard box that doubles as a storage space.
Price at time of publication: $20
VTech Drill & Learn Workbench with Tools
This adorable workbench encourages all sorts of creative and open-ended play. Putting it together can be something you do with them, using the tools that come with the bench. It comes with tools like a drill press, sander, and circular saw, and when placed on the bench, they make noise and spout facts about them. It also comes with pieces kids can really put together with nuts, bolts, screws, pegs, and wheels, and a book of nine project ideas to encourage them to get into DIY. Light-up buttons, music, and a quiz mode entertain them even more. There’s plenty of storage to hold all of the tools and building pieces when they’re not in use. The size and number of pieces make this especially great for playing with friends and siblings.
Price at time of publication: $50
Where’s Squeaky? The Interactive Hide-and-Seek Game
The unique Where’s Squeaky? game encourages preschoolers to get moving while using critical thinking and observation skills. It’s basically like hide and seek: Once the mouse is turned on, someone hides him, and then he makes a noise every few moments until he’s found. Once he’s returned “home” (to the box he comes in), he recalibrates and you can hide him all over again. My 4-year-old thinks this game is hilarious and loves searching for the mouse. I like that it’s something fun and interactive we can do together, and I love that she can play with a few friends instead of just one.
Price at time of publication: $15
Blockaroo Magnetic Foam Blocks 100-Piece Set
Building blocks are a go-to toy for many 4-year-olds, and while there are a lot of options to choose from, my personal favorite is the Blockroo Magnetic Foam Blocks. This 100-piece set is a little pricey, but I think it’s totally worth it. These are surprisingly durable foam blocks with magnets in them, so they make building huge towers and villages easy. They come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are perfect for big imaginations. Another plus? They make great bath toys, too. This set comes with a treasure chest that is both cute and perfect for storage. It’s one of those rare toys kids can play with for a really long time without getting bored.
Price at time of publication: $130
Wonder Crew Superhero Buddy James
The Wonder Crew are 15-inch dolls—but for kids who object to the word “dolls,” you can also call them a combination of action figures and stuffed animals, because of their hard limbs and heads and soft bodies. We love these for 4-year-olds who want something to snuggle and hold but also want something they can engage in imaginative play with. The Wonder Crew Superhero Buddy comes in a few different variations other than James pictured here, and each has a cape and a mask. They also come with a matching cape and mask for children to wear. We love how huggable these are and the fact that they were created by a therapist to boost confidence and empower kids.
Price at time of publication: Starting at $30
LeapFrog Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Cart Deluxe
This LeapFrog Scoop and Learn Ice Cream Cart comes with everything they’ll need to make (pretend) ice cream cones for their customers, including several different ice creams, cones, toppings, a menu, ice pops, and a scooper. Kids can serve up orders and then use the little cash register to ring it all up.
One of my daughter’s favorite things about this is that it has wheels, so she can push it around the room, and I love that everything has a place when it’s not in use. This was recommended in our toy survey, with one parent noting their child “is able to interact independently and socially with the toy,” saying they love how it encourages pretend play.
Price at time of publication: $55
Hasbro Don’t Break the Ice Game
Don’t Break the Ice is a classic game that’s simple enough for 4-year-olds to set up on their own once you’ve taught them, and I love how it encourages fine motor skills. Each player takes a turn tapping out a block of ice at a time until someone finally hits the wrong one and the penguin falls through. It’s fun for them to get permission to feel like they’re breaking something, and my daughter always goes into a fit of laughter when it happens. This is a great game to foster cooperative play too.
Price at time of publication: $14
Crate and Kids Picnic Please Felt Picnic Kids Playset
While this felt picnic playset is a bit of a splurge, it has remained a favorite of my daughter’s for the past two years. This playset is beautifully designed, made up of large pieces of fake food that can be used for a picnic or for anything else a child wants to use them for. The set includes a large basket, two pillow cushions, a blanket, and a variety of food and utensils. Everything can be placed in the basket when it’s not in use for convenient storage. We love setting up picnics and tea parties with this, and each piece is durable enough that it looks barely used even after years of play.
Price at time of publication: $79
Melissa & Doug Veterinarian Role-Play Costume Set
Dress-up clothes don’t have to be all about royalty and superheroes–giving kids costumes to role-play is every bit as fun. This veterinarian set comes with scrubs, a syringe, a stethoscope, a thermometer, and even a tiny canine patient. You can build the collection with other great Melissa & Doug costumes, like doctor, fire chief, waiter, and more, so that they’ll have plenty to choose from and share during play dates.
Price at time of publication: $38
Learn Scissor Skills Book
At around 3- or 4-years-old, children should start learning to use scissors safely, and they’ll finally have the motor skills to do so. You can make this lesson fun by getting them something like this Learn Scissor Skills book. Each page has images made with dotted lines to encourage cutting. We love that this one comes with safety scissors as well. It’s packed with fun, colorful images, including puzzles that can be cut out and put back together again. This is a great activity to do with a child or have them practice on their own while supervised.
Price at time of publication: $5
Bluey Beach Cabin Playset
Fans of Bluey also love this beach cabin playset. It offers a wide play area with 10 different play pieces, like a barbecue (of course!) and a toilet. There’s even a little tub you can fill with water. We love that it comes with a sheet of stickers because kids love decorating and personalizing their belongings. This is so fun for imaginative play and is a great way to get kids to work on social and emotional skills. It’s also fun to display this in their room when it’s not in use.
Price at time of publication: $35
Melissa & Doug Food Truck Play Tent
This 4-foot-long food truck is full of delightful details like a gas tank, an illustrated menu, a sunroof with a flap, and a reusable menu activity card. It’s big enough for multiple kids to play inside at once, and it’s also pretty easy to assemble. It works both outdoors and inside, and it leads to so much creative imaginative play. And unlike some big bulky plastic play tents or playhouses, this one is lightweight, making it a bit easier to move around the house or yard as needed.
Price at time of publication: $32
Floss & Rock Dino Shaped Jigsaw Puzzle
You’ll likely notice that your 4-year-old is becoming more interested in puzzles, and they’re actually able to put them together on their own. That said, you don’t want to get them anything too complicated or detailed. We love Floss & Rock puzzles in my house. The pieces are big and chunky, making it easy for little hands to grab them and figure out where they go. They also come in really unique shapes. This one, for example, is actually shaped like a dinosaur instead of just a square image of a dinosaur. It gives it just the right amount of challenge, and the end result is nice to look at.
Price at time of publication: $25
Thomas & Friends Diecast Train & Track Set
This Thomas & Friends train set inspires a great mix of building and imaginative play. Kids can take all of the pieces and put them together in a track using their own creative ideas. They can then play with the train and track once everything is together. Little details are cute touches, like the ability to push down on the train cars to see passengers “board.” Everything goes into a carry case with a handle for convenient storage and easy portability.
Price at time of publication: $28
Paw Patrol Toy Walkie Talkie Command Center
Encourage teamwork and some running around with this cute Paw Patrol Toy Walkie Talkie Command Center. It comes with two easy-to-use walkie-talkies that actually work, as well as a command center with different buttons and sound effects. Kids will love talking to their parents, siblings, or friends as they run around on a mission. This doesn’t take up a lot of space and it also helps get them moving.
Price at time of publication: $25
Our Review Process
When looking for the best toys for 4-year-olds, we really wanted to find out what kids this age are playing with and genuinely loving. We conducted a survey to do exactly that, talking to 774 parents and caregivers on our research panel, as well as 101 members of our own staff, about their child’s favorite toy. We asked them questions about why their child seemed to love that particular toy, as well as questions like whether or not their child found a unique way to play with that toy to get some insight into how they interacted with it. We also inquired about assembly, durability, and value, as well as whether it inspired independent or cooperative play. And as much as we wanted to know how kids felt about their toys, we also asked parents what they loved about it too.
In addition to the survey, we poured over hundreds of reviews and ratings online to see what other parents were saying about popular toy options. Our editors attend industry events and meetings with toy brands all year long to find out about the latest releases and trends. We spoke to experts to get their insight on how children are developing at this age and the best type of play for them. Lastly, as the parent of a 4-year-old, I used my own insight and experience with what I know my daughter loves to play with the most. All of this research led us to a comprehensive list of fun, educational, and interactive toys that 4-year-olds will come back to again and again.
We spoke to these experts to find out more about 4-year-olds:
Corinne Eggleston, PhD, manager of early childhood development research at the Fisher-Price Play Lab
Factors to Consider When Buying Toys for 4-Year-Olds
4-Year-Old Developmental Milestones
By 4 years old, children are starting to remember more, feel more empathy, and share better. They also genuinely want to play with others. “At 4 years old, they’ll show some interest and ability in cooperative play, where they play with others on shared experiences, as opposed to parallel play, in which younger children play beside each other but not with each other,” explains Dr. LeVos.
“When looking for toys for your preschoolers, look for products that will advance their creativity and imagination, problem-solving abilities, fine and gross motor skills, thinking skills, early academic knowledge, and much more,” Dr. Eggleston says. “Also consider toys that they can play with on their own to grow their sense of independence, or with others to build those relationship skills.” Keep the below developmental milestones in mind as you shop:
Engaging in cooperative play encourages more problem-solving, taking turns, sharing, and working together, says Dr. Eggleston.
They are more concrete thinkers, which Dr. LeVos describes as being “focused on what they can see and experience directly.”
They are developing more foundational or core skills, which allows them to recognize more letters, letter sounds, the names of some shapes and colors, and the names of common animals, according to Dr. LeVos.
They are developing physical skills, so toys that get their fine and gross motor skills going are imperative. Dr. Eggleston notes that this could be something like playing with a ball, driving a ride-on toy, or using remote-controlled toys.
They are becoming well-versed in conceptual interests, which basically means they are able to feel extremely passionate and interested in specific topics, like dinosaurs, space, or princesses.
Keep in mind that they are going to start displaying “big emotions” and are starting to come up with ways of regulating them, Dr. LeVos says. They’re capable of being remarkably sensitive and empathic at this age, and they’re also learning to take turns and share toys more than before. To aid in this, Dr. Eggleston recommends toys that help them act out certain scenarios (like a play house that has them acting out everyday interactions), and sensory play items, which can help kids develop flexible thinking, creative expression, and self-regulation.
At 4 years old, their imagination is starting to go wild. “Role-playing with toys and dolls where they can play alone in their own world of imagination or with others are great for preschoolers,” Dr. Eggleston says.
The Child’s Interests: You want to buy toys that are educational, but you also want kids to love to play with them. Dr. LeVos notes that this is the age when children feel really passionate about whatever it is they love, so be sure to buy at least some toys that play into that. For example, if your child loves the movie The Little Mermaid, then look for toys like mermaid dress-up clothes or mermaid toys.
Safety: In terms of safety, most 4-year-olds are past the stage where they are putting everything in their mouth, so you don’t have to stress about small items as much. That said, Dr. LeVos notes that preschoolers still don’t have the ability to handle intricate pieces just yet. Also, keep the age range of the toy in mind. “As biased, loving caregivers, many of us think our own children are more mature than others, and think it’s OK to get toys that are for older children,” she says. She recommends sticking with toys meant for their age to ensure it meets their developmental needs, interests, and safety requirements.
Educational Value: The best toys are fun and help children learn. Look for toys that have some sort of educational aspect to them. Think games that help them learn letters, numbers, or animal names, or toys that help them act out imaginative scenarios and explore their emotions.
Trends and Gender Norms: You’ll notice that 4-year-olds are more attuned to gender norms than they ever were. They may start showing emerging gender preference in terms of who they’re friends with and even what they play with. At the same time, Dr. LeVos says, “They may have equitable beliefs in terms of what women and men can aspire to be.” So, when looking for toys, don’t play into gender norms. Buy them what they want regardless of what society says. If your son wants a baby doll, get him a baby doll. This is a good time to teach them they don’t need to follow stereotypes and can play with what makes them happy.
Cost: Toys can get surprisingly expensive, but a higher price does not always equal a better toy. Buy what you can afford and only splurge if it feels worth it to you in terms of durability and longevity.
Your Questions, Answered
How much should I spend on a gift for a 4-year-old?
There is no right answer to what you should or shouldn’t spend. Toys for 4-year-olds can range in price from under $10 to over $100 depending on the brand, the type of toy, and what it’s made of. Look for something they love, and buy what you can afford.
What should I give if I don’t know what a child wants?
If you’re buying a gift for a 4-year-old and have no idea what they’re interested in, Dr. LeVos recommends looking for toys that promote open-ended play, like dolls or action figures, or toys that encourage creating and building, like magnetic tiles or blocks. “Toys that promote critical skills for the 21st century, including curiosity, creativity, and critical thinking are also great,” she says.
What should I avoid giving a 4-year-old?
Even if your 4-year-old seems mature, keep the age recommendation of the toy in mind. Buy toys meant for 4-year-olds. They’ll likely play with something made for younger kids, but know it may not grow with them as well. You should also avoid tiny pieces. Dr. LeVos notes that while 4-year-olds are coming a long way “in terms of balance, coordination, and fine motor skills, they may still lack some of the strength and dexterity needed to engage with toys that have small parts or intricate components.”
Who We Are
Jessica Booth is a freelance writer who covers parenting, shopping, wellness, entertainment, and wedding content. She has been freelance writing since 2017 and before that, worked as an editor at an online publication for seven years. She has written for sites such as Brides, People, Insider, Bustle, Romper, Refinery 29, Cosmopolitan, Delish, The Daily Beast, Reviewed, She Knows, Scary Mommy, The Knot, and What to Expect. She also has a 4-year-old who owns way too many toys, so she has plenty of experience about what 4-year-olds love playing with.
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