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When a 4-year-old reaches for a favorite toy, it'll be very different from the toys they loved as toddlers. They've grown up so much in such a short time, and their new developmental skills are quickly incorporated into their play — something to keep in mind when looking for gifts for kids this age.
"Four-year-olds are full of questions as they begin to decode the patterns and processes driving the world around them," says Rebecca Parlakian, M.A., E.D., a parenting expert from Zero to Three, an organization that focuses on early child development. "They're also all about problem-solving and enjoy mastering new challenges."
Additionally, friendships and social play are a major source of joy for preschoolers, and pretend play is really heating up at this age. "Their attention span is also growing, which means they can focus on more challenging tasks and activities," Parlakian adds.
With all these new skills, ideas and behaviors in their heads, there are lots of new toys and gifts that appeal to 4-year-olds. Parlakian suggests giving kids construction toys for building and problem-solving, challenging puzzles of 20 to 40 pieces, costumes and play sets that encourage imaginative play, art sets for motor skills and simple board games that'll let them try logic and strategy along with patience and turn-taking.
That's a lot, and it can be hard for parents to sort through all the options out there and figure out which toys appeal to 4-year-olds the most. The Good Housekeeping Institute evaluates toys all year long, in addition to keeping track of trends and new releases. Lab experts first evaluate the toys for safety and quality, and then hand them over to real 4-year-olds who give their brutally honest opinions about the fun fact. With all that said, these are the best toys and gifts for 4-year-old girls in 2023, a list that include both current and former Good Housekeeping Best Toy Award winners, as well as best-sellers and editor's picks.
Dolly Parton's Billy the Kid Makes It Big Picture Book, $11 at amazon.com
Crayola Scribble Scrubbie Pets Arctic Snow Explorer, $23 at amazon.com
Mindware Magic Potion Science, $30 at barnesandnoble.com
Educational Insights GeoSafari Jr. Talking Microscope, $33 at amazon.com
Melissa & Doug Paw Patrol Mighty Skye Role Play Pack, $46 at amazon.com
This year, 4-year-old girls love toys that mimic caring for pets and animals. Surprise collectibles are also still hot, as are sets that give kids hands-on STEM experience. Whatever you choose, these gifts will make 4-year-old girls happy.
Looking for more great gifts? Check out these Good Housekeeping guides:
PAW Patrol Mighty Skye Role Play Pack
For this mission, we'll need... Skye! this roleplay set allows Paw Patrol fans to "become" the flying pup with a wearable backpack with wings, plus a mask, stick-on patches and more. “She loved putting on the mask and backpack and pretending to fly,” one parent said. Ages 3+
Scribble Scrubbie Pets Arctic Snow Explorer
Good Housekeeping Institute toy testers have been fans of Crayola's Scribble Scrubbie Pets from the very beginning because they let kids color in their animals, rinse them off and color them in all over again, fostering their creativity. The Arctic Snow Explorers won a Good Housekeeping Best Toy Award because it adds a color-changing element to the fun: The pets turn white when warm and or blue when cold. The set comes with three pets, six washable markers, two snowboards, two tubs, a scrub brush and a vehicle that can be used as storage. Ages 3+
Kinetic Sand Deluxe Beach Castle Play Set
Good Housekeeping experts have long been a fan of Kinetic Sand because of the sensory experiences it offers, with sand that's always the perfect moldable texture. This play set goes a step further by letting kids make a sand castle no matter where they are, with accessories like walls, bridges, towers and arches along with tools like scoopers, diggers and cutters. "My child hasn’t stopped asking to play with it,” one parent said. It also comes with two and a half pounds of sand. Ages 3+
GeoSafari Jr. Talking Microscope
This talking microscope, featuring the voice of Bindi Irwin, comes with 20 prepared slides and 5x images to help introduce preschoolers to the wonders of the world around them. The microscope comes with two eyepieces, so there's no squirming one eye to learn. Now, there's also a new GeoSafari Jr. Talking Telescope for kids who want to take their science knowledge even further. Ages 4+
Dolly Parton's Billy the Kid Makes It Big
Celebrity kids' books are a dime a dozen, but this one was a hit with Good Housekeeping Institute testers young and old. It charmed readers with a winning story about a pup who wants to be a musician, despite the derision of others. It even features an original Parton song, “Makin‘ Fun Ain’t Funny," and reviewers loved the anti-bullying message. Ages 4 – 7
Magic Potion Science
Budding scientists (or sorceresses!) will adore this kit which gives them the opportunity to create their own safe and exciting experiments while combining the excitement of magic and the fun of science. Our little testers loved mixing up different experiments to do cool things like creating a crystal wand or "magically" blowing up a balloon. The results had a big "wow" factor. Ages 4+
Miraculous Volkswagen e-Beetle Vehicle
Any Miraculous Ladybug fan will thrill to own this vehicle, which matches Ladybug's costume perfectly. The doors and roof open, and there's room inside for two figures (sold separately) and even some space for Kwamis to hitch a ride on the dash or in the trunk. “She likes how it looks exactly like the show,” one parent tester said. Ages 4+
Her kitchen will get a lot yummier with this food set, which is sure to get her imagination fired up. It comes with a waffle iron, waffle, sliced fruit toppings, a syrup bottle, tongs, a wooden knife and fork and a plate to serve it all on. It's made from sustainable rubber wood colored with organic pigments. Ages 2+
Glitter Girls Gia & Gypsy
"This is perfect for my daughter who loves dolls and horses," one parent tester raved. "It really made her feel like a big girl because of its size." Good Housekeeping Institute experts also appreciated the price, which is less expensive than other 14-inch doll lines. The set comes with the doll Gia and her horse, Gypsy, plus pastel accessories like the saddle, harness, boots and cowboy hat. Ages 3+
Anna and Elsa’s Frozen Wonderland
Bring the magic of Frozen to kids' bedrooms when they recreate Elsa’s one-of-a-kind ice castle. This castle will leave them starstruck when them play on its revolving dance floor and fun playground. Explore all day with Anna, Elsa, Olaf and three snowgies. Plus, our young testers were able to follow the instructions and parents noted the starter blocks are great for even first-time builders. Or, if you're looking for a smaller stocking stuffer, there's LEGO sets for Anna's Castle Courtyard ($8), Elsa's Castle Courtyard ($10) and the Nokk's Ice Stable ($12). Ages 4+
RELATED: The Best Frozen Gifts for 2023
Coding Critters MagiCoders
Get them started learning to code without a screen or device. With this set, Skye the unicorn responds to coded "spells" that get her to do things like dance or chase her ball. It also comes in dragon form. Ages 4+
Scruff-a-Luvs Cutie Cuts!
Kids can practice their nurturing and empathy skills while caring for these pets, in the form of a full salon experience. It comes as a big fluff overgrown scruff, and kids can trim its hair (and stuff a pet bed with the excess), style it and even paint its claws. Then they'll be able to tell if the pup is a Yorkie or a Frenchie. Ages 4+
Disney Princess Deluxe Dress-Up Trunk
They can dress up as four of their favorite classic Disney princesses with this set, which comes with ensembles patterned after Belle, Cinderella, Sleeping Beauty and Snow White. It also comes with a bevy of accessories like chokers, bracelets and tiaras. A second trunk adds on outfits for Rapunzel, Jasmine, Tiana and Ariel. Ages 3+
Marble Rush Corkscrew Rush Set
Take your old marble run to the next level with this set, which has marbles flying through corkscrews, whirling through vortexes and dashing down fast tracks. Good Housekeeping kid testers say they liked how easy these were to put together in different configurations, so they could go straight to the marble racing. Ages 4+
Ada Twist, Scientist: Brainstorm Book
If Ada Twist, Scientist has her all fired up about STEM, this is the activity book is for her. It has prompts for drawings, mazes matching games, sequences and other activities that'll get her mind working. Plus, it has four double-sided posters she can put up around her workstation to keep her motivated. Ages 4+
Camping Outdoors Jumbo Puzzle
She'll be so pleased with herself when she uses her logical and critical thinking skills to put together this 48-piece puzzle. And it'll look like a big accomplishment, too: It takes up 21" x 14" of floor space! When it's together, it'll show a delightful picture of campers doing outdoor activities like roasting marshmallows or rowing a canoe. Ages 4+
Turtle Stepping Stones
Kids with lots of energy can practice their balance and coordination on these turtle-shell-shaped stepping stones. You can arrange them however you like, indoors or outdoors, and see if they can hop from shell to shell. The shells come in two sizes (smaller ones are an extra challenge), and the set also comes with a spinner, activity cards and a bag to store it all in. Ages 3+
Hoot Owl Hoot Board Game
The object of this simple board game is to get the owlets all back to their nests before the sun comes up. But players can move any owl on the board, so there's an element of strategy involved. Best of all: It's a cooperative game where all the players either win or lose as a team, which fosters collaboration and communication. Ages 4+
Numberblocks 1-10 Activity Set
The "M" in "STEM" (math) often gets forgotten when it comes to toys, but Good Housekeeping testers loved this math activity set, all thanks to the characters from Netflix's Numberblocks. Kids can build the characters from the show, and then use the activity cards to practice counting, addition and subtraction. “My kids have learned so much math from it, it’s mind-blowing,” one parent reported. Ages 3+
She can create, squish, squash, and shape this play foam that never dries out. The no-stick formula lets her sculpt anywhere without making a mess. This particular play foam variety pack comes with eight colors, creating endless possibilities for little hands to try. Ages 3+
Tasty Towers Castle Blocks Building Set
They can make buildings out of stacks of macarons, donut halves, inverted ice cream cones, peppermint sticks and other sweet treats with this building block set. They'll get all the benefits of a building toy, including practicing STEM skills and hand-eye coordination, in a very sweet package! Ages 3+
Giant Neon Crazy Crayon
There are 15 different bright hues smushed together in this one oversize crayon, and kids love the bevy of colors it produces. The crayon has a fine point on one side for drawing lines, and the broad side can fill in larger areas. Plus, it's hexagonally shaped, so it won't roll away and onto the floor. Ages 3+
Beginning Word Builder
Think of it as a kid-sized version of Wordle. Beginning readers can spin the letters and experiment with sounding out different consonant-vowel-consonant words. It also comes with 60 cards with pictures of words they can try to make. Ages 3+
Barbie Cutie Reveal Fashion Doll
Hi, Barbie! While all Barbies have something that makes them special, this Cutie Reveal has an element of surprise to it. It comes with a cute, plush costume, but that's not all: There are 10 additional surprises to uncover, including a pet, more clothes and accessories to go with her outfit. And if that wasn't enough, there's a color-changing element, too: With cold water you can add face-paint makeup to her look, too. Ages 3+
Classic Creative Brick Box Kit
For 4-year-olds, LEGO blocks still offer the best mix of guided builds, STEM skills and open-ended play. This large classic creative kit serves as a great starter set for little hands with big imaginations. The set comes with more than 790 pieces — including 33 different colored bricks, eight types of windows and doors, two green baseplates and six toy tires — so she can build anything she can think of. Unfinished creations and loose pieces can easily be stored away in the box until next play session. Ages 4+
Slice-and-Bake Wooden Cookie Play Food Set
Cooking sets are great for pretend play, building fine motor skills and learning to count. This one is made of durable material so even the youngest hands can pretend to bake the sweetest desserts. The set includes 12 "sliceable" cookies, 12 toppings, one toy knife, one spatula, one cookie sheet and one kitchen mitt. The cookies pack up into a small tube, so it's a good cooking set for small spaces. Ages 3+
Squishmallows Squishville Mall
Squishmallows are as popular as ever, but Squishville gives kids a whole new way to play with them that revs up kids' imaginations. This mall is a three-story play set for the 2" plush dolls, including a pink fox and a panda "pegacorn" that come with the set. In addition, there are other plush accessories for them to use, including a shopping cart, cash register and arcade game. Ages 3+
Marisol Fashion Doll
Marisol really makes a splash when she walks into a room! She comes from The Fresh Dolls line of dolls, which is known for dolls with realistic face sculpts, real hair textures and many points of articulation to make lots of poses. Good Housekeeping Institute Testers really responded to the dolls' hair and bold fashions. Ages 3+
Rainbocorns Fairycorn Princess Surprise
When your little one unboxes the Fairycorn Princess Surprise, she'll be able to discover a new animal/unicorn hybrid character, plus more than 35 layers of sweet surprises, like little friends (called Boo-Boocorns, adorable) and royal accessories like a tiara, wand and fairy wings. There are six different characters to collect. Ages 3+
Pegasus with Rainbow in the Clouds
For kids who love all things magical and mystical, this Playmobil set will get them into fantastical worlds of imaginative play. It comes with a beautiful winged pegasus and two figures to ride it. In addition, there are little embellishments that can be used to decorate the rainbow or the pegasus's hair. There's even a coordinating hair clip a child can wear. It's part of the Princess Magic Playmobil line, which offers lots of fun in the clouds. Ages 4+
Sooo Mini Doll
Your 4-year-old might not remember what the L.O.L.s looked like all the way back in Series 1, but if you do, you'll get a kick out of these throwback designs. Even if not, it's delightful the way that surprise balls are incorporated into the hair puffs of these mini collectibles. Each one comes with eight surprises. Ages 4+
Mindful Maze Garden Pack
Fidget toys are still huge among kids, and this one has a calming effect. It comes with two double-sized mazes that kids can trace with their fingers, along with breathing exercises they can do for extra mindfulness. Parents on the Good Housekeeping Institute staff have been known to use these on themselves after their kids have gone to bed. Ages 3+
Flexistix Leonardo’s Elements Construction Toy
They can go beyond their typical towers and castles and build more intricate geometric shapes with this building set, inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's art about the natural elements. Good Housekeeping testers say that trying to re-create da Vinci's shapes offered a great challenge, and it got kids working together with their older siblings. Ages 4+
Pastel Unicorn 3-D Puzzle
She'll have to use her critical thinking skills to assemble the cardboard pieces of this puzzle into a unicorn, but when she does she'll have an object that's shelf-worthy. Best of all, this is made from recycled cardboard dyed with vegetable inks. If she doesn't like unicorn, there are also dinosaurs, like a stegosaurus or diplodocus. Ages 4+
Tileblox Rainbow Multicolor Magnetic Tiles
This rainbow-inspired collection is great for young builders who can either follow the step-by-step guided ideas or build their own designs. It comes with 20 pieces, just enough to get kids started on small projects. Ages: 3+
Piggy Money Box
By 4, kids can start learning about saving and spending money. This bank is perfect because the see-through face lets her track her progress. (Its bottom comes off when they want to get the money out again, so no turning upside-down and shaking necessary). Ages 2+
Mealtime Magic Mia
This baby doll is incredibly realistic and makes more than 70 sounds and reactions. When kids feed her, she might ask for food or her bottle. Her plate comes with 10 different foods, and kids can "scoop" one up onto her spoon, and the spoon will recognize the flavor. Kids can even combine two flavors into one! Then, when they feed Maya, she'll say if the combo is yucky or yummy. Ages 3+
How we choose the best toys
Before including our favorite picks in an article, the Good Housekeeping Institute does rigorous toy testing to ensure we're recommending only the best. Many of our choices come from our yearly Toy Awards, where we test each item based on the following criteria:
✔️ Safety: Our engineers and analysts make sure that each toy reaches all safety standards. They also assess things like pinch points and make sure toys won’t shatter into small pieces to pose a potential choking hazard.
✔️ Ease of Use: We look at each toy to evaluate how simple it is to assemble, how well it’s constructed and how durable it is during play.
✔️ Kid Approval: Aside from testing each toy for skill-building attributes, like how well it develops social-emotional skills, all our final decisions come from more than 100 children, ages 1 to 15, who assess the fun factor!
Why trust Good Housekeeping?
Much of the toy testing for this article was overseen by Rachel Rothman, the Good Housekeeping Institute's chief technologist and director of engineering, with the help of Marisa LaScala, Good Housekeeping's senior parenting and relationships editor. For more than 15 years, Rachel has put her training in mechanical engineering and applied mathematics to work by researching, testing and writing about parenting products. Plus, as a mom to three kids under 5, she has plenty of first-hand experience.
Marisa has covered all aspects of the world of parenting, from the postpartum years through the empty nests, since 2015, and she's pitched in with Good Housekeeping's toy coverage since 2018. She lives in New York City with her husband and daughter, who are both avid toy collectors. Marisa finds it hard to pass up any opportunity to play with pretend food, which often looks better to her than real food.
Shop more toys and gifts for kids
Looking for more great gifts for kids? Let the experts do all the hard work for you!
Top-tested items: See what toys, gifts and books ranked the very highest in our Lab tests with our Good Housekeeping Best Toy Awards, our Good Housekeeping Best Kids’ Book Awards and our Good Housekeeping Parenting Awards.
Tech for kids: Our lab experts are often asked for recommendations for digital devices for kids, and we've tested kids' phones, kids' smartwatches, kids' tablets and game consoles and to see which ones held up the best for families.
Great learning toys: While all toys can be helpful vehicles for supporting developmental growth, we love to spotlight notably exceptional educational Toys and STEM toys as well as ones that can support social-emotional growth, like those included in our lists of the best sensory toys, pop fidget toys, Montessori toys and autism toys.
Gifts for babies: Please the newest members on your gift list (and their parents) with these useful baby registry items, as well as gifts for babies, gifts for baby girls and gifts for baby boys. Of course, you might want to get something for new parents to help them through the hectic newborn stage.
Gifts for toddlers: The coolest new toys in this space pull double-duty, whether it's social-emotional learning combined with motor skills, or creative play combined with language, as you can see in our gift guides for gifts for 1-year-olds, gifts for 18-month-olds, gifts for 2-year-olds and gifts for all toddlers, as well as our stocking stuffers for toddlers.
Gifts for preschoolers: As they begin to explore the world around them on a deeper level, help them explore with STEM sets, art kits, creative toys and toys that inspire their imaginations. Find our favorites in our gifts for 3-year-olds (including gifts for 3-year-old boys and gifts for 3-year-old girls), gifts for 4-year-olds (including gifts for 4-year-old boys and gifts for 4-year-old girls) and gifts for 5-year-olds (including gifts for 5-year-old boys and gifts for 5-year-old girls).
Gifts for big kids: By these ages, they've developed their own interests. Help them dive deeper into the subjects that most interest them, from coding to art to cartooning to history and geography, with these gifts for 6-year-olds (including gifts for 6-year-old boys and gifts for 6-year-old girls), gifts for 7-year-olds (including gifts for 7-year-old boys and gifts for 7-year-old girls), gifts for 8-year-olds (including gifts for 8-year-old boys and gifts for 8-year-old girls), and gifts for 9-year-olds (including gifts for 9-year-old boys and gifts for 9-year-old girls). It's also fun to shop for some of our best-reviewed and top-selling stocking stuffers for kids.
Gifts for tweens: Sure, once they get old enough for an iPad or gaming console you might be at a loss of what to get them. We have you covered with engaging picks for gifts for 10-year-olds (including gifts for 10-year-old boys and gifts for 10-year-old girls), gifts for 11-year-olds (including gifts for 11-year-old boys and gifts for 11-year-old girls), and gifts for 12-year-olds (including gifts for 12-year-old boys and gifts for 12-year-old girls), or see what's trending with boys or tween girls as a whole.
Gifts for teens: We decode what's on the lists for this picky age group, from the hottest accessories to the most-wanted tech gifts, with gifts for 13-year-old boys, gifts for 13-year-old girls, gifts for 14-year-olds, gifts for 15-year-old boys, gifts for 15-year-old girls, gifts for 16-year-olds, gifts for teen girls, gifts for teen boys and even fun stocking stuffers for teens.
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