“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.”
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. 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.
Doctor Role Play Set by PlanToys
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.
Buy Now $55.80 Active Monkey Balance Board by Alex Toys
This wobbly board teaches kids about balance, helps them hone their gross motor skills, and supports up to 200 pounds worth of child. Plus, most of all, it's a hell of a good time because it's way harder than it looks.
Buy Now $18.24 Feed the Woozle Board Game
Kids have to work together to feed the hairy, hungry creature. And in doing so, they learn to take turns, play collaboratively, and how to creatively solve problems together.
Buy Now $21.99 Hand Puppet by Cate & Levi
These offbeat, handmade wool puppets are a fantastic way for kids to act out stories and immerse themselves in pretend play.
Buy Now $19.99 Wooden Stacking Board Game by Lewo
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.
Buy Now $14.99 Yolopark 17
A gorgeous guitar perfectly sized for 4-year-olds, with four tunable strings. It looks like it belongs at Coachella. And it lets kids explore the fundamentals of music and rhythm.
Buy Now $21.99 Classic Tricycle by Radio Flyer
Kids get moving, explore their physicality, practice gross motor skills, and unleash their inner speed demon with this beautiful 10 inch tricycle. It has a controlled turning radius that prevents tipping over.
Buy Now $59.99 Art Easel for Kids by B. Toys
Encourage kids to unleash their creativity and practice their drawing (AKA fine motor) skills with this two-sided easel. One side is a chalkboard, the other a white erase board. This set comes with two roomy storage bins for chalk and markers.
Buy Now $44.71 Bristle Blocks by Battat
These 112 interlocking blocks connect together and let kids build towers or cars or dinosaurs or castles or, or, or.
Buy Now $15.50 LEGO Classic Windows of Creativity Building Kit
The best Lego sets let kids play in an unstructured way, creating whatever they dream up. This is that 450-piece set. It plays to the strengths of 4-year-olds, including their newfound ability to concentrate for longer and engage in group play.
Buy Now $49.78 Basic Builder Play Set by Hape
This colorful building set helps kids expand their engineering and structural skills while keeping them creatively engaged. Kids get 42 pieces, including a wrench and screws, to construct what they want. And the wheels and googly eyes add creative and whimsical flair to the set.
Buy Now $19.99 Imagination Magnets by MindWare
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.
Buy Now $29.95 Magna-Tiles Stardust Set
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.
Buy Now $29.99 Dynamo Wooden Domino Set by Hape
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.
Buy Now $25.68 Playfoam by Educational Insights
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.
Buy Now $7.43 Pancake Pile-Up! Relay Game
This pancake-balancing game helps kids get a handle on taking turns, engaging in critical thinking, and playing nicely with others. They put pancakes on spatulas and compete to stack said pancakes in a relay-like race. Sounds complicated. It's not.
Buy Now $11.28 Chef Role-Play Costume Set by Melissa & Doug
Kids this age are really into dressing up. As just about anything. So get them started with this detailed and well-made chef's costume, which includes a chef’s jacket, hat, oven mitt, three wooden utensils, plastic measuring spoons, and name-tag for pencil personalization..
Buy Now $23.67 Wooden Dollhouse by Hape
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.
Buy Now $142.57 PLAYMOBIL Large Hospital
This 512 piece hospital playset will lead to hours and hours of imaginative play. Kids can check patients in at the reception desk, diagnose them on exam tables, update medical charts and administer IVs.
Buy Now $139.00 Hape Pop Up Toaster
Sometimes toys that mimic mundane everyday objects spark the most imaginative play and help kids learn about the world around them. This kitschy Hape toaster set includes toast, butter, honey, blueberry jam, utensils, and a working pop-up toaster, and will encourage role play.
Buy Now $20.99 Kid O Free Play Magnatab
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.
Buy Now $20.55 Manhattan Toy Puppettos Finger Puppet Theatre Stage
The best toys are the ones that serve as mere accessories to a child's imagination, and this miniature stage is a great way to level up your kid's finger puppet game. The pockets provide great storage for puppets.
Buy Now $29.99 Dr. Seuss Cat in The Hat Finger Puppet
This puppets provide a fun addition to reading the Cat and the Hat books, or a way to bring the TV series off-screen.
Buy Now $14.99 HABA Basic Building Blocks 102 Piece Extra Large Wooden Starter Set (Made in Germany)
This extra-special block set enables kids to build more complex structures. It features 102 pieces and is designed for kids aged 1-8.
Buy Now $124.99
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