“A 4-year-old’s favourite phrase is ‘I’m not a baby’, so pick gifts which appeal to the inner child, but give a nod to the grown-up world they now feel part of,” advises Siobhan Freegard, founder of parenting video network ChannelMum.com. With that in mind, we asked Freegard and ten other parenting and child experts — from play psychologists to parenting group founders — to put together an extensive list of gift ideas for 4-year-olds, from the best books to the best outdoor toys.
The best STEM toys for 4-year-olds
“This easy-to-use, talking microscope is a great way of nurturing children’s natural curiosity and their interest in science and nature,” says play psychologist and Good Play Guide founder Amanda Gummer. She adds that children find this toy more engaging than other microscopes as they can listen to it talking about the slides they are examining.
This car-themed construction set “is a great cause and effect toy,” says Karen Hirst, early support, education, and training manager at the Royal National Institute of Blind People. “It comes in bright chunky pieces, making it accessible visually and it is also tactile.”
“Science and STEM subjects have never been cooler for kids and with everything rainbows trending right now, this present is the perfect mix of learning and fun,” says Freegard. Kids will no longer need to wait for the weather conditions to be just right, they’ll be able to see rainbows whenever they want with this clever projector and crystal set. [Editor’s note: This product is currently out of stock.]
“We all love watching The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds, and with this thoughtful gift you can create your own version,” says Freegard. “4-year-olds are the ultimate digital natives and this cute and clever camera helps them make simple videos to show the family.”
“‘Who am I?’ and ‘Where am I in the world?’ are key questions all 4-year-olds love to ask,” says Freegard. “This wonderful glow in the dark map is a comforting way to teach children about the world and provides gentle illumination overnight.”
The best arty toys for 4-year-olds
“I have this bag for my son Blake and it’s his pride and joy,” says Nina Malone, founder of Dope Black Mums. “It’s washable, so it allows him to imagine, draw, and paint new designs over and over and over again, saving my kitchen walls.” She adds that it is also great for taking on journeys — “your very own portable canvas.”
“The paint and chalk sticks in this set glide easily on the whiteboard and blackboard, which makes it easy for children to draw and develop those important skills in dexterity and hand-eye coordination while practising their pincer grip,” says Gummer.
Gummer also recommends this paint sticks activity kit, which includes 20 sea-creature-themed colouring sheets. She says paint sticks are just as popular with parents as they are with children because they are “less messy than paint, but provide more paint-like results than crayons or pens”.
The best board games and puzzles for 4-year-olds
“Games can help to develop your 4-year-old’s vocabulary and allow them to practice simple maths skills, such as counting,” says Emma Fraser, teacher of the deaf at the National Deaf Children’s Society. “The Shopping List Game not only develops auditory and visual memory, it also helps your child to learn the names of a wide variety of foods and everyday items.”
These educational puzzles, which teach kids about tribes in various African countries, were recommended by both Vese Aghoghovbia-Aladewolu, founder of children’s brand Philly & Friends, and Keisha Ehigie, founder of book subscription box Imagine Me Stories. Plus, they also got a shout out from Malone in our guide to keeping kids entertained indoors.
Hirst loves that this adaptable jigsaw is “representative with inclusive images” and its “big chunky pieces make it accessible for those still mastering fine motor skills.”
The best outdoor toys for 4-year-olds
”Gardening can open up a whole new world for children,” says Victoria Millsop, manager at Fledglings — an online shop that is part of a disability charity called Contact. “These gardening tools encourage children to get outside and learn about nature by digging, planting, and nurturing their gardens and watching their plants grow.”
“This game is great for getting children to look at things they wouldn’t normally look at, which not only develops their observation skills but also teaches them about the world around them,” says Gummer. “We like that it challenges children to get creative, for example drawing lines on a piece of paper for ‘something stripy’ and even combining cards to challenge themselves further.”
Millsop recommends this lightweight, self-propelling ride-on toy that works on flat, hard, and smooth surfaces indoors or outdoors. There are no pedals, motors or batteries — riders simply turn the wheel to make the Didicar go.
The best books for 4-year-olds
Rachel Vecht, a teacher and mum-of-four who founded the “Educating Matters” seminars, recommends this series of humour-filled rhyming stories as they teach “really important morals and messages about sharing, overcoming worries, dealing with change, confidence, and self-esteem.”
This story about an unlikely superhero is full of silly humour that will appeal to this age group. “My son knows this story back to front,” says Lestrade. “He found it hilarious.”
This colourful picture book has become something of a modern classic for kids. Having won numerous awards and much praise for its humour, Hirst says it is a good option for a gift that will be enjoyed by both kids and parents. There is also a print and braille shared reading version available, which Hirst says is supplied with a crayon organiser, crayons, and two raised line drawings for colouring in.
The best role-play and small world toys for 4-year-olds
Both Fraser and Freegard suggest getting a toy till. “4-year-olds now play increasingly complicated games and will love pretending to be other people,” says Fraser. “Practising different types of conversations is great for developing social skills.” Freegard recommends this one as it comes with both a conveyor belt and a scanner.
For 4-year-olds who are hankering after a pet, Tessa Trabue, Let Toys Be Toys campaigner and co-founder of the Toymark Award, recommends this set which includes pet food, a bowl, a brush, a ball, a collar, a pet passport, and a pet carry case, so they can practise caring for their cuddly toys.
“This playset is great for encouraging imaginative play and getting children talking about their own homes and what it would be like to live in this amazing treehouse,” says Gummer. “Small world play enables children to develop their communication and social skills — as they act out different scenes, they learn about the world around them.”
Both Aghoghovbia-Aladewolu and Ehigie recommend these hand-stitched dolls. “They have a diverse collection with up to ten skin tones,” says Aghoghovbia-Aladewolu. “The dolls are unique and so pretty.” You can also commission your own unique doll with your choice of skin tone, outfit and hair colour, and style.
“My son has always been lego obsessed,” says Lestrade. “He really likes playing with the mini-figures — more than building, actually. He likes small world play and making little scenarios. At that age it’s about developing their fine motor skills and making sure they’ve got a good grip.”
Both Fraser and Gummer recommend getting a large floor piano, as they’re great for encouraging children to be active while indoors. “Encourage your child to create patterns and sequences when they move,” says Fraser.
If you’re looking for a really extravagant gift, Aghoghovbia-Aladewolu recommends getting this huge dollhouse. “My daughter just got this for her birthday and she loves it,” she says. “It’s really pretty and has lots of space in it to put other items.”
The best emotional learning toys to teach 4-year-olds
“This is an intuitive set designed to help children learn about feelings and to enable them to communicate more effectively with others,” says Millsop. “Using the components of the set children will be able to discuss, observe, and better understand how they and others feel.”
Vecht also emphasised the importance of teaching kids about emotions at this age. She recommends checking out the Generation Mindful website as it features articles on how to teach children to manage and articulate emotions. They also sell toys and games “to teach children emotional intelligence — how to handle, manage and articulate their emotions — which is so crucial at the moment.” But be aware, as these items are shipped from the US, you may incur import fees.
Alternatively, this set of flashcards is designed to help little kids understand their feelings and emotions, and is available to buy in the U.K.
The best sorting and counting toys for 4-year-olds
Use your finger and thumb or the wooden tweezers to grab a bee and put it into the corresponding colour hive. “Made from sustainable natural rubberwood and painted with eco-water-based paints, these six beehives and bees look really cute and make for a sweet ethical toy for 4-year-olds,” says Trabue.
“An old classic but still really popular,” says Hirst. “This can be adapted for different purposes and play activities; add sound and different tactile elements to make it even more sensory.”
The Strategist UK is designed to surface the most useful, expert recommendations for things to buy across the vast e-commerce landscape. Read about who we are and what we do here. Our editors update links when possible, but note that deals can expire and all prices are subject to change.