expert-approved gifts

The Best Toddler Gifts, 4-Year-Old Edition

Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, professor of psychology at the University of Delaware and co-author of the New York Times best-seller Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us About Raising Successful Children (who also helped us find the best gifts for 2-year-olds) has a list of six C’s to focus on when it comes to gifting for 4-year-olds: collaboration, communication, content, creative innovation, critical thinking, and confidence. You want toys that will help build each of these characteristics because each is essential to prepare a developing toddler for a future of success. Here, Dr. Golinkoff recommends six toys to get you and your child there.

Update, November 30, 2017: For the 2017 holiday season, we’ve updated this post with a couple of newer toys we think are just perfect for 4-year-olds. We’ve used our own Strat judgement alongside Dr. Golinkoff’s definitions of what makes the most educational and fun playthings for tots. The newest toys are up top.

$100 at Target

Luvabella, and her male counterpart Luvabeau, are babies with hundreds of lifelike expressions and interactive responses, like the ability to say over a hundred different words and inspire communication. They’re also one of the most popular toys of this year.

Ukulele Kit
$30 at Nordstrom

First they paint and decorate the ukulele, and then they learn to play it.

$50 at Amazon

Colorful magnetic tiles that stack and combine in infinite varieties. Dr. Golinkoff says: “Always look for stuff that could be taken apart and remade; that builds their imagination and children generally love to assemble things. Kids love building structures with these squares that can stand together to make a house, or whatever.”

Melissa & Doug Wooden Tabletop Paper Roll Dispenser
$17 at Amazon

Like the paper that covers the table at the doctor’s office, but in your home. Dr. Golinkoff says: “This costs virtually nothing, but it’s the most fun for a kid. Trace the outline of your child on the long paper and he or she can spend hours putting in whatever they think they want in their bodies. I mean, imagine how much fun that would be to have a life-size you that you could color in and play with?”

Mr. Sketch Assorted Scented Markers
$6 at Amazon

Twelve markers that smell like grapes, bananas, fruit punch, and cinnamon. Dr. Golinkoff says: “As preliterate children, they’re going to be fascinated with writing their own name and coloring. I’m always gonna recommend books, especially for keeping content in memory, but a toy should require them to do things, participate, and be more active.”

My Great Beanbag Toss
$39 at Land of Nod

Artist Blanca Gomez designed this game to be hung up in any doorway. The beanbags look like little birds. Dr. Golinkoff says: “There’s a thing called ‘snowplow parents’ who flatten every obstacle in front of their children, which actually doesn’t allow them to learn from their failures. Playing a game like this, and having to work to get better at it, will help them build up their confidence. Kids need to learn that effort is required.”

Magnetic Workbench Playset
$134 at Nordstrom

A master workbench that comes with magnetic tools and a chalkboard for aspiring carpenters. Dr. Golinkoff says: “Kids can play for hours making up imaginary scenarios here. Also this will encourage collaboration and communication because the kids are going to talk to each other if they’re playing here together.”

Paper Edging Scissors
$9 at Amazon

Each of these six scissors cuts in a different pattern from traditional round squiggles to zigzag. Dr. Golinkoff says: “You want toys that involve the arts. Cutting and all these kinds of crafts kits are great for developing the fine motor skills that they’re going to need and they just enjoy making creations.”

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The Best Toddler Gifts, 4-Year-Old Edition