At 4, kids are coming into their own, especially with regards to their emotions. George Sachs, a clinical child psychologist and founder of the Sachs Center in Manhattan, explained that children are beginning to understand how to identify emotions in themselves and others. He even wrote a book about this stage called The Mad Sad Happy Book: Emotional Literacy for Preschoolers. And according to Roberta Golinkoff, professor of psychology at the University of Delaware, parents should think about the “six C’s” 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. Below, Golinkoff and Sachs recommend 14 gifts to get you and your child there. We’ve also got gift guides for kids of all ages, including 1-year-olds, 2-year-olds, 3-year-olds, 5-year-olds, 6-year-olds, 7-year-olds, 8-year-olds, and 9-year-olds.
And if you’re looking for holiday toys, don’t miss the top kid’s toys to buy before they sell out — we talked to experts to find 2018’s hottest toys.
“Four-year-olds are really beginning to use fine motor skills in a way they couldn’t before,” says Sachs. “Anything that requires a little bit more advanced fine motor skill would be a good option for a toy.” Sachs likes these Squigz, which are flexible pieces that stick together by way of suction cups. “It uses their growing fine motor skills without being too frustrating for them.”
Sachs also likes Lincoln Logs because they allow kids to use not only their developing fine motor skills but also their imagination to build whatever they want.
These colorful magnetic tiles stack and combine in infinite varieties, encouraging free-building and imagination. “Always look for stuff that could be taken apart and remade; that builds their imagination, and children generally love to assemble things,” says Golinkoff. “Kids love building structures with these squares that can stand together to make a house, or whatever.”
“This is also the age when kids, particularly girls, are doing a lot of pretend play,” says Sachs. “This picnic play set is wonderful, as is any kind of activity where they can pretend using different props.”
Or try this master workbench that comes with magnetic tools and a chalkboard for aspiring carpenters. “Kids can play for hours making up imaginary scenarios here,” says Golinkoff. “Also, this will encourage collaboration and communication because the kids are going to talk to each other if they’re playing here together.”
It goes without saying that the Maurice Sendak classic is a foolproof choice for a 4-year-old, says Sachs.
Or try this best seller from actor B.J. Novak. Even though there aren’t any pictures, kids will get a kick out of the outrageous story — ideally read by an enthusiastic adult.
Dr. Seuss’s The Cat in the Hat will forever be a classic, and this is the age kids will begin to appreciate the wordplay.
Give your 4-year-old her own private reading nook to encourage reading and imagining new worlds. “It’s almost like a back-to-the-womb experience for kids, so I like that idea a lot,” says Sachs.
“This costs virtually nothing, but it’s the most fun for a kid,” says Golinkoff. “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?”
Use these fruity-smelling markers on the roll of butcher paper for endless fun. And as their fine motor skills increase, so will the control of the lines and shapes they draw. “As preliterate children, they’re going to be fascinated with writing their own name and coloring,” says Golinkoff. 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.”
Each of these six scissors cuts in a different pattern, from traditional round squiggles to zigzag. Golinkoff says: “You want toys that involve the arts. Cutting and all these kinds of craft kits are great for developing the fine motor skills that they’re going to need, and they just enjoy making creations.”
Artist Blanca Gomez designed this game to be hung up in any doorway with beanbags that look like little birds. “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,” says Golinkoff. “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.”
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