Best toys for 4-year-olds

Our learning experts explain how to choose the best preschool educational toy for a 4-year-old.

Learning Stages

By Jody Sherman LeVos, Ph.D.

LeapFrog Math Expert

As the math development expert on LeapFrog’s Learning Team, Jody works on products across all platforms to teach math and science concepts in developmentally appropriate ways using research-based techniques. Before joining LeapFrog, she was a visiting scholar at the University of California, Berkeley, a researcher and instructor, and a math textbook author. She is a contributing author to The Encyclopedia on Early Childhood. She is also the proud mother of two LeapFrog-aged boys. She earned her doctorate in developmental science (specializing in mathematical and cognitive development) at the University of Alberta, in Canada.

Four-year-old kids are a bundle of energy and exploration—I know because I have one at home. At this age, children have fairly short attention spans and vast imaginations, so my overall message for choosing the best toys for 4-year-olds is variety.

Four-year-olds enjoy making choices, so it helps to have a well-stocked set of options that you can rotate as necessary to keep the selection “fresh.” A well-rounded toy box includes educational toys that encourage open-ended role play, learning toys that support collaboration and teamwork and toys that allow your child to feel mastery and achievement. My favorite toys for this age group include dress-up clothes, board games, building blocks and tech toys that support important educational goals such as counting and phonics.

Shopping guide: Best learning toys for 4 year olds

  • Toys that encourage sorting: Four-year-olds love categorizing. Toys that consist of multiple parts that can be grouped in various ways—such as blocks that differ in shape, size and color—are a good choice.
  • Turn-taking Games: Four-year-olds have burgeoning communication skills, but they still often have trouble negotiating with peers and expressing their feelings. Look for toys and games that require turn-taking, such as board games or card games. Board games that also foster early learning goals (like those that require counting spaces to move your piece around the board) are a bonus!
  • Educational games: Four-year-olds enjoy rehearsing the skills they are learning in preschool and beyond. Consider technology-infused toys, including kids tablets and handheld games that contain educational and age-appropriate content. What’s better than practicing your letters? Practicing them in a fun game on a cool device, of course!
  • Pretend play toys: Four-year-olds love to construct elaborate imaginative scenarios. Look for toys that inspire role play and imaginative play, including figurines (such as toy soldiers, pirates or princesses), dress-up clothes, sock puppets and toy stations such as kitchens and tool benches (complete with dishes and tools, of course!).
  • Kid-tough toys: As with the younger crowd, you’ll want to find toys that are kid-tough and can stand the occasional drop down the stairs or fall from the shelf. Although 4-year-olds often want to take better care of their belongings than their younger siblings, their energy combined with limited coordination skills still results in toys being stepped on, dropped and left in the wrong places.

And I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that, at this age, children are often developing strong opinions about the types of toys they want. Their exposure to licensed characters and their desire to fit into peer groups can influence their requests. Your job as a parent is to find the right balance when choosing a toy so that it pleases your child (and will actually be played with!) and passes your own family’s standards. Most importantly, have fun! At this precious age, your child often still wants, above all other toys, to play with you… enjoy!