To spend an afternoon with a four-year-old is to witness a child’s personality in full bloom. These preschoolers are bouncing with boisterous energy and brimming with imagination. Purchasing educational gifts for 4-year-olds is rewarding for everyone – the child, the parent, and the gift-giver.
According to the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, unlike the early years, four-year-olds are using language in more complex ways, recognizing mathematical patterns, and laying the foundations for greater social intelligence.
In this article, we’ve assembled some of the best educational gifts for 4-year-olds out there, carefully sorted by learning areas unique to this particular age.
(Though we think 3 and 5-year-olds will love these too!)
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The Best Learning Toys for 4 Year Olds
Four-year-olds have a lot going on in terms of development. These preschoolers are capable of big physical play. They are also mastering storytelling and making distinctions between fantasy and reality.
The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a detailed list of milestones like these for 4-year-olds. Stick to toys, experiences, or materials that help your child achieve one or more of these benchmarks.
Montessori Toys 4 Year Old kids will love
Dr. Maria Montessori, founder of the Montessori method, spent years studying young children.
She described in her writings special periods of time where children were particularly engaged in learning certain skills ranging from movement to mathematics.
These windows of learning are known as sensitive periods.
In combination with regular observation of a child at play, sensitive periods can guide parents to the kinds of toys, experiences, and activities with the greatest appeal for a particular age range.
(FYI: This is one of the resources we used to create our list of Montessori Toys for 1-Year-Olds!)
What Are The Sensitive Periods For A Four Year Old?
A four-year-old’s experiences a sensitive period for movement, hands-on or sensory learning, mathematics, music, and basic reading and writing skills.
These sensitive periods often go hand-in-hand with the developmental milestones we just mentioned.
Let’s use both the sensitive period and developmental milestones to zero in on the best educational gifts for 4-year-olds. Continue reading to find selected toys, materials, and experiences that help your child achieve critical milestones while leveraging their natural desire to learn.
Quite a few are low-cost or even free!
Best Educational Toys for 4 Year Olds: Movement
Pediatricians recommend 4-year-olds remain active throughout the day with both adult and child-led movement. These gifts check all the boxes when it comes to fitness and fun.
1. River Stones
Help your child practice standing and balancing on one leg by creating a river rock obstacle course in your own living room or front lawn!
These river “rocks” are even sturdy enough for teenage siblings and can be stacked for quick storage.
Used by child physical therapists to build muscle strength, this indoor/outdoor game invites kids to leap over spinning plastic rods.
It easily converts into a spinning ring toss with multiple speeds for an added challenge. It’s produced by Fat Brain Toys, a leader in safety and quality.
Kids love to throw stuff and cornhole is all about throwing (and hand-eye coordination).
I love this pop-up corn hole set. It’s durable and easily foldable. Perfect for an impromptu family tournament at the campground or local park!
In this kit, colorful footholds are ratcheted tightly to a tree creating the ideal surface for climbing.
Adjust the height over time as your little one becomes more adept. You can even add in a slackline for the ultimate obstacle course.
5. Fairy Wings
Take dress up to another level! Your preschooler can run, hop, flap, and jump in these lovely and high-quality fairy (or dragon) wings. They are 100% silk and hand screen printed.
Learning Toys for 4 Year Olds: Sensorial or Hands on learning
For hands-on learning, stick to practical gifts that represent aspects of a child’s everyday life.
Children this age are very interested in learning about real-life (in comparison to fantasy) and increasing their independence.
1. Swim Lessons
Four-year-olds are ready to learn the basics of swimming, especially water safety and survival strategies to prevent drowning.
Churches, fitness centers, aquatic centers, and local YMCAs are great places to start looking for swim lessons. Many offer scholarships or reduced prices if affordability is a concern.
2. Cooking Classes or Cooking Club
Over the course of three weeks, watch adorable painted lady caterpillars transform into beautiful butterflies from the convenience of your dining room table.
This hands-on activity can be used year after year with the addition of new caterpillars. (The caterpillars are sold separately, but the first batch is free after shipping!)
Excavate dinosaur fossils out of pressed “dirt” using a special pick just like a real paleontologist! This kit offers many hours to days of playtime.
This is my childhood dream in a box. Do me a favor and add it to your shopping cart!
5. Subscription Activity Boxes
Did you know you can gift subscription boxes for just 3 or 6 months? I have done this for many years. No matter the age, they are always a hit!
Kids love knowing they’ll be getting special packages in the mail.
Best Learning Toys for 4 Year Olds: Math
Mathematics is such an essential element of daily life that we might not even realize we’re doing it. It’s the same with children’s play.
Blocks, shapes, and other construction toys are wonderful introductions to geometry and spatial awareness. Cooking offers opportunities to discuss fractions and units of measurement.
Lego is the beloved building block system produced in the Netherlands. The Dutch know a thing or two about having a great childhood.
Duplo blocks are a great alternative if your 4-year-old is sharing spaces with younger children where swallowing is a concern.
A family favorite! Magnatiles are incredible building toys. They are beautiful and easy to use.
With these blocks, my child’s imagination runs wild. I am constantly surprised at his abstract creations – everything from ice cream cones to car washes.
Create colorful pieces of art while working on fine motor skills and concentration.
What I love about this toy is it doesn’t talk down to kids. There are real tacks, real wood pieces, and real cork.
4. Marble Run
Marble runs are fun for children well into their teenage years. Even adults love them!
This gorgeous wooden marble run is only 30 pieces and is easier for a toddler to assemble.
Feed your child’s curiosity in the kitchen with simple and delicious recipes. The gorgeous step-by-step photos assist parents in teaching basic cooking techniques.
For children closer to 5 years, I also love the new America’s Test Kitchen cookbook.
Educational Toys for 4 Year Olds: Music
Music is such a powerful and enriching experience. It’s no wonder we enjoy music even in adulthood.
These gifts touch on every aspect of music appreciation from listening to performing to composing.
1. Yoto Player
Yoto allows your child to play music and stories on demand from a selection of custom playlists. It’s completely screen-free!
There’s also a radio station with music that appeals to all ages and daily podcasts with trivia, riddles, and activities. I can’t recommend it enough.
While the sound of polka is not everyone’s jam, the accordion is a great first instrument for kids. It’s easy to hold and makes a hilarious sound.
This special child-sized accordion is lower in volume, and with 14 tones and multiple chords, your child can use it to play real songs one day!
While screen time is discouraged in a traditional Montessori setting, I believe screens are an affordable tool for exploring real-world concepts. We can’t all send our kids to fancy orchestra camp!
Dancing is one of the best ways to increase physical strength and precision. It takes skill and concentration to balance, alternate feet, twirl, and jump to a beat.
Many dance studios and child play centers offer special dance classes for toddlers, but you can also sign up for virtual dance classes through Outschool.
Bonus! Formal dance contributes to emotional development in toddlers.
5. Custom Playlist of Your Favorite Songs
You don’t have to wait until your child’s thirty-five to share your favorite tunes. Four-year-olds love new things, and they might be really into Mariah Carey.
Start assembling that USB, Spotify playlist, or Yoto make-your-own card now!
Best Learning Toys for 4 Year Olds: Reading and Writing
Preschoolers love a good story, especially ones with wild imagination or exaggeration. This is the ideal age for making the connection between great stories and learning to read and write.
Today it’s “The Three Little Pigs”, but tomorrow, it’s “Harry Potter”!
1. Library Card
Presenting your preschooler with their first library card is like presenting them with the whole world. It’s their first little taste of adulthood, and it tastes so good.
For full effect, make sure to let them scan their own card at check out and carry their books out in a child-size bag of their choosing. What a big kid!
Between 4 and 5 years old, children prepare for reading by learning about the different sounds within the words they hear.
A secret of most Montessori homes, letter tracing boards are used to support children who are pre-writing as well as those who have just started writing practice.
Children can follow the shapes of each letter – upper and lower case – using their fingers or the included stylus. It’s a great way to develop writing strength and dexterity.
4. Bath Foam or Magnetic Letters
Making letters ubiquitous in your child’s environment will leave space for spontaneous learning and wordplay.
Our toddler loves taking a bath in his alphabet soup!
If you’ve seen the Bluey episode “Burger Shop”, you know these letters can also be used for all kinds of wacky open-ended play.
Sturdy and organized, this wooden letter set can be used for an enormous variety of games and activities to help children improve their reading and spelling.
Check out this video by a former teacher and Montessori mom on how to present your child with these letters for the first time.
We wish every kid could have all the gifts on this list, but we also know each child is unique. Some children want a musical deep dive while others just want to scale the fence in your backyard.
That’s why we’ve offered a range of developmentally on-target educational gifts for 4-year-olds inspired by Montessori. We hope you’ve found the perfect one for your kiddo!
Four years is such a vibrant age for learning. What are the most well-loved educational gifts for 4-year-olds you’ve received?
Other Parenting Articles
- Montessori toys for 1 year olds
- Educational gifts for 2 year olds
- Educational TV shows for kids
- Movies good for toddlers
- Emotional development in toddlers
- Montessori for infants
- Sensory activities for babies
- Educational shows for toddlers
- Preschool activities at home
- What is free play
- Educational apps for kids
Brittany Cantrell is an Epidemiologist at her local health department who oversees a team of beautiful, talented women. Though she specializes in infectious disease prevention, she is a strong advocate for all public health professionals. She is the owner and author of the mindful travel blog, The World Enough, where readers are empowered to live with presence and without fear. She was born and raised in the rolling foothills of the north Georgia mountains. In her spare time, you can find her helplessly pinned to the couch by one of her two cats, heading to a yoga class, or planning her next adventure.