4-Year-Old Birthday Gift Ideas

More Birthday Gift Ideas for a 4-Year-Old

Creating and Crafting

Preschoolers can now play with toys and games that require nimble fingers (adding a hat on a Playmobil character) and a steady hand (putting two LEGO bricks together). They can draw and write with more precision, and this progress makes them prolific artists who enjoy working with a wide variety of media. Their increased attention span makes it easier to work on longer projects. "Long-term projects make kids feel proud," says Diane Quiroga, a board certified and registered art therapist and mental health consultant in Livingston, New Jersey. "This sense of accomplishment gives them the confidence to explore things outside of art." Look for craft kits that are more open-ended, like big jars of collage materials, Popsicle sticks, or kits that recycle household items, like toilet paper tubes, into something fresh and new. But keep in mind that even the most specific kit can be made open-ended by putting the instructions aside and using the materials in whatever creative way your child wants.

Pretending and Playacting

Costumes are a must-have for this age, and this is the time to be fully stocked with toys and props for dramatic play, both abstract and realistic. Give your child a set of wooden blocks, a bunch of silk scarves, and some jumbo pipe cleaners, and she's bound to amaze you with her creativity. Pretend food is nice for this age (especially cutting food playsets), and don't forget a big set of toy plates and cutlery for playing restaurant. For children who enjoy dolls, look for beautiful doll-size strollers, high chairs, and baby carriers. Pretend play based on real-life scenarios helps preschoolers deal with new and unfamiliar scenarios. "Four-year-olds have a lot of fears," says Ruth Migler, a psychotherapist and child development specialist in Rockville, MD. "Toys that help them work through those fears can help. A doctor's kit is a perfect example. By playing doctor with a parent, they're able to express and understand their feelings."

Jamming and Dancing

Thanks to newfound control over both their gross and fine motor skills, 4-year-olds are capable musicians. They can tap a rhythm, carry a tune, and even strum a guitar. They can dance, coordinate their bodies to learn ballet positions, and remember basic choreography. Their listening is becoming sophisticated, and they can hear more subtle changes in tempo, rhythm, pitch, and volume. "Four-year-olds are painfully aware that they are not as big or as competent as the grownups around them," says Julia Priest, director of Music and Movement of Newton in Newton, MA. "Singing and dancing are domains where they can collaborate with grown-ups and relish the challenge of getting in sync."

It's good to expose children at this age to a broad range of musical styles. Some children are ready to sit through short music lessons now, so if your child is passionate about music, a real instrument and some lessons would be a fantastic gift. Many preschoolers are coordinated enough to start formal lessons in violin or piano, but toy instruments (guitars, drums, harmonicas, ukuleles, and accordions) are excellent and they cross over nicely to function as both musical toys and make-believe props.

Learning and Interacting

As kindergarten approaches, learning toys are popular, but they are educational only if they hold a child's attention. It's impossible to ignore technnology at this stage, but there's nothing with more potential than the iPad or a similar tablet computer. The touch-screen interface is intuitive for young children, and there's much high-quality content available, especially since the recommended age for many children's apps is 4. Of course, some parents are understandably reluctant about tech toys, for reasons including cost and concerns about too much screen time. "Exposing children to technology is a good thing; their proficiency will be important to their professional success someday. The most important thing for children is to give them plenty of human interaction in addition to whatever time they spend on the screen," says David Perlmutter, M.D., a board certified neurologist and author of the book Raise a Smarter Child by Kindergarten. If you decide to buy apps for your 4-year-old, avoid flash card apps in favor of more creative and engaging animated book apps like There's a Monster at the End of This Book, featuring Grover from Sesame Street.

How to Invest in the Best Gifts

Some of the guesswork starts to disappear when it comes to choosing a birthday gift for 4-year-olds because they're happy telling you what they want. You may not want to follow all the suggestions ("a pony!"), but it's still worth asking so you get an idea of what excites them. It's easier now to find toys that appeal to different ages, so the toys will have a long shelf life and you'll get the best value for your money. Construction toys, in particular, can reach across many age groups. LEGO bricks and Playmobil are both recommended for age 4, but they stay relevant until the tween years. Logic puzzle games, like Rush Hour, offer several different levels of challenges.

Copyright © 2012 Meredith Corporation.

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