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It’s no secret that preschool-aged children are sponges, learning and growing at an incredibly rapid pace that is sometimes bewildering, for both children and parents. They are beginning to refine their motor skills, growing like weeds, and nearing the end of the most rapid phase of brain development they will experience. So it’s a great time to choose toys and activities that support their developmental needs. We’ve updated our Top 5 Best Educational Toys for 4-year-olds post with 6 new picks that are more broadly focused on the best learning toys for a 4-year-old. All 5 toys from the original article are still available and recommended.
Our pick for best overall educational toy for your 4-year-old is the Pixel Premium ABC Magnet set: a colorful, fun magnetic color set with 142 upper- and lower-case letters. Our top choice for creative play and building is the KAPLA 100 Octocolor Case. And our Budget option is a learning kit from Koala Crates by KiwiCo.
- Our Top Picks for the Best Learning Toys for 4-Year-Olds
- Best Overall – Pixel Premium ABC Magnets
- Best for Creative Building – KAPLA 100 Octocolor Case
- Best Budget Option – Koala Crates by KiwiCo
- Best Travel Puzzle Game – LiKee Wooden Tangram Set
- Best for Outdoor Exploration – Navri Toys Outdoor Explorer Kit
- Best for Active Musicians – Joyin Toy Giant Playmat Piano
- Other Educational Toys for 4-Year-Olds We Also Like
- What to Consider When Buying an Educational Toy for Your 4-Year-Old
- Frequently Asked Questions
Our Top Picks for the Best Learning Toys for 4-Year-Olds
The Pixel Premium ABC Magnet set includes 142 upper- and lower-case letters, a magnetic dry-erase board, and access to educational e-books to support your child’s play and learning. We love these colorful letter sets because they support a wide range of learning outcomes in addition to letter recognition and literacy. Working with the letters also develops fine motor skills and math skills. An important foundation for math is categorizing and organizing: the mix of colors, patterns, and upper-and lower-case letters opens up a huge range of opportunities to match, organize, compare, and categorize the magnets.
We picked this set because it offers the highest number of letters for the price, and we like the high-quality pieces and mix of colors and patterns. The set is sure to inspire your 4-year old to spend time learning, identifying, and placing letters. As your child grows, they can begin writing words and messages: with 142 letters, they have a lot of options for forming words and phrases. We also appreciate the included magnetic dry erase board, so you don’t have to be limited to an appliance for working with the letters.
The KAPLA 100 Octocolor Case set is a highly rated and recommended block set that includes high-quality, rectangular-shaped blocks. This particular set includes a range of quality and bright colors, but sets are also available unpainted. We love the range of possibilities for building with this set: it supports open-ended, creative building and play and encourages interactive learning with parents, siblings, or friends.
This set supports learning balance and building design, working with colors, and spatial understanding. Many of the product reviews from parents focus on how much they enjoy playing with the blocks themselves and with their child, making them a great family-friendly toy. The open-ended nature of the blocks means that they can grow with your child (or children), and be used to work on specific topics as well as individual exploration, which is important for brain development and learning. If you are looking for an aesthetically pleasing, ethically sourced, quality educational toy, this is an excellent option.
The Koala Crates are a great way to introduce fun crafts and STEM learning activities into your 4-year-old’s life. Each kit has a theme, with up to three crafts and additional educational materials included with each box. The kits include all of the materials your child will need to complete the craft or activity with clear instructions and additional information for the adult including educational information and ideas for additional crafts and activities. The materials are high-quality, durable, and many include games or activities that will last a long time.
I’ve completed several Koala Crate kits with my toddler and highly recommend them. My daughter was really excited to open the boxes, see what was included, and in a couple of cases jumped right into an activity without waiting for me to lead the way. I’m not recommending a specific kit for two main reasons: 1) they have activities focused on many themes, so you can pick one that fits your child’s interests; 2) a great option is to participate in the subscription program to receive a new box each month. You can’t go wrong with a Koala Crate, the learning opportunities and engaging activities make them an excellent choice for any 4 year old. There are also kits available for children of all ages, so if you have children of multiple ages there are options for all of them (or yourself). Click here to get 30% off with code LEARN30.
Tangram is an ancient Chinese puzzle game that uses a set of 7 pieces to create a huge range of shapes (up to 4,000 according to some sources, including my 30+ year old version). They’ve been popular in the U.S. for many years: I still use my childhood tangram set with my toddler and husband. The LiKee Wooden Tangram Set is a traditional tangram set (they also make a 3-D magnetic set from the same manufacturer) that is a great educational toy sure to engage children and families of all ages. For younger children, this set includes pattern cards that illustrate how to place each shape to create the figures. For more advanced users, you can seek our patterns (or tangram sets) without showing how to arrange the individual pieces, which can be surprisingly challenging (and fun)!
This set comes with a steel carrying case (to save it from destructive toddler feet) and 60 pattern cards. Like many other open-ended learning toys, this one supports a wide range of educational outcomes including math, spatial reasoning, patterns, matching, and creative expression. In addition to having a nice price-point, this game is also a good option for travel: with 7 pieces and a sturdy container, your child can carry a toy from home without too much fuss.
The Navri Toys Outdoor Explorer Kit is a great way to get your 4-year-old outside, having fun exploring their world while learning. The kit comes with kids binoculars, flashlight, 5 in 1 tool, bug magnifier, container, magnifying glass, and access to an e-book with backyard activities and printable coloring pages. Kids naturally want to explore and investigate their world and the tools in this kit help them learn about what they can find in their backyard as well as the tools that a grown-up scientist would use to learn about bugs, plants, soil, and more.
This set is also a nice follow-on to mini terrarium we recommended in the earlier published version. As noted there, one of the first ways that young children learn about science is through exploring the natural world. We can bring the natural world inside with learning toys like the mini terrarium, and we can teach them to bring that curiosity outside while also learning to use simple tools to explore nature, develop motor skills, and investigate what happens when you magnify an object using a magnifying glass or binoculars.
The Joyin Toy Giant Playmat Piano is a fun toy that supports music education. The mat includes 24 large, touch-sensitive keys and 8 musical instrument sounds including saxophone, violin, clarinet, trumpet, banjo, xylophone, and guitar. Children learn to understand different note sounds and the different instrument sounds, all while moving and playing.
This piano playmat can also be used in 4 modes: record, playback, demo, and play. That means you can listen to pre-recorded songs (demo), play your own (play), and even record and then play-back a song (record and playback). My toddler has a similar mat (same brand but a different version) and she absolutely loves the fun and excitement in creating her own music or asking her parents to play specific songs. Music is excellent for development, and this toy makes early music learning fun for your 4-year old.
Other Educational Toys for 4-Year-Olds We Also Like
What could be a better STEM toy for a 4-year-old than their very own lab? This interactive toy by Little Tikes has everything your child needs to be their own little scientists. This experiment station has over 20 lab accessories, including maze pieces, an eyedropper, stirring spoons, and lab goggles. It also includes a visual guide with 20 different fun experiments that use everyday household items. With some baking soda and dish soap, you can introduce your child to the fun of science!
This toy also comes with a circuit center, which allows children to play with completing and disconnecting circuits. When the circuit is complete, the lights activate. Children can practice their engineering skills with the ball maze or stir up some science with the lab beakers. With over 40 sounds and interactions, this toy teaches children while also keeping them entertained. Because this toy involves much interaction, it is a great STEM toy for boys who can’t sit still.
Teaching your 4-year-old math can be understandably frustrating! Luckily, the Monkey Balance Cool Math Game by CoolToys makes math fun and teaches the necessary math skills to preschoolers. The basic premise of this game is to balance out both sides of the monkey scale. It comes with numbers 1 through 10 and 19 monkeys. Putting three monkeys on one side of the scale and the number “3” on the other will make the scale balance. In this way, children gain a one-to-one correspondence when counting. In other words, this game teaches them that the number “3” stands for three physical objects. Because this is a foundational math skill, we highly recommend this product for all 4-year-olds.
As your child ages and accomplishes new skills, you can use the cards provided with this game to increase the difficulty. In all, three difficulties lead your child from recognizing numbers to simple addition. The cute graphics and exciting colors are designed to hold your child’s attention while also teaching them these foundational math skills.
Geology is an often-over-looked science. However, the importance of Geology is growing, and what child doesn’t love rocks? This educational kit allows children to get their hands dirty and hunt for precious gems. It includes at least eight individual crystals, a drawstring pouch for storage, and a variety of mini excavation tools.
Children will be able to search and excavate their very own crystal, which can then be examined with a magnifying glass and displayed. This excavation is done by cutting into a plaster rock, which contains the gems, and by using the included brush to clean each gemstone off. The crystals are quite large, especially when compared to other kits in this price range. A short identification card helps children identify and learn about each crystal they unearth.
Most 4-year-olds can independently do this activity. The tools are safe to use, and there are no specific directions that must be read and followed. This is a great kit to give your children while you take care of the housework or catch up on some much-needed relaxation. This is a fabulous STEM toy for girls who are more on the “girly” side and like sparkly gemstones.
Marble runs are an excellent way to teach children the problem-solving and creativity skills required in many STEM professions. Even children as young as four can benefit from a marble run. This set by Beebeerun was our favorite for a couple of reasons. It comes with 105 different pieces. There are many kinds of parts as well, so your child will have more opportunities for creativity. This set is also open-ended enough for it to develop as your child grows. Built from a simple construction that uses only a few pieces to three-foot-tall structures, this is a toy that can truly grow and evolve with your child.
We also liked that this toy was easy to use as a group. Children can work together to build a massive track or race marbles down two separate tracks together. For homes with more than one child, this great all-purpose toy can bring hours of independent play to your household.
Learning about the natural world is one of the first forms of science that children encounter. Introduce your child to the science of ecosystems and the natural world with this mini terrarium. This kit contains everything your child needs to create a thriving ecosystem, including an appropriately-sized jar, soil, step-by-step instruction booklet, blue sand, and seeds. It also includes a small bunny and mushrooms for your child to decorate their new terrarium with. The plants are chosen to grow quickly, and the LED light creates a glow-like effect at night – a truly magical scene that your children will remember for years.
On top of teaching your children about natural science, this display also helps integrate responsibility and patience into your child’s life. They will have to water the terrarium each day and watch as the plants slowly sprout and then turn into a wild jungle.
What to Consider When Buying an Educational Toy for Your 4-Year-Old
What do you (or the child’s caregiver) like?
A factor that many parents (or gift buyers) may not consider is what the child’s caregiver is interested in. While independent free-play is really important and valuable, so is interactive play with the adults in their life. If you don’t know what to choose, pick something you know you (or the child’s caregiver if you’re buying a gift) will be interested in: you’ll be more likely to want to sit down with your child to explore the new toy and all of its possibilities. This may also encourage your child to be more excited about playing with it independently in the future!
Some of the toys we recommend are on the larger size (e.g., the piano mat, the lab station, and the marble run), so consider if there is sufficient space for the toy to be used safely and effectively. For smaller spaces, we would recommend toys such as the block, puzzle, or gemstone sets, which work at a table, on a floor, or outside.
You may have a specific learning goal in mind for your child: a skill they are interested in, something they need to develop further to prepare for school, or a topic that specifically interests them. If you have a specific goal, chances are there is a toy here (or another option on the web) that will cater to those needs. It’s especially like that KiwCo will have just the right kit for you! Another option is to ensure that the toy you choose is versatile enough to address multiple learning outcomes (like counting, reading, and color recognition). The truth is that most good educational toys address multiple outcomes, but some are more effective than others.
Budget concerns are often an issue when selecting toys, but don’t worry, there are many good quality educational toys that won’t break the bank. If you are interested in a specific item from this list that is too expensive, we recommend doing a bit of market research, as there are often similar options at a lower price-point (e.g., an alphabet set with fewer letters, a smaller floor piano).
Frequently Asked Questions
Which STEM toy should I get?
Short answer: as many as you can. Children can never have too many STEM toys, especially if they are rotated in and out every week or so. Each of the toys on this list brings something unique to the table.
However, if you have to choose one, we recommend letting your child help pick! Children tend to like things more when they’ve helped pick them out. If this isn’t possible for whatever reason, the Little Tikes STEM Jr. Wonder Lab Toy was our favorite because of its versatility and would make an excellent choice for any child. Children can get a lot of open-ended and guided play with this educational toy, while learning to conduct experiments as a miniature scientist!
What educational toy is best for my 4-year-old?
Probably just about any of them! 4-year-olds are in a sweet spot where physical and cognitive development are both charging ahead full-steam, and chances are your preschooler is hungry to learn as much as they can. So pick a toy that you think will interest your child as well as yourself, and, if possible, pick more than one!
- Green Kid Crafts Review | An Eco-Friendly STEAM Subscription Box - June 21, 2020
- Fun STEM Activities for Elementary Students - June 20, 2020
- Kiwi Crate Review: How does this STEM Box for Kids Rate? - May 14, 2020
Last update on 2020-07-14 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API