The 10 Best Gifts For 4-Year-Old Boys
10. Learning Resources' Gears! Gears! Gears!
9. Fisher-Price Triple Hit
8. Smartmax Start XL
7. Kidkraft Fire Station
6. VTech Kidizoom Smartwatch
5. Kidwinz Binoculars
4. Matchbox Jurassic World
3. Strider 12-Sport Balance Bike
2. Valtech Magna-Tiles
1. Melissa & Doug Building Blocks
Take Care Of Your Kids, Not Just Yourself
My best friend from childhood just had a baby, and I was talking to him the other day about how much stuff you accumulate in the blink of any eye when you have kids.
There are the necessities, to be sure, but people in your life seem terribly eager to dump bags and boxes of stuff on your doorstep that their own children abandoned long ago.
Among these sometimes very useful, sometimes very strange hand-me-downs, he told me that the ones he likes the least are the big, plastic noise and light machines that don't appear to serve any purpose beyond distracting your child from the world long enough to get you a few moment's respite from the grind.
That's not what makes a good toy. What makes a good toy is some integration of your child's body, mind, and spirit into the engagement. A really good toy can hit all three.
Now, before I get sued, let me say that by spirit I mean his mental health, his sense of peace and of wonder, not anything specifically religious. You might argue that those experiences would fall under mind, but I like to separate the conventionally educational from the spiritual when I'm evaluating toys, just to make sure our picks cover all the bases.
Take a look at our list to get a sense of these traits. All five toys land on all three bases, though the balance is different for each.
The trampoline at number one takes care of the body as a cardiovascular workout, as does the bike at number four. They each also build macro-level spatial awareness and coordination, all while facilitating a sense of wonder from the feeling of movement beyond the normal bounds of the human body. These are great toys with a balance toward physical health.
The building sets at numbers two and five are a little headier. They engage the mind first, teaching your boy about micro-level spatial relationships, gravity, and magnetism. On a spiritual level, they offer the feeling of accomplishment at having created an original work of architectural art, and physically they train the hands at nuanced movement and delicacy.
Finally, we get to the firehouse at number two. I'll admit that this toy probably has the least to offer in the physical health department, but on a mental and spiritual level it's a powerhouse in that it activates the imagination more than anything else on our list. Given specific shapes and the beginnings of character, your kids can take this toy and tell elaborate stories with its pieces.
Way Too Many Toys
Even as a boy, I sometimes wondered whether it was a bad thing to have too many toys. From about the age of ten, I started asking for fewer, though admittedly more expensive, things for holidays and my birthday.
There certainly are very well-articulated arguments against inundating your children with unregulated foreign plastics.
And now, after discussing above the ways in which you can evaluate a toy's impact on your child, it seems like it might be a good idea to focus on quality over quantity.
Looking at our top five, you should ask yourself what aspects of your child you'd like to work on with him the most. By four years of age, you should be getting a pretty clear idea of how his personality is developing, but it's also plenty early to steer him in another direction, if need be.
Say, for example, that your kid's been packing on some of those post-baby-fat pounds. Maybe he's been spending too much time at his friend's house where the parents let the kids eat exorbitant amounts of ice cream. Well, then, you'll want to grab a toy that hits that physical base first.
Perhaps the boy's in good shape, but he's a bit of a klutz. A toy that focuses on spacial relationships on a small scale, like the building sets, would be ideal.
Maybe he's a scowler. My sister was a scowler, angry in every picture. She laughed about as often as I slept (I didn't sleep very much as a baby). You could get your boy–as we should have gotten my sister–a set that could ignite his imagination and invite him into a world of characters and exploration.
You know what? Forget all that. Just get him an iPad.
Toys Before Toys Were Toys
As long as there have been children, there has been play. Hindu mythology and the eastern religions that sprung forth therefrom believe that play is the very nature of the universe, its reason for existence.
Today, people of older generations look at children's toys with a complicated sense of wonder, envy, and disdain.
Sure, there are some toys I see on the market today that would have been fun when I was a kid, but I also went outside and played in the woods and in the street. I'm surprised when children can tell the difference between a tree and a river without using Google.
It's a newer phenomenon that each generation sees a total evolution in the toy market, even though toys have been around for so long.
At least as far back as ancient Egyptian times, children played with dolls woven from straw, cloth, leather, and other goods. They had spinning tops, inflated animal bladders sealed with mud, and also the knuckle bones of certain animals, which were thrown like dice.
From then, up until very recently, that was about it. Kids worked on farms and played with a few simple toys the origins of which stretched back millennia.
It wasn't until the industrial revolution that toys began to be produced on more massive scales, and the industry that grew up around it has only gotten stronger, and perhaps stranger, since those days.
With advancements in virtual and augmented realities, video gaming, and portable, even wearable technology, it won't be long before the kids and their toys are one in the same.