Birthday present for a 4 year old boy?
July 13, 2006 11:09 AM   Subscribe

What to get a 4 year old boy for his birthday? I know nothing about 4 year olds or boys...

I have been buying the little guy beautiful books for past birthdays, but he's now at the age where he wants to rip open the present and actually play with it. (Plus this is the first year I'm actually going to be attending the festivities - I want it to go over well.) He's very into castles and knights and dragons, but someone else has already bought him the Playmobil castle set, and I'm guessing that this will be a common theme for his gifts. What should I buy him? Anyone know any cool gifts for 4 year old boys right now? Trucks? Magic sets? I'm looking to spend up to $100.
posted by meerkatty to Shopping (40 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Really durable action figures, I dont know whats in right now, but I have very fond memories of GI Joe and He-Man. Just look at something and think as to how well it would fare being buried in the back yard or being thrown around a room. For a 100 dollars you could probably get a cool action set for the little guy.
posted by BobbyDigital at 11:13 AM on July 13, 2006

My friend's little boy really liked the bubble mower I got him for his last birthday. Those little backyard sports sets (teeball, golf, soccer, etc) were a hit too.
posted by chiababe at 11:19 AM on July 13, 2006

How about a gameboy and a game? If that's not what you had in mind, my son's favorite present from his 4th birthday (other than his Nintendo DS) was a nice little tent that could be used indoors (or outdoors, but it was self-standing). It included a carrying case, a little collapsible chair, and a sleeping bag, and was had at target for $20. You could probably find something a little nicer for more money, but he won't notice.
posted by ulotrichous at 11:23 AM on July 13, 2006

My son just turned four a couple of months ago. His sister-in-law gave him the Best of the Electric Company DVDs. I can’t imagine a better gift for a four year old. They’ve done amazing things for his reading. Plus, they’re a hoot to watch. Morgan Freeman as Easy Reader, animation by Mel Brooks, Gene Wilder as Letterman, and a gorilla named Paul. If the parents were kids in the 70s they’ll most likely appreciate it as well.

Now my son runs around yelling “HEY YOU GUUUUUUUUYS!” It's awesome.

If you want to get him a toy, I highly recommend a Quadrilla Marble Run. This is a link to the big set but they have some smaller (and cheaper) sets. It’s made of wood, very high quality, and TONS of fun. It’s the type of toy that is very enjoyable for an adult and child to play together, a child to play solo, or for a couple kids to play together. If I were still a stoner I’d buy one for myself.

Here’s a tip: Legos sorta suck these days.
posted by bondcliff at 11:24 AM on July 13, 2006

Here’s a tip: Legos sorta suck these days.

Bite your tongue!
posted by Robot Johnny at 11:27 AM on July 13, 2006

If you change your mind and decide to stick with books, I recommend Dragonology. My 4 year old is a dragon and dinosaur freak and loves it. She also loves the rubber dragons they sell at Toys R Us in the Animal Planet section. And the big Melissa and Doug stuffed dragon is also very cool.
posted by jrossi4r at 11:43 AM on July 13, 2006

Hot Wheels? Additional castle-y type Playmobil kits?
posted by Lucinda at 11:47 AM on July 13, 2006

My nephew who is right around that age went absolutely berserk over parachute army men. My dad got him some slightly larger plastic army men with plastic parachutes and he named them and wanted to have races with them ("GRAMPA I WIN!") and try them everywhere. My dad kept one and sent him pictures of the parachute guy from various other places, so the one dollar gift kept giving.
posted by plinth at 11:51 AM on July 13, 2006

Response by poster: These suggestions are awesome. Thanks!
posted by meerkatty at 11:54 AM on July 13, 2006

Why not stay in the vein of teaching but in a way the kid is likely to ingest? Leapfrog has a handheld gaming toy (like a game boy) but with educational games. A friend's kid loves that thing.
posted by nadawi at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2006

If he likes castles and knights, I don't see a problem with sticking with that for his birthday even if others get items of the same theme. For dress-up, what about these swords and shields? Here's another source for neat knight-type dress-up items, and here is a full knight costume. In contrast to the Playskool set (though the lack of plastic and bright colors might not appeal), here's a completely different type of castle/palace playset. And here is a variety of wood figurines so he can make his own castle set, with characters. I also found a cool castle-themed marble toy.

I've ordered from all three companies before and can vouch for their customer service. Good luck!
posted by justonegirl at 11:55 AM on July 13, 2006

4 is kinda young for Lego. Duplo maybe? Or they used to have a "Jack Stone" line which was sort of between regular Lego and Duplo in terms of size/complexity.

here it is... Lego 4+ Fireman set. The Policeman set has a boat suitable for bathtub use. Vroom!
posted by GuyZero at 11:56 AM on July 13, 2006

Here’s a tip: Legos sorta suck these days.

"Bite your tongue" was a lot more civil than what I was going to say, but it expresses the same sentiment.

Lego is still awesome. Kids love it as much as they ever did. We have 30-year old Lego that the kids mix with their new sets. Few toys are as timeless as Lego.
posted by GuyZero at 11:58 AM on July 13, 2006

A dragon puppet is fun because then it can attack the Playmobeings. Here are a bunch from Folkmanis, ranging up to $60.

If you want something different, you can try a musical instrument, tinker toys, or lincoln logs (not "cool" but definitely classics).
posted by mikepop at 11:59 AM on July 13, 2006

If you get the Leapster or similar electronic device, see if there's a separate charger and get that too, or include a package of batteries -- small touch that goes over well.
posted by theredpen at 12:03 PM on July 13, 2006

On non-preview, the Leapfrog games are good but as with any gaming system, quality of titles will vary greatly from title to title. Definitely great for long car rides.

Speaking from direct experience playing with four year olds, Cranium people put out some good, fun games. Balloon Lagoon is a fun activity-based board game, and Hullabalo is sort of a kid-friendly (and adult-friendly) randomized version of Twister. Both of these go over great with four year olds.

Less educational but also popular is Elefun, a game where a fan-powered elephant shoots butterflies out of its trunk and players have to catch them with nets. (They failed to adopt my suggest tagline: Elefun - it's hella fun)
posted by mikepop at 12:06 PM on July 13, 2006

Or how about a dragon kite? It's a toy AND a super cool room decoration.
posted by jrossi4r at 12:11 PM on July 13, 2006

I have a four year old boy at home. He is insane for the following things:

1. Thomas the Tank Engine. The videos are very well done (quiet enough so as to not be oversimulating, but packed full of detail and interesting story-lines--at least interesting to a 4 yr. old), while the toy engines themselves run on a sturdy wooden track and are very configurable with a bunch of add-on buildings for open-ended play.
2. Tonka trucks. American classics. Get the steel ones.
3. Hot Wheels. Another classic.
posted by Chrischris at 12:14 PM on July 13, 2006

Stomp Rocket!
posted by Otis at 12:15 PM on July 13, 2006

why not something that makes a lot of noise like drums? kids love hitting things and love making noise. second on the knight costume as well- you can hit things with the sword.
posted by kendrak at 12:20 PM on July 13, 2006

I act like a four year old as per Mrs. Gunn and I would get him a pedal car. They make retro versions. My boys loved them (I thought they were way kewl too!).

Or, a bicycle with training wheels.

A portable cd player to listen to his favorite music. My kids would dance around their rooms listening to dad's old Grateful Dead tapes. (Especially Cornell in '77). They would also listen to the age appropriate music Mrs. G would get them. sigh.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 12:24 PM on July 13, 2006

Lego is still awesome. Kids love it as much as they ever did. We have 30-year old Lego that the kids mix with their new sets. Few toys are as timeless as Lego.

I'll admit I'm old and jaded, and my son does use his Bob the Builder Legos for non-Bob related things, but I think the classic "Crane" or "Firetruck" models had so many more uses than the "Harry Potter's Treasure Hideaway" type models you get these days. When you took the crane apart you had a pile of bricks and wheels. You could go anywhere from there. When you take the new models apart you have a pile of Harry Potter or Star Wars stuff. Why not just play with action figures?

I can usually recognize when I'm doing the "things were much better in MY day" thing, but with Legos I think it's more than just me being an old fart. I know I'm not alone.

That said, I still encorage my son to play with Legos and I plan on giving him my HUGE collection one of these days.

And just so this doesn't get deleted for being chat filter, another toy my son loves are his Fisher Price GeoTrack train sets. He spends hours every day building new layouts. Very high quality stuff.
posted by bondcliff at 12:37 PM on July 13, 2006

Don't get him a leapster or L-max. The thing is huge, heavy, overpriced, underpowered, and the software is unmitigated garbage. Try to use one at the store, you'll see, the thing is torture. If you want to get him a handheld game system, get. a. gameboy. Kids can learn far more from Pokemon than they ever will from Dr. Zany's Funtime Math Adventure.
posted by ulotrichous at 12:39 PM on July 13, 2006

papo figurines.

here is a link for a place on line to buy them. you may find a store locally.

have all kinds of themes from knights to muskateers to pirates. everything is hand painted and very detailed. fabulous castles and stuff the parents could buy later that will put playschool toys to shame.

my kids LOVE them.
posted by domino at 1:10 PM on July 13, 2006

well hell.

my link didn't work.

search for papo. store we ordered from is
posted by domino at 1:11 PM on July 13, 2006

I know you said toys, but as the parent of a toddler I would encourage clothes for the kid. With castles and knights on them. PJs are always fun.
posted by frecklefaerie at 1:31 PM on July 13, 2006

Before buying someone else's kid something that makes noise and will be played with all the time, be sure to ask the parents if that's okay with them. My friends' little boy got bongo drums and a xylophone for his birthday from his grandmothers, and after a week they had to hide them so that they weren't being bombarded with noise every moment the kid was awake.

Anything that they can ride around in is usually welcomed with joy by the kids. (big wheel, scooter, whatever) Although those are usually outdoor toys. Do they still make those planes of the really thin wood that you snap out then snap together? Throwing and chasing them seemed to make kids happy.

I'd suggest anything that allows him to play in a highly physical manner. That way they tire themselves out and sleep solidly at night. :)
posted by Meep! Eek! at 1:42 PM on July 13, 2006

How about a gameboy and a game?

No way. That's like getting someone a puppy, and totally should be a parental decision. My son loved legos when he was 4. Also Magnetix are pretty awesome fun learny stuff. Tinkertoys? A hit. If he already has any of these, now he just has more, and it all goes together!
posted by glenwood at 1:48 PM on July 13, 2006

Legos, yes.
Elefun, no. (it's hella annoying)
posted by clh at 1:53 PM on July 13, 2006

bondcliff opened the door to this idea: you can afford the 80 Piece Farm With Mountain Wooden Train Set (scroll down). It is expandable, of course, and begs for imaginative play. He can incorporate his existing castles, dragons and knights into his current track layout. Maybe somebody else in the family with a smaller budget could then buy him a few extra track pieces so he can get weird with curves and create new and wider adventures.
posted by persona non grata at 2:01 PM on July 13, 2006

Ask the parents if their son would enjoy a cape, as in Batman or Superman. Just the cape is more convenient than a whole costume.

A lot of 4-year-olds love any costumey things, like wigs and hats.
posted by wryly at 2:38 PM on July 13, 2006

If you can handle the band, I'd highly recommend Here come the ABCs by They Might Be Giants. It's a fantastically animated DVD that's fun, teaches the alphabet and is much less likely to drive mom and dad totally crazy.

That said, my 3-year old nephew is obsessed with trucks, cars, and trains. I mean, for real - obsessed.
posted by god hates math at 3:12 PM on July 13, 2006

These precision blocks are awesome but expensive:
posted by craniac at 3:56 PM on July 13, 2006

Pfft - castles and knights. Pirates be where it's at.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 4:23 PM on July 13, 2006

I, too, vote for dress-up stuff. If not knight, then doctor, or race-car driver, or chef, or whatever.

Also, Bondcliff is not alone on the despair at the current state of Lego. The whole point of Lego was that they were modular and allowed you to make anything you could think of (and had enough tall 1x2s for). Today's Lego are much more like Playmobil - each piece represents an actual thing, and it's hard to use it out of context.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:25 PM on July 13, 2006

I second, or third, or whatever the Thomas the Tank Engine stuff, although with two caveats. First, while the Thomas engines are more interesting, Brio makes better track. Second, don't bother with any cars other than engines - I don't know if it's the faces or something else, but both of my kids ignore all of the cars except the engines.

(And on a side note - I think that you Lego haters need to stop whining and actually open a set. Yes, the new sets actually build stuff that isn't generic (heaven forbid that the company should make toys that actually sell, instead of placating a bunch of old "don't change anything" farts), but once you get into the set, you're going to find that it's still 95% plain, mostly square blocks that can be easily made into anything else.)
posted by robhuddles at 6:31 PM on July 13, 2006

I have two boys, ages 3 and 5. They love Legos, Superman, Spiderman, Batman, Power Rangers, trains, and anything to do with pirates. They love pretend they are superheroes. You can buy superhero capes and belts at places like Target and party supply stores. We have a Superman belt that says, "I am Superman, up, up, and away", and other neat lines. The set came with Kryptonite and a metal chain to rip apart using their superhero strength. My boys also love guns and swords. Yikes!

Since you want to spend a hundred bucks, why not get him several gifts that follow a theme. Buy a big gift bag and tissue paper, and decide with what to fill it.

Superhero theme:
Superman action figure
Superman costume
Superman pajamas
Superman clock
Superman watch,
Superman bubble bath and toothpaste
Superman coloring book and crayons
Superman puzzle

Summer fun theme:
bucket and pail, neat sprinkler, Crayola outdoor paints and sidewalk chalk, cool bubbles, Supersoaker, kids sunblock, swim trunks, insect net, Slip 'n Slide.

Have fun!
posted by LoriFLA at 7:58 PM on July 13, 2006

LoriFLA wins. Lots of little stuff rules.
posted by obiwanwasabi at 9:27 PM on July 13, 2006

My sister bought my son ( now 6) some clearance superhero halloween costumes for his birthday two years ago. About 7 or 8, if I'm remembering right.... those really cool ones with the puffy muscles in the sleeves and stuff. Batman, Superman, The Hulk, etc...

Two years later, he's still wearing them everywhere. Sometimes he gets creative and combines them... last week, he was wearing a batman mask, a Wolverine bodysuit, and a claw from some ninja thing... all of this for a trip to the supermarket.

He demanded that I call him "Skylark of Doom" all day.

I have no idea what that means, but it's cool.
posted by bradth27 at 11:09 PM on July 13, 2006

Lego Knights' Kingdom. I mean, you can get Lego siege towers and Lego catapults. I have a five-year-old who loves knights (second only to Star Wars) and the Lego Knights' Kingdom toys and books (sometimes you can get LKK sets with a small toy and a book, but I'm not sure where I have found those for him) are among his favorite gifts.

There was an awesome playset at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Charlotte, but I can't find any info on it. This store might give you some ideas, too.
posted by Cricket at 2:16 PM on July 14, 2006

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