As young children grow, so can their experience of the world. At four years old, I think they are ready to explore national and state parks with their grown up. Consider buying admission to a park near you. By exploring the outdoors together a four year old and his or her grown will be steeped in all things STEAM.
National Parks Pass. Here is the link to learn about and purchase the American the Beautiful National Park Pass. ($80) Not sure if there is a national park near your Preschool Engineer? Search by state on this page: http://www.nps.gov/index.htm.
State Parks Pass. You will have to do some digging to find your state park. Start here: http://www.americasstateparks.org/Find-A-Park. From there you will have to navigate to your state of interest and hunt around. The passes are often called "Passports." For example, this is what I found for purchase in a handful of states: Michigan, Colorado, and California.
All of the museums I've been to have spaces dedicated to babies (Missoula, Montana; Phoenix, Arizona; Mesa, Arizona; Denver, Colorado; Ann Arbor, Michigan). The best museums have dedicated baby spaces at every exhibit, like the "Baby Zones" at the Children's Museum of Phoenix. Use the search tool at the Association of Children's Museums website to find your local museum, or just Google "children's museum [name of city]".
A lot of these toys are recommended for three year olds but, in my experience, they are better for four years. Four year olds have a little more dexterity and strength and are able to play with these toys with more purpose and with more independence than three year olds.
|B. Pop-Arty Beads|
Gears. These gears adorn my refrigerator. While everyone from babies to toddlers enjoy spinning them, four year olds are the ones who start really building with them. Magnetic backing on each one is strong enough to stick to the surface of the 'frig but not so strong that a child cannot easily remove and replace it somewhere else. The prongs of the gears fit together nicely and the motion of interlocking gears is perfect. It is easy for me to recommend this toy.
|Magnetic Spinning Gears|
Marble Run. Marble runs are classic for a reason. Building towers and watching marbles come tumbling down is delightful. This is another toy rated for three year olds and up. And it is nice to watch three year olds experiment and learn how to build with them but things start getting really interesting when the builder is four years old. If you want to avoid plastic toys then there are wooden versions of marble runs, too.
|Hape Marble Run|
Squigz. These little suction-cup toys are so pick-up-able. Grow-ups who visit our house often where them stuck to their foreheads. Our kids play with them from everywhere from the toy room to the bathtub. And if you like them, then you can make a Squigz-themed gift-giving extravaganza and give different-sized Squigz to different people because Squigz are also available in extra large size for babies and tiny size rated for five years and up.
Conveyor Belt. I haven't listed trucks or working machines in the STEAM gift lists yet. Instead I've focused on more open-ended stuff. But this machine is so cool that I couldn't resist including it here. When my four year old opened this gift he was delighted. It is a bonafide working conveyor belt that works indoors and outdoors. It is a unique toy for exploring how certain technology helps do our work.
Lastly, I recommend adding on to existing collections of builders. From my standpoint as a parent, it is easier to handle an influx of toys if they are just more of the same thing. More magna-tiles get added to the magna-tile bin. More Squigz get added to the Squigz bin. With more of the same materials, larger and more complex building can happen. Higher numbers are counted. There is more STEAM, more of the time.
More Gift Ideas
Gear for Outdoor Adventures
STEM Gifts for Babies
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - One Year Olds
STEAM Gifts for Toddlers - Two Year Olds