4 Year Old Playing with Toys

Updated on May 14, 2010
K.H. asks from Naples, FL
11 answers

Our almost 4 year old son doesn't have much interest in playing on his own anymore. He used to independently play with all his toys...cars, trucks, blocks, leggos and much more. But just the past few months he can't entertain himself. We need to sit and play with him and if we don't he wants to watch a movie or jump all over the furniture. Maybe it is time for some new toys?? Anyone else experiencing this or have gone through this stage and can offer some advice on good independent play. His birthday is coming up and I have no idea what to get him. He has tons of outdoor items...bikes, scooters, water play center, balls, t-ball but we live in Florida and it is getting to hot to stay outside for very long. I want to buy some new toys that will entertain him while I clean or get dinner ready.

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So What Happened?

Thank you for all the great ideas. His birthday is coming up and now I have a few great ideas for presents and some super fun activities to try around the house. It is great to share ideas and fill up an empty bag of tricks.

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answers from St. Louis on

What about some fun outdoor toys that include water? Water guns, sprinklers, etc?

Also, I'd suggest (if you aren't already doing this) putting toys into boxes of some sort and only taking a few out at a time. Then rotate them with the other boxes every few months. Chances are that maybe he has TOO many toys to play with so he becomes overwhelmed and then doesn't want to play with anything.

My brother has a 4.5 year old and they do this (rotating toys) and he said it's almost like Christmas when they rotate because his son has forgotten he ever had those toys!

As far an entertaining him while you clean or get dinner ready, I suggest:

While you are cleaning: Have him help - give him a wet rag and have him wipe down the counters, floors, sinks, etc. Give him shaving cream and put him in the tub (clothed or naked, water or no water) and let him play with it on the shower/bath walls. Have a bin of stickers and construction paper and let him do that while in the same room with you. Give him a bag or box of misc toys and have him sort them by color, shape, size, etc.

While you are making dinner: Give him something to do - set the table, empty the dishwasher, let him play with playdo, let him make his own pizzas (on english muffins), ask him to 'organize' the tupperware (ie: play with it), let him 'wash' dishes - my daughter loves this one! paints and coloring are also things my daughter does while I'm trying to keep her busy while I'm busy.

If all else fails, I do use the tv - sometimes I think it's okay to have a distraction so I can do what needs to get done!

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answers from Atlanta on

My 4 year old LOVES running and chasing with other kids, riding his bike, playing in sand with trucks and construction vehicles and playing with anything superhero related. He's really into the Toy Story toys too. He has an Imaginarium castle and some of the Imaginext stuff -Batman cave, space shuttle -that keep him entertained for long periods of time. At this age they love things that springboard "pretend" for them and they LOVE physical activity!

Use the sprinklers and go out in the morning and the evenings. I live in GA, and it's very hot and humid here too. I still spent most of my summer days as a child outdoors. As long as there is plenty to drink, it won't hurt anyone to sweat! If you're at home with him, make the middle of the day a special time to go to a children's play place or a pool or the library.

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answers from Austin on

This is very age appropriate. He is ready to really start playing with friends. Are there any in the neighborhood? Kids used to play cowboy and Indians, Army, now they play transformers and other super hero play.. They chase each other, hide and seek.. For outside get him water toys for the yard..

If you have a driveway use sidewalk chalk To draw a "roadway" We would gather ALL of the riding toys. Our daughter loved to follow the "traffic rules". We would draw stop signs, parking spaces etc.. Then we would take turns being the traffic cop. She would drive the "road" on the driveway over and over. The more kids the better. They learn about what side of the road to be on.. The shapes and colors of all types of road signs.

Also our daughter had 2 outside toys that she LOVED.. One is called the "Twizzler" It is a handle bar that spins when hung and also she loved the "Air Pogo" It is a springy swing that hangs also..

For the heat, I always had a cooler with ice water and plastic cups. During the hottest part of the day, our daughter would play inside, but in the morning till about 11, she was outside. We tried to go swimming almost every weekday after nap or quiet time. And then again after 4:00 she could be outside to run and play. Lots of sunscreen and water. We have a ton of trees for shade, but some of our neighbors put up outdoor shades over their sandboxes and playhouses during those 100 degree days.. You could also consider some of those misters that attach to the roof for patio play..

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answers from Washington DC on

What about puzzles he can do at the table while you get ready for dinner? What about coloring books? Clay? He can do these things and still be close. How about making a schedule... Do some outdoor things to get his energy out and then bring him in and tell him he needs to play quietly for 30 min. while you do whatever.
Jumping on furniture is a HUGE no-no. I'd give a time out for that! As for the movie - our kids had TV tickets - 4 per day. They were each worth 30 minutes. They could choose when they wanted to watch - or play video games. If they watched 4 tickets worth in the morning, they were done for the day. They learned to budget their time. I also let them turn unused tickets in at the end of the day. 25 unused tickets got them a new toy - my son was into Lego, so he could get a new bionicle or something. They were more than happy to play or draw when they knew they could earn a toy...
I did school with mine - I'd set them up with a task - puzzle, coloring, letters, numbers, memory game and then check on them while I did my chores. They learned, they worked quietly, and I got my stuff done. I also gave the kids chores - if I was dusting or sweeping, they were dusting. If I was folding clothes - they were folding clothes...
Trust me, they'd rather play quietly than dust or fold clothes...

UPDATE: I just read your post about the sick great grandmother. This may have something to do with him not wanting to play alone. Illness is difficult for grownups to process - think about it from his end. He probably just doesn't want to be alone. He's got a lot going... Find activities he can do with you in the room...


answers from Kansas City on

He needs to be learning to settle down and do quiet things so that he will be ready for school. Teach him to play the learning games on starfall.com. That's educational and all my daycare kids love it. Also, play dough at the table, drawing, coloring, tracing letters etc.



answers from Fort Wayne on

When my son was that age, he loved toys like the word whammer by leap frog that goes on your fridge, his My first leap pad, electronic globe from leap pad for younger kids, pretty much anything electronic that was educational kept him busy and also he LOVED his magna doodle at that age, played with it all the time


answers from Albany on

my boys were (still are) way more interested in what mom's doing than pushing a truck around in the dirt. (age appropriately) i let them 'help', set them up at the island with some mixing bowls and spoons and maybe some flour so they could cook, too, gave them some clothes to 'fold', to be honest as much as i love their company, even i used the gameboy to amuse them for awhile so i could have at least one uninterupted thought!



answers from Pittsburgh on

Can youy rotate his toys? Maybe put some away that he is bored with, giving him access to toys he hasn't played with much recently? Then in a week or two swap the toys, bringing out the ones you put away and putting away the ones he has had access to.

Some things that keep my kids entertained for longer periods of time are Leapster, magnetic drawing boards, computer games, dot-to-dot and maze books, playdoh and other crafts. They have acquired a lot of craft supplies - paper, scissors, hole punches, compasses, envelopes, glue sticks. popsicles sticks, chenille stems, stickers, etc. We pull them out and they create their little hearts out.



answers from Columbus on

What does your gut tell you? Is it only the toys? For most 4 year old boys, you just listed the gold standard for toys. Will it really make a difference if he has a red truck instead of a yellow one or more lego sets to build new things? I guess I am reacting to your use of the word "all" and "can't" so if those two words are not absolute and you are exagerating a little, ignore what I am about to say.

If he has "lost" the skill to play idependently, then you may have two things to worry about, one being the skill itself, and the other being the loss of any skill at any time in his development. If you think that he had the skill and lost it, do not wait for him to loose another skill and speak to your pediatrician about a referal for an evaluation; children who loose skills may have very serious issues that need your fastest possible attention. The skill of playing independently is one that is important for school as he will trasition from playing idependently to working independently. Ask yourself what role you play when you sit and play with him. Do you help him stay on task? Does he need that interaction to process enough information to be fun? Can he play with the toys if he is with a child that is his own age (not younger or older)? His preference for being entertained (you playing with him, a movie, or willy nilly climbing without any need to process) would be where I would focus with him.

The other issue I would look at for you is your description that he is "jumping all over the furniture" which sounds kind of like he could be trying to stimulate his thinking, and may be a sign that he is having further processing issues. Kids who have trouble with their thought process stoping and starting can become hyperactive or very active to try and stimulate thier thoughts or process more information.

Two possible processing issues, in independent skill, and hyper active stimulation may be something to watch as he ages. I am certainly not suggesting any diagnosis, just that you take a look at this from the stand point of what is going on in his development and consider that this could be something you look back on as the first sign of a bigger issue. Acting sooner rather than later is always best, and when you act and there is nothing there to act upon, that is the best possible news...and you have lost nothing. If he has really lost a skill, act now.



answers from Dallas on

Does he have a Vsmile game system or a Leapster? My daughter LOVED this until she was about 7. They have only educational games that are age appropriate. Great for those "too hot dog days of summer". :) You can get them used on Craigslist for pretty cheap.



answers from Minneapolis on

My four year old is the same way in the house. If he is outside he goes and plays all by himself but in the house he's bored out of his mind. We tell him to take puzzles, or coloring with fun markers, paint, we take out the art bin with glue, stickers, scissors, scrap paper, glitter. We might take out shaving cream and let him play on the table with his cars and the cream. All of which is messy and takes time to clean up after wards but sometimes it is easier than listening to him say mom play with me when I'm in the m iddle of cooking supper. There are times when I can sit and play with him but not always.

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