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From a maturity perspective: Does he show interest in your or any store displays of regular Lego sets, or does he still seem content with the juniorized Duplo appearance?
From a motor skills perspective: I think most 4 year olds have the motor pieces to attach and detach basic regular Lego bricks, but obviously would need help with following instructions.
Duplo bricks are better toy than many people think.
OK, my children like small brick too, but Duplo bricks are toy for every day and every place in our hose. They play with them even in bathroom.
I have since bought her more regular Lego sets and she is addicted to Lego (almost as much as I am). She splits her time about equally between "big Lego" and "little Lego" and enoys playing with both. She likes giving her teddy bear a bath in Lego bricks when I am building sets like Tower Bridge but also puts things together even though she cannot follow set instructions yet.
So I would say definitely get him a tub of regular bricks. Let him decide when he is ready to move on from his Duplo. He will probably play with both. And you can stack regular brick on Duplo brick after all.
My daughter was exposed to LEGO by age two and a half due to her brother having them, and choking wasn't an issue because she has never been one to put things in her mouth. The problem with her is that she was very good (and still is) at destroying sets. She can destroy faster than I can build, and when multiple things are disassembled to their basic bricks, it can be a challenge to re-assemble.
You'll notice that some of the basic sets have 4-5 as the starting age range. For ages 3 and under, choking is definitely a concern, and LEGO won't recommend them for that age but as a parent you can use your discretion. As I said, my daughter has never been one to put things in her mouth, but my son at that age I would never have given LEGO to because he was putting things in his mouth well after his third birthday. Each kid is different, so beyond the choking hazard I think a lot of it has to do with development, and the suggested age ranges on the boxes should help you with that.
Now my boys are 4 & 3 and most of the City sets that I have purchased have been for their birthdays and Christmas - and I have a few starting from 2010 (check my setlist). The boys are great with them - they know the rules: #1 No Biting the LEGO, #2 No throwing, #3 No dismantling the sets... Alright they do better with rules 1 and 2. I spend a heck of a lot of time rebuilding sets (darn).
I have found that it is very easy to keep them entertained with the Bilk-Brick sets while I construct the more elaborate sets.
While being on spring break this last week, I went and bought a bunch of Sterilite containers and spent the time putting the sets that I want to keep solvent (away from the destructive hands of my boys) and also to separate the pieces. My biggest concern now is how to I organize the pieces - by color, or by like-brick? The latter means that I will be purchasing A LOT MORE smaller containers. Good thing that WalMart carries a very wide selection of these American-Made containers! And in different colors!
All in all, they are never too young - as long as it builds your empire...
By the time each of them started I had the confidence that not only would neither of them put the pieces in their mouth but they could both build independently (after some practice) and not get unnecessarily frustrated. Still, they each need some assistance on occasion, but they also like to help me with some of the more complex sets (i.e. Modular Homes).
At 3 she is now regularly playing house with my minifigs and helps me sort and assemble new sets. Occasionally I'll find one of my rarer Star Wars minifigs in her dollhouse, she is always gentle with them and she knows which shelves in Daddy's office she is allowed to play with stuff off of. She does also have an inherited duplo train that she still regularly plays with, but I never really bought any duplo. Although now that I've set up a track for my Emerald Night she would much rather play with that.
It really depends on the child and parent. If you have a kid that tries to put everything in thier mouth, then you really don't want to give them a bucket of 1x1 plates and leave the room.
My son's now 3 years and 3 months. He loves to play with his Duplo train sets, but when I'm busy with my large Star Wars sets he wants to help. For him it's way too difficult to read the manuals but just putting together all of the bricks is good enough for him. Although I keep the very little parts away from him. But I think it won't be long now before he puts the Duplo aside en starts to play with real Lego.
Last week I made big mistake though... As he is a big fan of trains I bought the Emerald Night. To keep my wife satisfied I said it would be for him; but actually I'm the one who loves it best at the moment... :-) I showed it to him and he immediatly wanted to play with it. But first of all he's still to young and second we don't have any railroad yet (The Emerald is my/our first trainset), it's not really playable yet. That meant only one thing; Crying, crying and again... crying!!! Some stupid dad....
I started at 4 years with regular lego. By then I already knew the difference between what to put in my mouth and what not. I also knew the discomfort of choking. :P
If they are anything like my son they will root around to build the figures and then love to build the little car/plane/whatever for them to drive/fly/etc.
He also seems really good at making his own creations, strange little vehicles that I wouldnt dream up myself.
I also would say not to sell the Duplo (if you can afford not to), as he still has some of these that he plays around with once in a while, and besides you can keep them for your next child :)
My nephew (10 now) started pretty early. Not sure when exactly though, but I got him a few sets over the years. I do recall giving him his first Technic set though. He looked at the box and it said "Ages 8+". He turned to me and said "You know I'm only four!"
Seriously, check the prices on bricklink or the online Pick-a-brick and you'll find that most pieces can be replaced for pocket change.
Just take a good look on the carpet before you bring out the vacuum and you can minimize how many pieces are permanently lost. Then replace those with spares from your collection or via online orders.
Amazing how well he sticks to this rule. He takes his planes are rockets for 'flights' etc, but will always return them to the table :).
One other thing that helps him keep track of the bits is that I bought him some second hand LEGO that had been 'mistreated' (missing hands, drawn on, etc) and he was dissapointed that the other children had lost bit and mistreated it, which I think really helps him understand the value of looking after HIS LEGO.
Oh and he keeps all his LEGO and CMF in little plastic boxes too.
Hope that helps.
However, I know a 7 year old who has had Lego since he was 2 and he has lost numerous pieces and has only started to be able to build sets on his own and keep the pieces together fairly recently. Before that his dad would basically build them for him and his older sets cannot be reassembled because lots of the pieces are long gone. He has also only recently kept pieces in a designated Lego bin so that they can all be found when he wants to build.
My advice is that if you think your child is ready, buy a small set of basic bricks and see how it goes. If it doesn't work out, you can always go back to duplo, but if it is a success then you can move up to more basic bricks and perhaps some of the actual sets in a couple of years.
For my 50cents worth, as a parent of a now 4 yr old, I will add in or second a comment that it depends on your child's age, maturity, interests and what they can handle.
This past Christmas of 2010 turned out to be the last year for Duplo with my Daughter. She's shown more interest and desire to play with the regular, smaller LEGO bricks. Before thise, if I built say a car or a house, she'd play with the pieces, mainly minifigures.
Every child is different, so go by what they show an interest and aptitude for.