Whether or not your child is attending preschool, these activities will go a long way in helping to expand his blossoming cognitive, motor, communication, and social skills.
Please explain yourself. Build on your child’s ability to understand and respond to two-step instructions (“Please bring me your book and put this in the trash on the way”), by encouraging him to explain the steps he uses to do things.
What do we need to buy? Ask your child to help you make grocery shopping lists and other kinds of planning lists. For example, “Let’s think about the different things we could make for dinner this week.” Or “Who would you like to have come to your birthday party?”
Visit zoos, museums, and library story hours. All of these excursions are ways to expose kids to new experiences and new kinds of learning.
What’s the answer? When your child asks you a question you don’t know the answer to, say, “Let’s look it up.” Go to the library to find a book on the subject or search online. Four-year-olds often show a lot of curiosity about big topics like death, space, weather, and the prehistoric world.
Play outside every day. Whether in the backyard or at a park, or taking a walk through the neighborhood, 4-year-olds love to explore their world—and they can get a healthy dose of exercise while they do it.
Encourage craftiness. Keep plenty of art supplies on hand and accessible. Especially popular with preschoolers are paper collage (using colored paper or magazine images and child-safe scissors), clay sculpture (using supple clay or dough, molds, and tools), and easel painting (with fat-handled brushes).
Practice with utensils. Now that his fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination have improved, your child is ready to learn how to use a spoon, fork, and table knife correctly. It’s likely to take a bit of practice before he can do it easily on his own.
Make reading interactive. When you’re reading a story together, keep your child engaged by asking questions: “Why did the dog run away?” “Where do you think he went?” “What do you think will happen next?”
Invent stories. When your child draws a picture, encourage him to tell you what’s happening in it. Write down his words and read them back to him. You can also make up your own stories (or re-spin a classic fairy tale), featuring your child as the main character in a great adventure. You might offer an installment each night at bedtime, and invite your child to add to the story.
Don’t sweat the swearing. Don’t get too worked up if your child picks up and uses curse words. Swearing is a normal type of imitative behavior. But if you make too big a deal out of it, you risk giving the words even more power and allure. Better to matter-of-factly say that’s not a nice word to use and move on.
Be affectionate. As your child grows bigger and becomes more independent, your touch is reassuring and provides a sense of security.
Address aggression. If your child hits or throws things in anger, hold him firmly yet calmly, so he can regain control of his emotions. Let him know that what he’s doing isn’t acceptable. When he’s calm, you can talk about other ways he might vent anger and frustration, such as pounding a pillow, running around the yard, and expressing his feelings with words.
Make cleanup fun. Set a timer for, say, three minutes, and see how many blocks your child can pick up in that time. Kids like to be helpful and contribute to the household; the best way to instill the habit of picking up after themselves is to make cleanup an enjoyable part of playing.
Praise good behavior. Let your child know when he has behaved well in public or while playing with a friend. Your loving words and hugs are all he needs for positive reinforcement, though; he doesn’t need a treat or new toy.
American Speech Language Hearing Association: Communication Milestones. Available at: http://www.asha.org/public/speech/development/01.htm
“Caring for Your Baby and Young Child, Birth to Age 5 (5th Ed)” by the American Academy of Pediatrics.
“The Wonder Years: Helping Your Baby and Young Child Successfully Negotiate the Major Developmental Milestones” by the American Academy of Pediatrics.