Your child will reach milestones at his own rate. But if you’d like to nurture his development while creating more opportunities to interact and bond with your child, here are some activities you can try.
Milestone: Counting to 10, then 20
What helps: Point to or touch each of your child’s fingers or toes (both if you’re counting to 20) as you count aloud; it’s a fun and convenient way to learn basic numbers.
Why: Your child is learning about relative quantities. Hearing you count helps him memorize the order of the numbers and provides a concrete sense of how many.
Next: To build on and reinforce his understanding, count objects during everyday activities, such as how many items are in your shopping cart, how many different foods are on your plate, and how many stuffed animals are lined up on your child’s bed.
Milestone: Drawing people with bodies
What helps: Applaud the stick figures you see without pointing out that the arms are too long or that there are three legs.
Why: Your child’s visual creations are becoming intentional (if not realistic) as he hones his coordination and control. (Earlier, he may have doodled and then afterward determined that the end result was a house or a dog chasing a cat.)
Next: Show your child how to print his name; he may be able to copy some or all of the letters. Again: Don’t expect perfection or correct an e that is backward or has five horizontal lines—these kinds of “errors” count as attempts and are common at this age. You can also write a caption for the drawing, dictated to you by your child, and read it back to him.
Milestone: Recalling the narrative of a story
What helps: Gradually increase the length of the stories you and your child read together, choosing subjects that are of interest to him and asking him questions at the end.
Why: Longer stories require greater concentration. If they’re appealing to your child, he’ll pay closer attention and become better able to focus. Reading aloud is one of the best ways to boost speaking skills, as well as reading readiness. Books teach your child how stories are structured. As his memory improves, he’ll become more skilled at structuring his own narratives and using longer, more detailed sentences like those he’s been exposed to in books.
Next: Some 4-year-olds can make out words as you read, but most kids do better if you avoid letter drills or formal lessons, which tend to detract from the joy of learning to read. Instead, simply continue to find new, interesting books to read together, and your child will likely begin to ask you to point out individual words as you read them.
Milestone: Wanting to please friends and be like them
What helps: When your child oversteps the limits, make a point of distinguishing between his behavior and him. For example, using a bad word he picked up from a friend calls for a reprimand, but avoid sending the message (whether directly or indirectly) that he’s being reprimanded because he’s bad.
Why: It can be a difficult balance to achieve, but your goal is to teach your child the boundaries of good behavior without damaging his sense of himself.
Next: Give your 4-year-old more opportunities for independence, including visiting friends’ homes and going to parties. The more practice he has in social situations, the more he’ll understand that there can be different expectations in different places.
“What's Going on in There? How the Brain and Mind Develop in the First Five Years of Life?” by Lise Elliot.
“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.