What a 4-year-old ‘Should’ Know…Besides Letters and Numbers

Does My Child Have What it Takes?

We all worry sometimes. Parents worry more. Those with young children might worry the most, especially as children get close to starting school. Is my child’s development on target? Why isn’t he talking in sentences? Why can’t she zip up her jacket when her younger cousin can? Is he going to make it in school?

There are LOTS of checklists out there for every age. Most of them deal with cognitive or physical ability like:

Does your 4-year-old know

  • whether 2 words rhyme?
  • how to stand on one foot for 4 or 5 seconds?
  • some letters and numbers or how to write his name?
  • how to hold a book correctly and turn pages front to back?

Beyond the Physical and Cognitive Checklists

Those checklists certainly have a place, but there are other things a child should know to be ready to start school:

  • That she is loved –  and loved without condition. No matter what she does or says, she is loved, supported, and nurtured.
  • That he is safe. While we cannot control every circumstance, we will do everything we can to keep him safe. We hug him, reassure him, and let him know that we will take care of him.
  • It’s okay to be silly. Children need our encouragement to giggle, crack zany jokes, make funny faces, stomp in puddles, and just be goofy sometimes. And we should cut loose and be that way with them. 
  • How to be a friend. What does friendship mean? How do friends treat each other? What do we do when a friend is sad? These questions help children understand friendship in a more tangible way. Point out times your child is kind, helpful, shares a toy, or offers a hug to another.
  • Have some basic understanding of their feelings and how to name them. Use feeling words yourself, label your child’s feelings, encourage them to say how they feel.
  • How to wait. We don’t always get to do what we want when we want. Having the impulse control to be able to wait, at least part of the time, is a valuable life skill. Help your child practice by playing board games that involve taking turns and asking them to wait to talk if you are in mid-conversation.
  • Understand the power of words – that words can create hurt feelings or create happiness. That words cannot be taken back and thinking before speaking is a good idea. Point out times when what is said would be better as “in-your-head thoughts” instead of “out-of-your-mouth words”. Be sure to apologize if you speak before thinking and say something you regret.
  • How to try new things and understand that sometimes you fail and that’s okay. Encourage their willingness to go down that big slide, ask another child to play, try that tough puzzle, or throw a ball towards the hoop.
  • How to manage those big feelings (much of the time) and resist the urge to lash out or throw herself on the floor. When she is successful, recognize the effort: “You felt really angry, but you remembered not to hit your friend! You used your words, instead. Thank you for making a good choice.”
  • How to explore, experiment, and be creative. Give children lots of opportunities to tramp around outside in all sorts of weather; get messy with paints, glue, paper scraps, and glitter; play with different materials like leaves, twigs, rocks, fabric, sand, and water. Creativity encourages self-expression and is invaluable for brainstorming and problem-solving.

All of these help prepare children to face the world and meet challenges with confidence. And they’ll be ready for kindergarten to boot!




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