What should a 4-year-old know?

During a school gathering an anxious mother confessed that she was worried that her four-and-a-half-year-old did not know enough. “What should a four-year-old know?” she asked.

Most of the answers left me saddened and annoyed. One mother gave us a whole list of all of the things her son knew: counting to 100, names of the planets, how to write his first and last name, etc. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, even though they were only three. It bothered me to see these mothers responding to a worried mum by adding to her concern with lists of all the things their children could do that hers could not. We are such a competitive culture that even our pre-schoolers have become trophies. But childhood should not be a race.

What a four-year-old should know

So here I offer my list of what a four-year-old should know.

  • They should know that they are loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
  • They should know that they are safe and they should know how to keep themselves safe in public, with others, and in varied situations.
  • They should know that they can trust their instincts about people and that they never have to do something that does not feel right, no matter who is asking.
  • They should know their personal rights and that their family will back them up.
  • They should know how to laugh, act silly, and use their imagination.
  • They should know that it is always OK to paint the sky orange and give cats six legs.
  • They should know their own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If they could not care less about learning numbers, their parents should realise they will learn them accidentally soon enough, and let them immerse themselves instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
  • They should know that the world is magical, and that so are they.
  • They should know that they are wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvellous.
  • They should know that it is just as worthy to spend the day making sand castles and picking pebbles as it is to practise writing the numbers (or rather more worthy).

And here is what parents need to know

  • That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at their own pace, and that it will have no bearing on how well they will walk, talk, read or do algebra.
  • That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but Mum or Dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
  • That being the smartest or most accomplished kid in class has never had any bearing on being the happiest. We are so caught up in trying to give our children “advantages” that we are giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, care-free childhood.
  • That our children deserve to be surrounded by books, nature, art supplies and the freedom to explore them. Most of us could get rid of 90 percent of our children’s toys and they would not be missed, but some things are important: building toys like LEGO and blocks, creative toys like all types of art materials (good stuff), musical instruments (real ones and multicultural ones), dress-up clothes and books, books, books.
  • They need to have the freedom to explore with these things too: to play with scoops of dried beans in the high chair (supervised, of course), to knead bread and make messes, to use paint and play dough and glitter at the kitchen table while we make dinner, even though it gets everywhere, to have a spot in the yard where it is absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit.
  • That our children need more of us. We have become so good at saying that we need to take care of ourselves that some of us have used it as an excuse to have the rest of the world take care of our kids. Yes, we all need undisturbed baths, time with friends, sanity breaks and an occasional life outside of parenthood. But we live in a time when parenting magazines recommend trying to commit to 10 minutes a day with each child and scheduling one Saturday a month as family day. That is NOT ok!
  • Our children do not need playstations, computers, after-school activities, ballet lessons, play groups and soccer practice nearly as much as they need US.
  • They need fathers who sit and listen to their days, mothers who join in and make crafts with them, parents who take the time to read them stories and act like idiots with them.
  • They need us to take walks with them and not mind the very slow pace of a toddler on a spring night.
  • They deserve to help us make dinner even though it takes twice as long and makes it twice as much work. They deserve to know that they are a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them.

So … what does a four-year-old need? Much less than we realise … and much more.

Addattata minn post fuq is-sit elettroniku A Magical Childhood.

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