Developmentally Appropriate Milestones for 4-Year-Olds
Play with peers should occupy much of the time at school, though the 4-year-old may occasionally prefer to play alone. Kids are aware of rules and seek organization and order; they often “tattle tell” and may seem bossy at times. “Best Friends” becomes an essential topic of discussion. Meaningful bonds form between close friends, with some kids becoming almost inseparable. The threat of “I’m not your friend” is not uncommon and can result in many hurt feelings. Negotiation skills begin to fall into place. The 4-year-old becomes more capable of solving conflicts with peers as the year progresses.
The 4-year-old often revisits the need for independence that was prevalent as a toddler. This time around, they can do many more things on their own. Snapping skills start during this year, and some kids will learn to tie shoes. The 4-year-old thrives on the chance to help with “grown-up” tasks in the classroom, such as serving meals family-style, caring for classroom pets, or helping clean up spills with a hand broom and dustpan. They may be equally willing to help out with simple tasks at home. The chance to make their own peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich may be a slow and sticky process, but 1 that fills the 4-year-old with pride!
Meaningful learning occurs through play; this is a very busy age! The 4-year-old loves to experiment with how things work and will enjoy working with magnets, pulleys, pumps, ramps, and other “cause-and-effect” materials. Adult guidance and supervision can be very successful with “real” materials such as scissors and kid-sized woodworking tools. Pretend play continues to be an essential part of the day and is more complex and inventive now than at age 3, reflecting television and movies and community roles, such as firefighter, doctor, and chef. Educators are often surprised to see their words and actions echoed precisely as kids play school!
Play with soccer balls, and almost every other sort of ball is popular! These games emulate the sports played by older kids on the playground, though inventive rules are prevalent, and the games often include pretend play. Gross motor skills involving balance, like standing on 1 foot, walking up and downstairs, and crossing a balance beam, fall into place this year. At times, however, the 4-year-old will appear clumsy, bumping into peers and tripping over furniture. This clumsiness is because the kid is focused on objects at a distance instead of those in their immediate area.
4 is perhaps 1 of the most talkative ages of all! The kid will understand and use terms to describe complex time, position, and distance concepts as the year progresses. The 4-year-old loves new words and begins to use a wide array of adjectives to convey their meaning. Hyperbole is common. Silly rhymes, songs, and stories are popular, and “bathroom talk” may emerge as a way of gaining attention and joking with peers. Throughout this year, some kids also start to form the connection between spoken and written language.
Kids may begin to use invented spelling to write letters to peers, make signs for a Lego block city, or take orders at their pretend restaurant.
Responding to 4-year-olds
Involve kids in classroom tasks, such as serving meals, feeding pets, cleaning up messes, and creating artwork displays. Foster a sense of shared responsibility.
Give chances for groups of kids to work together to finish a task.
Incorporate real-life materials, such as envelopes or an old typewriter at a writing center; real pots, pans, utensils for dramatic play; and basic tools for woodworking.
Set the stage for kids to perform experiments, such as mixing colors, working with magnets, mirrors, magnifying glasses, and other basic science tools, planting seeds and predicting or observing growth, or making shadows with a flashlight.
4-year-old kids enjoy working with miniature objects. Nuts, seashells, and coins encourage sorting and classifying.
In addition to the popular “housekeeping” props, offer dramatic play props to support new themes, such as veterinarian’s office, fire station, grocery store, or train station.
Provide materials to encourage emergent writing skills. Consider providing notepads, small clipboards or chalkboards, and/or dry erase boards throughout the classroom, along with crayons, pencils, chalk, and markers. Kids will use the materials in many ways as they play.
Create “zones” for various kinds of play outdoors. At this age, kids’ ball play takes up more space, as does active dramatic play. Tricycles and sandbox play continue to be popular, as well.