What your 4-year-old child should know

When my son turned 4, he came home with a report from school. Skills were marked from one to three and a comment given or each skill. Some of these included counting, number recognition and vocabulary. I was so proud of every comment and evaluation, except the fact that he had trouble concentrating during morning ring. What did this mean, I wondered. Was it something that would cause him to fall behind later on? As parents, we want nothing more than for our children to succeed and be happy, but at such a young age these two ideas are not always compatible – or so it may seem.

Nadia Kahn, a pre-000 teacher at FasTracKids in Johannesburg says she feels strongly that children develop at different paces and that they shouldn’t be put under pressure to achieve. “Most children will show an affinity for certain things. This could be music or numbers, but they may be less advanced in aspects like drawing or balancing on one leg,” she explains.

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Learning through play

“It’s so important that children aren’t pressurised at this young age. They have a natural affinity for learning and this should be encouraged through play,” says Nadia. In other words, the moment there is pressure and stress, the enjoyment your child gets from learning evaporates. “Your child’s brain is open and we want to keep it that way for as long as possible.”

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While parents and teachers need to assess whether a child is meeting milestones to rule out any developmental issues, Nadia says it should all be taken with a pinch of salt – especially when your child is so young. “Whether your child is counting to 10 or counting to 20 when he reaches his 4th birthday – both are OK,” says Nadia. Your child’s positive attitude towards learning and participation in activities will mean he will learn everything he needs to, when he needs to. But, by placing pressure on this child, all the fun is taken out of the activity and his stress response may be to avoid the very activities he needs to be immersing himself in to improve. At this age, she says, you want to be building confidence rather than breaking it down. Numerous studies have shown that literacy achievement is rooted in early childhood experiences with activities such as bedtime stories, having books available in the home, and engaging in literary activities with older family members.

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A positive inner dialogue

Peggy O’Mara, the author of Natural Family Living , explains that, “The way we [parents] talk to our children becomes their inner voice.” And this is particularly true of the first 6 years of their lives when their brains are most “plastic”. Nadia uses the example of a child who comes to school and doesn’t readily participate in tidy-up-time. When asked why he isn’t helping, he explains that his mom told him he doesn’t know how to do it properly, so she would do it for him. “Your child won’t do everything perfectly, but he needs to be encouraged so he can keep trying and participating, which really is the only road to success,” says Nadia.

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What your 4-year-old should know, or be beginning to understand:

  • Counting and number recognition
  • Letter recognition and being able to recognise his name when written out
  • Secondary colours,
  • Days of the week
  • Tenses such as yesterday, today and tomorrow.

But what your child really needs to know beyond these fundamentals are psycho-emotional. These are far more beneficial in the long run since learning should be about play at this foundation level.

Your child should know:

  • He is loved unconditionally
  • He is safe
  • It’s OK to make mistakes
  • It’s OK to make a mess
  • How to be silly and use his imagination
  • He is free to follow his interests.
  • Spending time outdoors digging in the dirt or picking leaves and flowers is as important as practicing numbers

More about the expert:

Nadia Kahn is a teacher and mother of two girls. She currently teaches preschool children at FastTracKids preprimary in Johannesburg and believes strongly in learning through play.

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