Playing is important business for a four-year-old. His biggest regret is that he has to stop occasionally to eat, bathe and rest. Luckily, play is also the best way for a youngster to learn. A preschooler’s mind is like a sponge--taking everything in, forming new thoughts and concepts-- and he truly gets smarter every day. But try deliberately teaching that four-year-old a lesson and it’s like talking to a piece of drywall. The key is to find fun activities that you can play together that guide and encourage his learning.
1. Scavenger Hunts and Obstacle Courses
Scavenger hunts and obstacle courses both promote the concept of following direction, an important life skill that most 4-year-olds are sorely lacking. Cut and paste pictures from a magazine or use your own artistic skills to make a list of things for your child to find. If the setting is a park, have her find things like leaves, plum-sized rocks, yellow weeds, pine cones and articles of clothing left behind, obviously basing the list on where you live and what she’s likely to find. Make sure you follow her closely, as you never know what she’ll find in the bushes at a park. Darned teenagers. A 4-year-old’s obstacle course might include running to a tree, circling the tree 12 times, running to a rock, touching it then returning to you where she’ll do a somersault and sing the alphabet at the top of her lungs. Some 4-year-olds can remember four or five directions, some you might need to reduce to three or four. Time her attempts, and challenge her to beat her previous speed. Most preschoolers are so competitive (even with themselves), they’ll want to do it over and over.
2. Reading and Story Telling
Listening to stories fosters communication skills, imagination and language development, setting the framework for a life-long love of reading. Reading also develops important social skills by allowing your child to experience the emotions and tribulations of the characters in the book. It may not make Johnny stop pulling Katie’s hair, but he’ll sure feel guilty about it. Have your son pick a story. Read it to him using lots of expression and different voices. Comment along the way, “I can’t believe they’re going into that stranger’s house. That doesn’t seem like a very good idea, does it?” Commenting and asking questions encourages his reading comprehension, and will encourage him to pay close attention. Have your little guy “read” the story back to you when you’re done by looking at the pictures and remembering what he’s heard.
3. Sorting and Patterning Games
Sorting helps develop math concepts. Provide her with some building blocks and give her different challenges. Start off with easy sorting, like placing all the blocks in piles by color. Then show her a pattern, like black, white, red, black, white, red and see if she can match it. Give her lots of praise when she gets it right. Ask her if she can sort eight blocks in each color. Continue to give her challenges that are increasingly demanding. When she’s had enough, help her build a masterpiece of blocks, which she can then topple over. Grab a deck of cards and ask her to sort them by color of suit. Then ask her to sort them by suit. See if she can find all the eights, all the aces and so on. Ask her to line up the two of clubs all the way up to the ten of clubs. When she's had enough sorting, play a game of war or Go Fish!
4. Memory Game (Concentration)
Give him a deck of cards and have him pick out two of each number--you can remove the aces, jacks, queens and kings beforehand. When he’s done, have him shuffle them up the best he can and turn them over, placing them face-down on the table in a single layer. Now ask him to turn them over two at a time. If the two don’t match, he has to turn them back face-down and try again. When he finds a pair that matches, he keeps the pair, and continues turning them over in twos until he has all the cards.
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