Stages of Play: Four Years Old

The baby days may be over but four year olds are so much fun.

By Kaili Ets

Stages of Play: Four Years Old

Source: Getty

Want to know what to expect from your growing toddler? These guides share general timelines for developmental milestones and how to encourage new stages of play.

What to expect at this stage

Four years old—wow. It feels like you blinked, didn’t it? It’s true what they say. The days are long, but the years are short.

With the baby and toddler days officially behind you, you’re entering a new season of parenting.

Your child is entering a new season, too. You’ll begin to see their personality shine in an entirely new way. Conversations will expand, and you’ll learn more about their thoughts, opinions, and desires.

It’s okay to mourn those baby days, but something extraordinary is on the horizon.

While age three was about learning new skills, age four is about putting them to the test. Many of the play skills your child developed over the last year will become more refined and coordinated—they’ll also get faster at doing them.

You’ll want to prepare your nerves as they begin to experiment with jumping from higher surfaces, hopping on one foot and pumping their legs on the swing.

little boy swinging on a swing Source: Getty

How to incorporate play at this stage

This age is about keeping up with the “big kids,” and letting them try is okay. They've been watching other children play and are ready to do it themselves. Physical activity continues to be important and will come with new challenges.

Whether indoors or outdoors, climbing equipment is crucial for developing balance, coordination, and core strength.

Their artistic skills will continue to expand in terms of fine motor skills.

  • Painting and arts and crafts are wonderful ways to encourage creativity and develop those fine motor skills.
  • Scissor skills are also getting more refined. Folding paper and cutting with scissors can be a time-consuming yet straightforward activity.
  • Don’t expect your child to be able to cut along a straight line just yet—but you may notice they can cut some shapes. You can also start to introduce new games and activities into their play.
  • Board games, cards, and more intricate puzzles (12 to 24 pieces) are great examples.

Dressing and undressing have come a long way, but things like zippers and fasteners still require practice.

  • Allow your children to problem solve and try it themselves.
  • Set aside time for practice when the clothes are off their body.

How to support their development at this stage

Something you may struggle with during this period of parenting is your expectations. While your child is four-years-old and appears to be a “big kid,” they’re not always ready for “big kid” expectations.

Their brain is still developing important skills and is very immature.

  • Meltdowns, throwing toys, hitting siblings, and even biting kids at school can still happen.
  • Your preschooler may still show impulsive behaviors and continue to hit and scream occasionally.
  • They can only focus on one thing at a time and even get so caught up in their play that they won’t hear you call them for dinner.
mom and daughter reading a book in bed Source: Getty

You might also notice bossiness at this age, but your child tries to exert independence while navigating their increased cognitive abilities.

Here’s the good news. Some strategies and resources can help you navigate their budding minds (and stubborn ways).

  • Routines around bedtime, dinner, clean-up time, and so on can benefit parents and their children.
  • Singing songs while you do parts of the routine (i.e., the clean-up song) can be helpful to guide the transitions between activities as well.

“It’s not about the toys, the stimulation and the entertainment. The type of play children need is where expression and exploration come from within them to construct, build and create—it is not a passive activity….[this] does not typically unfold from activities with a lot of structure and rules, as this tends to confine and take the lead in terms of play. - Deborah MacNamara

This article was originally published on Apr 01, 2023

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