Monthly Archives: August 2010

What Should a 4 Year Old Know?

What should a 4 year old know?

It’s back to school time and children all over are starting preschool.  Many parents are frantically searching the internet to find out if their little ones are “on track” and know everything they should.

I wrote this article about what a four-year-old should know many years ago but it continues to be the most popular page on the Magical Childhood site.  I don’t think a week has passed in the past eight or so years when I have not received a letter from a parent, grandparent or teacher about it.  Parents and principals especially have said they wish more parents realized these things.

So in honor of the new school year, I’m posting it here…

What should a 4 year old know?

I was on a parenting bulletin board recently and read a post by a mother who was worried that her 4 1/2 year old did not know enough. “What should a 4 year old know?” she asked.

Most of the answers left me not only saddened but pretty soundly annoyed. One mom posted a laundry list of all of the things her son knew. Counting to 100, planets, how to write his first and last name, and on and on. Others chimed in with how much more their children already knew, some who were only three. A few posted URL’s to lists of what each age should know. The fewest yet said that each child develops at his own pace and not to worry.

It bothered me greatly to see these mothers responding to a worried mom by adding to her concern, with lists of all the things their children could do that hers couldn’t. We are such a competitive culture that even our preschoolers have become trophies and bragging rights. Childhood shouldn’t be a race.

So here, I offer my list of what a 4 year old should know.

    1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
    2. He should know that he is safe and he should know how to keep himself safe in public, with others, and in varied situations. He should know that he can trust his instincts about people and that he never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. He should know his personal rights and that his family will back them up.
    3. She should know how to laugh, act silly, be goofy and use her imagination. She should know that it is always okay to paint the sky orange and give cats 6 legs.
    4. He should know his own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If he couldn’t care less about learning his numbers, his parents should realize he’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let him immerse himself instead in rocket ships, drawing, dinosaurs or playing in the mud.
    5. She should know that the world is magical and that so is she. She should know that she’s wonderful, brilliant, creative, compassionate and marvelous. She should know that it’s just as worthy to spend the day outside making daisy chains, mud pies and fairy houses as it is to practice phonics. Scratch that– way more worthy.

But more important, here’s what parents need to know.

    1. That every child learns to walk, talk, read and do algebra at his own pace and that it will have no bearing on how well he walks, talks, reads or does algebra.
    2. That the single biggest predictor of high academic achievement and high ACT scores is reading to children. Not flash cards, not workbooks, not fancy preschools, not blinking toys or computers, but mom or dad taking the time every day or night (or both!) to sit and read them wonderful books.
    3. 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’re giving them lives as multi-tasked and stressful as ours. One of the biggest advantages we can give our children is a simple, carefree childhood.
    4. 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% of our children’s toys and they wouldn’t be missed, but some things are important– building toys like legos 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. (Incidentally, much of this can be picked up quite cheaply at thrift shops.) 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 supper even though it gets everywhere, to have a spot in the yard where it’s absolutely fine to dig up all the grass and make a mud pit.
    5. 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’s not okay! Our children don’t need Nintendos, 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 .1 MPH pace of a toddler on a spring night. They deserve to help us make supper even though it takes twice as long and makes it twice as much work. They deserve to know that they’re a priority for us and that we truly love to be with them.

And now back to those 4 year old skills lists…..

I know it’s human nature to want to know how our children compare to others and to want to make sure we’re doing all we can for them. Here is a list of what children are typically taught or should know by the end of each year of school, starting with preschool.

Since we homeschool, I occasionally print out the lists and check to see if there’s anything glaringly absent in what my kids know. So far there hasn’t been, but I get ideas sometimes for subjects to think up games about or books to check out from the library. Whether you homeschool or not, the lists can be useful to see what kids typically learn each year and can be reassuring that they really are doing fine.

If there are areas where it seems your child is lacking, realize that it’s not an indication of failure for either you or your child. You just haven’t happened to cover that. Kids will learn whatever they’re exposed to, and the idea that they all need to know these 15 things at this precise age is rather silly. Still, if you want him to have those subjects covered then just work it into life and play with the subject and he’ll naturally pick it up. Count to 60 when you’re mixing a cake and he’ll pick up his numbers. Get fun books from the library about space or the alphabet. Experiment with everything from backyard snow to celery stalks in food coloring. It’ll all happen naturally, with much more fun and much less pressure.

My favorite advice about preschoolers is on this site though.

What does a 4 year old need?

Much less than we realize, and much more.



Filed under the big stuff

10 Ways to Make Today Magical

Happy Monday!  How can it be the start of another week already?  The end of summer is flying by!  Here’s ten ways to make the most of it before it’s gone!

1.  Hand out permanent markers and plain white socks, and let the kids make some fun feet!  Check out these cuties that Victoria made for Alex!

2.  Put out a box of all sorts of wonderful art materials you don’t always let the kids use and let them do anything they want with it.  Consider fun items like scrapbooking papers, glitter, glue dots, paint, cardstock shapes and feathers.  Then just let the mess (and magic) unfold.

3. Gather up an empty spray bottle and some essential oils or other favorite scents and help the kids make custom air fresheners.

4.  Help your child start a story stick.

5.  Try to conduct your entire family dinner conversation in song.

6.  Find a nearby sculpture walk or sculpture garden and tour it together.

7.  Invest in a small box or bag of fabulous chocolates or truffles and indulge in them with your child as a special treat.

8. Go find some milkweed pods, cattails or other magical bits of nature to throw up into the wind.

9.  Head to an ethnic store and see what sort of unusual foods and special trinkets you can find.  We headed to a wonderful Asian market last week and found darling little sauce dishes for 25 cents each, some wonderful sauces and some seaweed for a certain girl who loves the stuff.  We passed on this particular item though…

10. Mail your child a funny card.

And with that, chickadees, I’m off to catch up on some much-missed time in dream-land.

Have a magical week!


Filed under Ways to make today magical

Lessons Learned While Camping

We’re back from our camping trip, and once again so happy to have such wonderful friends to do this with every year.

Here’s a few lessons learned this go-round…

  • If you precook your potatoes before camping, you can slice them and layer them with goodies in foil pouches and they’ll be perfectly cooked, tender and divine.
  • A handful of popcorn kernels in a hand-held campfire popcorn popper will make approximately 85 cups of popcorn.
  • There is no such thing as an air mattress that stays inflated overnight.
  • Bring extra socks.
  • Bring extra shoes.
  • You can’t rush a small boy while hiking in the woods.
  • Good friends are worth long drives.
  • Never trust women who leave the dads in charge and pop into town “for just a few minutes” to get supplies.
  • Camp stoves are for sissies.  😉
  • Roasted watermelon is really, really not a good thing.  Like so much else in life, kids won’t believe you and it’s another one of those lessons they just have to find out for themselves, though.

  • Really.

We had such a fun time we extended the fun and one of the friends came back to our house for a sleepover the next night.  We ate junk food (how ironic that we ate fancy meals cooked over the campfire in the wilderness, and then pizza and chips at home!), watched a video and put the sleeping bags back to good use on the living room floor.

It was a wonderful time, as always.  It didn’t even pour down rain!

But I love my bed.  🙂


Filed under happy stuff


I’m terribly sorry to be gone so long!  It’s our local school’s back to school week, so it is our not-back-to-school week here at home.  We’ve been adventuring of one sort or another all week (hence the camel!  we met him at the zoo!) and we are leaving now to meet some friends for a camping adventure.

Here are some fabulous things elsewhere to make up for my slacker ways this week!

  • I love the looks of these flower headbands that are made with satin circles, hot glue and a lighter!
  • I can’t wait to gather up lots of scrap fabrics and try making these woven fabric hot pads/decorations with the kids. 
  • Got bored kids?  Here’s 50 ways to play.
  • Speaking of play, here’s a good reminder of how we as parents need to not get in the way of it and accidentally stifle creativity.
  • Here’s stories that children can listen to online, courtesy of the BBC.

And now, I’m off to frantically pack a van full of camping equipment and forget half of what we  need.  It’s my way.  😉

Kiss your kiddos, count your blessings and sneak yourself some chocolate.  See you soon!


Filed under neat stuff elsewhere

10 Ways to Make Today Magical

Happy Monday!  Life can be pretty hectic this time of year.  Here’s a few ways to slow down and make some memories together along the way.  🙂

1.  Spend a dollar on a pack of rocket balloons and go fly them in a wide open space.

2.  Tape yourselves dancing and being silly to favorite songs and then watch them on the TV or computer.

3.  Make avocado pit pendants and carvings.

4.  Have a sack race.  Pillow cases work well.  Everybody hop to the finish line.  Older kids and grown ups can hop backwards.

5.  Make tissue paper bowls.

6.  Go on a quest for a really fabulous climbing tree (big old trees with at least one big horizontal branch are perfect) and then climb it and play on it together.  If you like, have a snack in it too!

7.  Go on a joking spree!  Write out corny jokes on small pieces of paper and leave them for folks to find– on counters, in bathroom stalls, you name it.

8.  Do some rolling pin painting.

9.  Make mud pies.  Put out some special tools if you can.  We pick up little metal tart pans, ice cream scoops and other items for pennies at thrift stores and they really add to the fun.

10. Make a vision board for the new school year together.  Gather up a bunch of old magazines, sheets of posterboard and scissors and glue.  Have your children cut out words and pictures that represent things they want for the new year, then glue them onto the board.  Encourage them to be optimistic and to dream big!

Have a magical week!  Don’t forget to take care of you!


Filed under Ways to make today magical

Water Limbo!

Here’s a fun idea I read online a while back and want to try before the end of summer.  Play water limbo!

Have kids play limbo in the backyard, under a stream of water!  It sounds like a marvelous way to get cool on a hot summer day.

They also suggested playing Water Hurdle, where you leap over the stream of water and raise it higher and higher.  Either way, it sounds like a hoot.  🙂

Happy Sunday!

1 Comment

Filed under activities

Good Things, Bad Things

Life can run hot and cold when you’re a seven-year-old boy.  Here’s a sampling of the good and bad through Jack’s eyes lately.

Good things…

Rescued kittens

Extra large hammocks

Being brave

Silly hats

Picnics with friends

Bad things…

Good friends moving away

Waiting out warnings in the tornado shelter

Being eaten by sharks

(art by Jack)

Here’s hoping your week is more good than bad!

1 Comment

Filed under This and that

Hey You Guys!

Yesterday, we were driving down the street when I was struck by a feeling of gratefulness and happiness about my crazy family.  I tilted my head towards the back of the van and shouted, “I love you guys!”.

There were some assorted “Love you too, Mom” replies from the back but 3 year-old Alex was silent.  I turned around and saw him scanning the streets outside, looking confused.

He finally piped up and said, “Where are the guys, Mommy?”.

Snort!  🙂

1 Comment

Filed under happy stuff

10 Ways to Make Today Magical

Happy Monday!  I hope the weekend weather was as fabulous for your family as it was for ours.  Here’s a few ways to have some fun with your kiddos this week….

1.  Challenge the kids to make each other laugh as much as possible.  Try for all out belly laughs, snorts and the type of giggles where you can’t catch your breath.  If you can, catch it on tape to make you all laugh all over again later.

2.  Throw a dinner party just for your family.  Put out the good china and some delicious appetizers, set the table grandly and dress the part.  Put on some music, light some candles and take your time enjoying your own company together.

3.  Turn some old stuffed animals into puppets and put on a puppet show.

4.  Take a ride on a bus, train, subway or other mode of transportation that is out of the ordinary for your child.  It’s amazing how magical even a city bus can seem to a little person who hasn’t ridden one before!

5.  Go hang out at a local science center or museum.

6.  Make lunch in miniature — make tiny sandwiches, itsy bitsy salads, miniscule cookies and so on.  Serve on tea party dishes and have seconds (and thirds and fourths…).

7.  Write something random and silly halfway down the toilet paper roll and then roll it back up again.

8.  Take advantage of what’s left of summer and head to the beach.

9.  Write a letter to your child and slip it under her pillow.

10. Host a new food picnic.  Ask each guest to bring one dish that’s unusual and tasty.  See how many delicious new dishes you can discover, and just plain have fun.

And with that, my dears, I’m off to pack for an overnight visit to Grandma and Grandpa’s and a park date with some fabulous friends.

Have a magical week!  Don’t forget to take care of you!


Filed under Ways to make today magical

Acorn Cap + Pen = Instant Fun

We had to kill some time outside with a crowd of antsy kids recently and my ingenious husband whipped up some instant fun to keep them all happy.

He grabbed some acorn caps, stuck them on his fingers and on the children’s, and drew some corresponding faces.  Presto!  Instant finger puppets!

Happy Sunday!


Filed under the little stuff