With Back to School season upon us, I’ve been seeing “What Should a 4 Year Old Know?” posted a lot on Facebook. The author states parents shouldn’t be so concerned about their preschooler doing a checklist of skills. Instead, they need to let children be free to explore, make a mess, and have fun. I agree. Parents need to calm down, put away the flashcards, and go have fun with their kids. After all, everyone learns in their own time. They are only four-years-old once. Worry less, and play more.
However, I also think most parents that ask “What should a 4 year old know?” have their hearts in the right place. They don’t want to get their kid on Leno for memorizing all the names of the presidents. They just want their kid to feel smart when they start kindergarten. They want the best for their kids. Nobody wants their child to begin their school career feeling confused and left behind when everyone else knows how to count to ten. Those feelings stick with kids.
I think there is a middle ground between constant unstructured free time and constant drill and practice with flash cards. I agree with the author that learning should be worked into life naturally. How about spending time with your kids and finding some teachable moments in fun activities? You can count how many cups you need while cooking or how many elephants you see at the zoo. You can find letters in signs as you drive. You can do a shape hunt at the playground or write letters in the sandbox. They get the benefit of having fun with you AND they learn academic skills.
I have a 4 year old. She is not going to preschool at all this year. She will start kindergarten next fall. My plan is to have fun and make some memories (probably mostly mine) of this last year before she starts school. And the learning? I think this will prepare her enough for kindergarten.