What should a 4-year old know?

We've had a rough week and our little family is feeling a bit fragile. I've had a large draught of mommy-guilt to cope with, staying late at work this week to meet an important deadline. My kid bit another kid at school, I almost skipped her swimming lesson and I wasn't here to read her a bedtime story three nights in a row.

And then. I read something somewhere about someone's 4-year old who can do all sorts of amazing things like sew and read and write.

And I was like whoa!!! Should my child be writing entire words already? Is she behind? If I stayed home with her would she be able to read and write, count to 100, have a basic grasp of Mandarin and/or Russian and be able to name all the planets in our solar system??? Feeling very wobbly, I typed 'What should a 4-year old know' into Google. The search returned all sorts of academic answers, expected milestones, and other stuff which I don't really remember, because halfway through my working-mom guilt implosion, I came across this. Reading it was like drinking a hot cup of tea, curled up under a blanket on the couch.


Below is an extract which I found on a blog called A Magical Childhood. To read the full article, click here.


What every 4-year old should know
  1. She should know that she is loved wholly and unconditionally, all of the time.
  2. She should know that she is safe and she should know how to keep herself safe in public, with  others, and in varied situations. She should know that she can trust her instincts about people and that she never has to do something that doesn’t feel right, no matter who is asking. She should know her personal rights and that her 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. She should know her own interests and be encouraged to follow them. If she couldn’t care less about learning her numbers, her parents should realize she’ll learn them accidentally soon enough and let her immerse herself instead in drawing, jumping, running, climbing, playing dolls.
  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 marvellous. 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.

Tonight before bedtime, we lay on the trampoline and looked at the stars. We talked about the Milky Way and she almost exploded from excitement when she saw a 'shooting star'. And being in an educational mood, I thought I would start teaching her the planets in our solar system. And guess what? When I got to the third one, she said:

The planets! Just like we learned in school the other week!