Fabulous four year olds
By four years of age most children are skilled at controlling their movements and are rapidly gaining confidence. Children vary greatly in the age at which they are equipped to cope with formal school, and readiness is not just a matter of years or intelligence, but of the integration of the central nervous system and the ability to visualise.
Visualisation is the ability of the brain to remember a pattern of movement, a sequence of sounds or the look and feel of a thing. Successful visualisation is the key to learning.
Movement and Balance
As each step in the learning process is committed to memory, it becomes automatic and a new step can be tackled. The four-year-old who already jumps well, soon learns to catch a ball at the same time. Moving individual limbs backwards and forwards on command is well visualised this year – even several commands one after the other if done slowly.
Four year olds love bar work so much that this year could be called the “year of the bars”. In fact with integration improving we see a greater ease in all two handed skills. Tasks and games that require one or more limb to cross the midline of the body should now present no difficulties. Most fours have a well-established preferred hand or foot for skilled tasks, e.g. consistently throwing with a preferred hand and kicking with a preferred foot. If your four-year-old is still alternating left and right, make sure he has plenty of activities to help the brain integrate the messages from both sides of the body.
The ability to balance is much better developed this year: Four year olds can balance on one foot for longer, hop on either foot, and should be skipping along before school entry. As any balancing activity is great training for the brain, give them as many opportunities as you can to try new balancing feats.
Body and Space Awareness
An accurate awareness of the body and space is one of the cornerstones of visualisation, and of balanced integrated body movement. Increased confidence in managing space is very evident in fours, not only movement through space, but also concepts of direction – around, up, down, inside, on top of, etc.
By school entry a child should know the feeling of a body well balanced so the arms are free to write. Finger games are still very important and the feeling of the finger tips is essential for good control of a pencil.
As body and space awareness are the cornerstones of balanced, integrated movement, immaturity in these areas may be a major contributor to the “clumsy child” syndrome. For instance, if a child has a poor understanding of concepts related to the body – beside, in front of, behind – he may be regarded as disobedient when he simply has difficulty following instructions.
Both eyes should be working together to form one mental picture by the end of this fifth year. The skill of reading requires the eyes to make a series of tiny moves with brief, accurate fixes and focussing. It is in the tiny fragment of time when the eyes fix on the printed page that perception and comprehension occur. If children frequently turn away from an oncoming ball, or shut their eyes, it usually indicates immature visual skills.
Representational drawing and painting take a leap forward this year as the ability to accurately visualise and remember shapes and images grows. Squares, and sometimes triangles and rectangles can be copied, and with the basic colours well known, colour experimentation has more meaning.
Fine Motor Performance
Good refined hand control will make learning to write much easier. Good control of the pencil requires the use of the muscles of the whole arm, so encourage your four-year-old to draw on the blackboard using large, sweeping arm movements. Throwing is another good developmental game that strengthens back, arms, hands and fingers in preparation for learning to write. Swinging from a bar, and dough or clay play, are also excellent for muscle development and control.
Rhythm, Sequence and Time
Four year olds’ ability to move rhythmically to the beat of music is usually well established. Clapping in time, moving to the rhythm of words is also fun. Doing the actions in the right order for an action song sometimes takes a while to master, but fours take great delight in getting it right.
Their memory for the sequence of language and music is quite incredible. They listen intently to long and complex stories, visualise what is happening, and can answer questions in lengthy sentences. By contrast, television provides no practice in this vital skill of visualisation.
Imagination, Communication and Behaviour
Dressing up games are a firm favourite with fours, and pretending plays an important role in intellectual development, as it too relies on good visualising.
Jokes are definitely in and a great cause of merriment. Four year olds are speaking in long sentences, but they do not always get the grammar right – particularly when there is a lot to be said in a short time!