When Your 4 Year-Old Wants More

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  • Ali

    I know that Charlotte Mason does not encourage formal school work till ages 6-7, but my little guy who is turning four is asking for more. We are working on character building, read alouds, and spend a lot of time in nature. He is one curios kid and seems bored with our daily rhythm. I am wondering if instead of going head first into formal education, maybe spending some time doing sort of unit studies and life skills. Any suggestions?


    Have you considered Five in a Row?  I loved that when we just had little ones!


    To me there is a difference between ‘formal school work’ and teaching a young child what he wants to know. As long as you are following the child’s lead, and not asking him to do lessons when he is not interested, I believe it is okay.

    For example, two of my children were fluent readers by age 4 1/2. I don’t think I couldn’t have stopped them from learning to read if I had wanted to. My daughter would plead with me to “Play the letter game” that she had invented. My part was to think of new words, and then she would tell me the letters they started and ended with.  She had learned the letter sounds playing on the Starfall website. She also started asking about words in her life – cereal boxes, stores, street signs, etc. I would point to the words as I read books to her and she would follow along. One day my husband and I just realized that she was reading.  The key, however, was that it was something that she decided to learn, not that I decided to teach.

    So, to answer your questions: No, I would not go ‘head first into formal education.’  For me, that would make it too easy to slip into requiring the child to do the lessons that I had planned, which is what you don’t want at this age.  Just focus on providing experiences and answering questions.  Do things that develop all the preschool type skills – fine motor activities (colouring, cutting, picking up small objects), gross motor activities (running, jumping, climbing), opportunities to observe and describe (explore nature and the world around you.) Some of the “Enrichment’ studies topics are great at this age as well: listen to good music, look at art together, PLAY with craft materials (no specific expectations as to the products).  And of course READ good books and discuss them.

    And answer questions.  If he asks about words, spelling, letter sounds, etc. answer that specific question and then leave it. If he wants to know how many days until his birthday, show him how to figure it out on the calendar. Show him how you know what day of the week it is and how to know how many days until Saturday. If he asks the time, show him how you read the clock. Don’t expect him to do it, just show him what you do. If he asks, show him how you figure out that it is 45 minutes until Dad gets home. There are so many things that can be taught without ‘Formal Lessons.’

    Have fun!



    My middle daughter was about this age when we used the preschool workbooks from Rod and Staff. At the time there were five or six workbooks, but a friend who bought a collection recently showed me that they have added many more to the set. They were just right for her because they don’t require reading (at least, the ones I used didn’t – not sure if the more advanced ones do) and they have lots of simple pre-writing activities, like tracing lines, which is what she was craving. There are coloring, tracing, simple cutting and pasting activities, too. The pictures are simple and sweet without being cutesy.

    We did these for a short time each morning while my oldest daughter was doing some independent reading. This satisfied her desire to “do school like big sister,” and it was helpful for me to see what she was capable of. Other than these, we did tons of reading aloud and being outside, as you’ve mentioned. I also got a bucket of wooden pattern blocks and a pattern block animal book and we did some of that daily. This daughter loved patterns and shapes and mechanical things, working with her hands, so she used clay a lot for sculpting, strung beads in patterns, that kind of thing.

    All of this was before she could read. If she had clamored for reading and seemed ready at that age, I might have tried Phonics Pathways with her. As it was, she wasn’t interested in reading until she was about 5.5 or 6, so I didn’t start until then. She could actually write her letters before she could read – funny kid! Letting her tinker and fiddle with things was the key to increasing her attention span for read-alouds, too. She was just really good with fine motor control and still is. She’s almost 18 and still builds and tinkers constantly. When she was taking higher math classes, she would do her homework with one hand and play with kinetic sand with the other. 🙂

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