A mother recently wrote in and asked about how to consider social opportunities for a four-year-old who has an infant sibling. There are many choices out there for the three to five year olds, at least in the United States, ranging from classes to playgroups to park dates to field trips.
Well, you asked for my opinion so here goes!
I believe truly that the best unit for socialization for a four-year-old is the family and is siblings. This is one of the best things about being home with our children; we get to spend so much wonderful time together. In our society we talk a lot about “quality time” which in many ways I think is a fallacy for a young child. It takes a lot of repetition for a child to remember what happens in childhood – sometimes YEARS of doing the same things on the same day is what they later remember into their teenaged years! “Quantity time” is the truth.
Some four or four and a half year olds are socially interested, depending on the type of little person that they are. Awhile back this age used to be when all Steiner/Waldorf kindergartens started accepting children; this has since dropped lower and lower to include three-year-olds in Kindergarten and also now Mother-Parent groups that may include walkers to three-year-olds. (And I guess once you are three, you don’t need your Mommy anymore! But I digress!)
Some four-year-olds are not very socially interested, or act as if they are interested until they have to be in the car, and then they are hungry and ask when they are going home after about five to ten minutes. At any rate, I believe the best social opportunities for social interaction outside of the family would be meeting once a week or so with one other family at a natural park or playground and to be able to plan to start with something STRUCTURED, whether this is a little craft, a song or singing games, digging in the sandbox together where the adults can hold the space and MODEL for the four-year-olds all those areas that are problematic – taking turns, resolving conflicts.
This is also unfortunately NOT the time for adult socialization, I am sorry to say. I know that is what so many of us as isolated, stay-at-home mothers crave, so I feel badly saying that. However, many four-year-olds really need you there to see what is going on, and they need your help! Just as you would not leave them to learn how to cook and operate a stove on their own, why do we feel it is okay to leave four year olds alone to “work things out”? Four is a very expansive, out-of-bounds age (typically! maybe not if you have a quiet little person!) and fours typically do need help and guidance because otherwise things quickly deteriorate into tears, aggression or other not so fun areas!
My last thought would be to keep the playtime short – an hour truly is plenty.
Food for thought,