More About “Social Experiences” For the Four-Year-Old

This is a GREAT comment from a reader regarding my post on “Social Experiences for a Four-Year-Old” that can be found here: http://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/09/07/social-experiences-for-a-four-year-old/   and a few thoughts from me I wanted to share.  Here is the comment:

I’m two ways about this idea. On the one hand, humans are social creatures, and I think that includes children of all ages. In a close knit community, children would have endless opportunities for playing. It would be more like an extended family, rather than a “play date.” On the other hand, children in our culture really do not seem to play that well together. And I’ve found over the past couple days of my parents and brother being away (my son (2.5) and I live with them), my son’s behavior has improved tremendously, which I have found to be the case before when we’ve been alone for a while together. Anyway, I wonder what your thoughts are on only children, and on our isolated nuclear families (which seems unnatural to me, since humans are so social) in relation to this idea of staying home.”

I agree with you!  In a close-knit community, a community that is like an extended family,  there are LOTS of opportunities to play and to see play modeled for our smallest children by other children of all ages.  My neighborhood actually still functions much like that with children in third and fourth grade playing alongside the preschoolers.

I also love the idea of just extended family in general.  I grew up as an only child raised by grandparents, which does not sound like the pinnacle of socialization…..However, my grandparents were in business with my Dad and my Uncle who came to dinner every night during the week, my great-grandmother also lived with us,  my grandmother had five brothers and sisters who would come frequently for extended visits (weeks, a month, whatever) and bring along their children and grand-children and I lived in a neighborhood where probably ten of us or more played outside daily.  I also have so many cousins; last time I went home for Thanksgiving I think there was at least 40 or so of us who gathered.   Our household  was  also the kind that always had neighbors, kids, everyone just hanging out.   So, while I was and am an only child,  I felt anything but alone!

However, and I think this is the caveat, is that in our society at this time, the push is not toward  extended families for socialization or even for free play experiences of children that span wide ages.  Let’s focus on free play for a moment.  The push is for four-year-olds to all be together, or for four and five year olds to be together, but not to put eight and nine and ten year olds together with preschoolers.  (That is why I ALWAYS advise to start play dates with children of the same age with some structured activity because unless they are very, very social and have had lots of group experiences (and even if they have had these experiences!) there are bound to be problems without the modeling influence of children who are four or more years older or parents).

I also feel due to the general nature of our fast-paced, get-in-the-car-go-somewhere-every day society, our children probably need way less stimulation than they are getting and need parents who are more conscious about keeping those twelve senses protected. This includes play dates, playgroups and other outings, especially for children under the age of 6.

Another interesting issue with “play groups” etc, is that parents act as if it is unnatural if their small children want to stay near them and just watch.  We forget that indeed if a small child was playing with a large group of truly mixed ages, a small child would likely be watching more than participating, or they may be imitating and playing along the sidelines, so to speak rather than in the midst of everything.    I am thinking of videos I have seen of village life or whatnot.  The smaller ones watch and participate when ready.  Here, I think it is more, “I bring my child to playgroup and they just stand there and what is wrong with my child?!”

I think the other problem  we are encountering as a society is that  we are pushing so many classes and lessons and structure for this age group (3-6) that we are really destroying the foundation of the Early Years of childhood.  We are taking the time period when in years gone by a four and five year old would still be napping and seen as little and playing with mud pies and  essentially filling up their days the way we do as adults and then counting these classes and lessons as “social” experiences.  In the United States I feel public PreK and Kindergarten is also turning into this as well, because the push is not to play with blocks and color and put on plays but to sit as a desk and learn to read and write.

In order to combat all of these realities of where we are today, I do believe that the family is the structure for socialization at this point and the preference should be for firm entrenchment within the home and then branching out into the neighborhood.  I prefer having the big extended family for socialization, but realize that this is not reality for many people these days.  Some families create their own “extended families” out of friends with small children, but unless you live in the same neighborhood it seems this involves lots of  planning, getting in a car, etc, all of which can be hard on a small child.

My vote is to work on creating the  rhythms within the home, strengthening your own inner calm, simplifying life, carrying your child warmly within the family structure you have, forming your own adult network of parenting friends (but not necessarily dragging your child into it because this is adult support for YOU!) and then when your child is five and a half or six thinking more about the once a week out-of-home play date and such. 

I am well aware this is a counter-cultural view.  However, the protective bubble of staying home  that Waldorf parenting should be about really is for the first seven years.  Around eight years of age, rest times every day are VERY important, sleep is very important, but it is a good age to get out and do things.  This time of less stimulation is really short!  And the time to socialize is quite long; many children also experience profound changes within their social relationships around the nine-year-change and into the teenaged years.  It seems to me the experiences of a three-year-old  and four-year-old socializing plays way less into successful later socialization than we consider, but that the effects of over-stimulation and of assaulting the twelve senses lingers and influences things for much longer and in much greater ways than we probably imagine. 

Much food for thought tonight, I probably will be pondering this at 2 am!

Many blessings,

Carrie

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24 thoughts on “More About “Social Experiences” For the Four-Year-Old

  1. LOVE this and all your thoughts about 4 year olds. I have a 4 1/2 year old and I can really tell when we have been doing too much… He needs quiet time at home with just he, his sister and me. We have been home alot the past week or so and he is being so sweet, so kind, so loving. It is wonderful. I try to really pay attention to when we are on GO GO GO mode and take the time to stop, slow down, regroup.. I think this fall we will be staying home alot more. Keep sharing your thoughts.. they are little gold nuggets! :)

  2. “The push is for four-year-olds to all be together, or for four and five year olds to be together, but not to put eight and nine and ten year olds together with preschoolers. ”

    We encountered this attitude pretty strongly when my husband was a Children’s Pastor. We firmly believe in the value of mixed age group in the learning process and found ourselves losing count of the number of times that parents (and their children) would complain about the younger children. I think it’s so sad because you lose so much in the focused age group play/learning.

  3. Thank you for the wonderful information to ponder. I completely agree that our society pushes children to do too much and forces independence far too early. My daughter and I spend much of our time, beyond errands, at home. That being said, my three-year-old, and only, child seems to crave being around other children. She often says she’s lonely, and has even asked for a sibling to play with! We have a park that we frequently go to where she can choose to play with the other children, or not. Even if I choose to stand aside and chat with the other parents, I’m still always close by to meet her needs. Basically, I follow her lead on how independent she chooses to be.

  4. My son is an only child as well Greta, and he is pretty much the same as your daughter, a very social little guy playing with pretend friends and sisters and brothers at home.
    He loves our weekly trip to the park and playing with other children, but I also know that if we take too many trips in a week, more than four times out of the house (including errands) he gets miserable. Though he gets also miserable if we do not leave the house.

    Your text has given me some things to think about and I would very much agree with all that you have said Carrie. One thing that stands out to me, is that when I was younger we were included in this community type of feeling with children of different ages all over the neighborhood.
    The big difference that I see from than to now, which I think is important, is that we as children felt always responsible and protective of the smaller ones, strangely my son feels the same towards smaller children, even though he is an only child and has never been taught to care for smaller children.
    A lot of the times I can not see this in children anymore, the feeling of care for the younger ones is not there as much, naturally there are exceptions to this, but I wonder why this is?
    My parents were protective of us children, but they never worried letting us run around in the fields with the neighbor kids, I know that I do not feel that way when we are at a playground.

  5. Wow, I feel like a celebrity being quoted in my favorite blog. :) Thank you for addressing this. I never liked the idea of “play groups” and the word “play date” just rubs me the wrong way. I do wonder about adult stimulation though. You mentioned (in this post or some other one) about how mothers shouldn’t be getting together for their own social interaction with their kids (or something like that), that they should go out at night after the kids are in bed. For most mothers though, that isn’t really an option. I’m single, so it really isn’t an option for me, and I don’t really want to go out at night anyway, I’m tired and I need to work. But I live with three other adults (with others dropping in regularly. I’m not alone with small children all day, every day, as many mothers are. I’m not lacking for adult stimulation. I agree with you about not scheduling kids, and home is the best place for them, but… I guess I’m more of the mind of creating our own tribe. (Says the girl that hasn’t been out of the house in a week :))

    • Yes, yes, I am totally nodding my head as I read your reply! Mainly I say that just because what most playgroups and playdates turn into unless one is very careful, esp with small children is the small children running every which way while the parents are not there and talking somewhere else or whatnot…A Fine line in small children who really can’t work it out well…I think as children grow, this is entirely reasonable and there are ways to work it out…But I am a big encourager as well in mothers making some connections for themselves as well…:)
      You are so very sweet, a celebrity on this blog! :)
      Thanks for being a reader, I have some pictures to put on here of my four and a half year old on a “playdate” that will make you laugh (her playmate is this gigantic dog she is swimming with in a river)..Hope to figure out the wonders of importing photos soon! LOL

    • Hi Molly, My husband, AKA the computer guy, says that you have to change your name when you register to write comments and he is not sure how we can change it..He will look into it though! Do you want me to delete your comments so your name is not there?
      Peace,
      Carrie

  6. Oh, I get all comments! LOL.
    I think your situation is very common, and I am glad you brought it up. Some children are more social than others for sure! However, I think one thing to consider is the place that rest and in-breath activities have in your rhythm. Going to school, playing with friends are all outbreath kinds of things for the most part…Where is the cornerstone of quiet time, rest, awake and nap times, times to just be? That time to learn it is okay to be alone, to not be stimulated by others but to come up with one’s own agenda and play time and one’s own games.
    Four is a great age to live outside, I am all for outside time, and I think being home does not preclude taking walks, exploring, being in the backyard, having experiences with mud and sand and sticks, – but that this does not always have to be in the company of others.
    I am not sure if that helps or not? Children have different temperaments to be sure, but I would always advocate being the “balance” for our child. Children under the age of nine are rather prone to excesses one way or the other, and it is our job to balance all that out….Prayer and meditation will help you light the best path for this wonderful little being in your life, and help provide the best balance for him!
    Many blessings,
    Carrie

  7. Carrie,
    Thank you for your response. Please delete my post as you mentioned (I can even re-post it if you care to have it in there )….. I just do not wish to have my inner struggles — with my whole name– posted on the internet for anyone to peruse! I really appreciate your help:)

    Prayer and mediation are where I am going with this question. I like your suggestion of balance. I suppose that with time for prayer and just letting this be, we may find the right balance. This is my first experience of having my will and my child’s will at odds with each other. Perhaps this is a place that parents go all the time, so it is good that I might learn how to handle it now.
    I loved your idea of praying for and meditating on each child (I am going to try each member of my family) at night. So much to learn from that!
    PS… One of the reasons that I like to keep him home from preschool is that they spend most of their time there inside. When we are home we spend as much time as we can outside. So I know what you mean about being at home but being outside.

  8. Carrie,
    Thank you for deleting my post! I didn’t expect you to get to it that quickly, with your new little one. I hope you are all doing well and resting resting resting:)
    Molly

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  14. Hi Carrie,

    Another quick question. What about park/playground outings for your 2-5year old when other children of varying ages are present. Is this a good environment for the small or is the playground better for them at quiet times when no one else is around. We often go to the park and my 2 1/2 year old will ask me over and over “Where is my friend” and try to remember the name of the last little girl he played with (shadowed) at the park. He is very talkative and articulate for 2 1/2 and always seems to find 4-5 year old girls to follow around and talk with and do imaginary play with whenever we go to the park. Is this too much socialisation too early?

    Thanks, Meagan.

    • I’d love to hear a reply about this one too as I’m in a similar situation. My nearly three year old is always saying “I’m alone” or “I want a friend” and I’m wondering what to do… he is extremely social but it’s hard to pick and choose the situations I’d like him to experience. Any thoughts appreciated!

    • Chelsea,
      I gently ask you this though…at nearly three, they really are generally repeating what they hear and imitating more than having a statement like this spring from them organically. A nine year old will feel lonely, a six year old will be bored, but generally at three or nearly three they really don’t consider themselves separate from you yet…So I guess my answer to these things would be, “I’m here.” It could be these words get much attention. I say this gently and with love and warmly, it is just something to think about and not a judgment…Just a thought in regards to typical childhood development.
      Children are typically interested in other children, but I think if you go back under the book study posts for “hold On To Your Kids” on this blog, we have to ask ourselves what we gain by peer orientation and what we lose by not making the family the centerpiece. For an almost three year old, it honestly seems as if there was one little friend where you and the mother got along and could meet weekly at a park that would be plenty. Are you involved in a religious community? That is the other piece I encourage parents to think about for their children to have a sense of belonging and community, and again, not all centered around only their age. I would think that at almost three you could start tightening up your rhythm, your practical work at home, having a special story time if you feel inclined that way. Donna Simmons’ Kindergarten at home with your three to six year old (also reviewed on this blog) may be an excellent place to start. When a child is only nearly three and is a second, third, fourth child, I think we are happy to not have much to do with this child than live in accordance with our rhythms, but with that first child you are still creating the rhythm and family traditions. Now is an exciting time to think about what you really and truly want your family to be about!
      Many, many blessings, thank you for reading and God Bless,
      Carrie

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  16. Thanks so much Carrie, very helpful words. I cant remember where but I remember a book we read where the character wanted a friend to play with and he seemed very interested in this… maybe he is just imitating things he has heard elsewhere. I actually said “I’m here” about an hour ago and it worked! Thanks for that. I also have a four month old and we are working on our rhythm a bit more, so hopefully this will help too. Thanks again, I absolutely love your blog, it’s my new “go to” place! :-)

  17. I am trying to find the socializing post referred to on here, was it removed? I am intuiting this with my three year old. I have really cut the modern kid cord with him. No more electronics, we bike to places now, no more outings to big box stores, even no AC! We cook at home, he plays with one child once a week outside, we hike, feed fish, splash in a bucket. I was feeling guilty about his social life, but was having a miserable time getting him to leave the house. Now he’s playing imaginatively on his own, his mood more calm. I have to work on myself more, but things are changing…:)
    Love this blog!
    S

    • Sabrina,
      I noticed when I moved this blog, things within the posts that are in italics do not show up and each post I have had to go back through and unitalicize things…try reading this again, the original social experiences for the four year old is still there..if you can’t find it, comment back and I will search for you.
      Congralations on all the big changes you have made for the health of your child!
      Many blessings, thank you for reading,
      Carrie

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