(Carrie’s note: Links to some other posts about the four-year-old: https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/06/03/more-about-the-four-year-old/ and https://theparentingpassageway.com/2009/02/04/fantastic-four-year-old/ . There are many, many more posts regarding the four-year-old in the tags under “the four year old” or “Children Under 7” and “Waldorf Kindergarten.” There is also a post regarding weaning children over the age of 4. Hope that helps!)
We have recently looked at the traditional developmental view of a four-year-old. Edmond Schoorel sums up a Waldorf Education view of the Early Years nicely in his introduction to “The First Seven Years: Physiology of Childhood” by writing this:
“The child’s first seven years stand out because of the child’s vitality and potential for growth during this time. Everything children learn and develop during these seven years is transient. Children need to think, but only to develop a capacity and not because they need to apply it. They learn to walk but only for pleasure and not because they need to go where life takes them. Children learn to play, but only for the fun of it, so that later they may be able to play the challenges of life. It is characteristic of the first seven years that they are germinal and that they are very precious. This unique quality may get lost when parents, educators, and other caregivers think that young children have to learn because they need the content of this knowledge later in life.”
So how do I live peacefully with a four-year-old?
The four-year-old should be living in their physical body. This would include for a four-year-old copious amounts of time outside, and many sensory types of activities – games that involve crawling, rolling. Experiences such as kneading, grinding wheat, play with different textures, jumping, climbing up and down stairs. Schoorel mentions if you ask a child of this age to do something consciously, they will become clumsy and awkward. Make your games of movement with practical work or couched in fantasy.
-The idea that a four-year-old needs to be moving really ties in well to the view of the “out of bounds” four-year-old held in traditional development. A four-year-old who is out of bounds verbally and physically needs to get their energy out everyday. If you are having significant trouble with your four-year-old, check out your rhythm and how much activity it includes first.
-A four and a half year old may be starting to play “let’s pretend”. Encourage this in your home through the use of costumes, dolls, puppets and other props. Think about how to arrange your child’s toys into inviting scenarios they will want to play with. There are several posts on this blog regarding fostering creative play (see the tags section; you can click on any subject over there and all the posts written with that tag will come up) that have more ideas regarding this important subject.
-While play is the work of the small child, please do let your child participate in your work at this age. Find the ways that they can help you; most four-year-olds love to help wash or polish things, to try to sweep the floor or the patio, to put away silverware or other small tasks.
– Your four-year-old may enjoy simple fingerplays and verses at this time revolving around the seasonal changes. Your local library most likely has a wonderful collection of these fingerplays. Lighting a candle and having a few fingerplays, songs and even a short story may be a new thing to add to your daily rhythm with a four-year-old. There are suggestions for stories under the fairy tale tag on this blog.
-Many four-year-olds will start to like the very simple fairy tales. If you feel your child is not ready for some of the more simple fairy tales (for suggestions, please hit fairy tales or oral storytelling in the tag section of this blog for posts on these subjects), try simple nature stories that you make up, gardening stories, sweet seasonal stories by Suzanne Down (www.junipertreepuppets.com).
As far as gentle discipline for the four-year-old:
-I know I sound like a broken record to so many of you, but start with yourself and the tone you are setting in your home. Are you requiring “right action” not through punishment, but just by holding the space?
-Are you talking too much, explaining too much, and giving too many choices? Gentle discipline books often say small choices for small people, but many four-year-olds are rather overwhelmed and overburdened by having to make any choices hardly at all. They would rather that you lay out the clothes they would wear, they would rather you sing a song and take them to the bathroom instead of you asking, “Do you need to go potty?”, they would rather have a simple breakfast of your choosing. Making less decisions frees them up to play!
-Have you checked and double checked the amount of time you are spending outside and your rhythm? Does your rhythm include times of out-breath (active) and times of in-breath (inward)?
-Steiner felt that only starting in the fifth year would the child start to have some inkling of right or wrong. So check yourself, are you expecting way too much out of your four-year-old? I think it was Donna Simmons of Christopherus Homeschool Resources (www.christopherushomeschool.org) who always said the age of four is a good age for sitting on laps! They are still small!!
-Set your limits in a loving way and follow through. If your child is doing something to harm himself, harm others, or harm your property, he must be re-directed. Also try Barbara Patterson’s “magic word” from her book “Beyond the Rainbow Bridge: Nurturing Our Children From birth to seven”, written with Pamela Bradley. The word is MAY. She gives the example, “You may hang up your coat here.” Clear, direct, polite.
-Be calm, think peaceful energy. Do not ignore the negative behavior until it just pushes you right over the edge!
-Barbara Patterson talks about how the cure for violent play is REAL WORK. Repetitive work. I think this also goes back to outside time : what can the children do in a repetitive manner outside? Can they roll down a hill over and over? Can they dig holes? Can they drag wood around? Fill a cart with something heavy and let them push and pull it around. Can they do water play outside? Can pouring be a soothing activity? Can they take a hand sifter and sift something over and over? Flour is not that expensive! Can you fill something up with rice and beans and pasta shapes and pour it? Can they grind chalk into “sugar”? Can the children take water and a paintbrush and paint the house, the fence, the sidewalk?
Four can be a delightful age if you are prepared and thinking about ways to channel a four- year -old’s energy and expansiveness. Hopefully this quick view of traditional and anthroposophical development has been helpful to you as you plan the best ways to meet your four-year-old’s needs.
Yours till next time,
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all I can say is thank you. We have been having a very difficult time with E, and violent behavior toward me…we have recently put her into a mainstream preschool (becuase no suitable waldorfy options exist) and I can see form this post how best to help balance that situation.
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Carrie I have just recently discovered your blog and am devouring it. So much wisdom here! So much that resonates with me! I have a four-year-old and I feel so incredibly validated for many of the choices we have made – without even having the helpful framework of Waldorf, which I really just discovered a few weeks ago. I also see areas I can definitely improve on, particularly when it comes to what I can reasonably expect from my four-year-old. I can see especially that we need to be getting outside more. That really clicked for me. Thank you for this post and so many others!