“Social Experiences” For A Four-Year-Old

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,


28 thoughts on ““Social Experiences” For A Four-Year-Old

  1. Hi Carrie,

    This post came in perfect timing! I was getting nervouse about starting to homeschool our littel guy after a year at a Waldorf preschool. He loved it there and had a best friend, I still feel terrible for removing him from there, but part of our decision to pull him from the preschool, was that starting this year he was required to attend three mornings, which in my opinion was too much time at school at this early age.
    I was trying desperately to find him playmates, that he could meet more than just once a week and at least for two hours, so he would not feel so isolated (maybe this is just me feeling guilty for pulling him out of the school), but now that I am reading your post I feel a bit more at ease with having him meet with friends only once a week for an hour or so.
    The funny thing is also that the Waldorf preschool teacher started to implement Non- violent communication with the little ones, which was also a bit of a thorn in my eyes, as I thought it was too young for that age group. All in all I am quite happy that we decided to start homeschooling.
    I am just not ready to let my little guy go away from home for that long of a period.

    • I completely agree with you that NVC, as much as I love it for teenagers, is too verbal and too awakening for children of this age. Interesting to me this is being used in the Waldorf Kindy, wow! Not what one would expect in a Waldorf school.

      Glad you found this blog, and glad you are homeschooling! Your little guy is doing to do great!

  2. I think you’re spot on! My four and a half year old is definitely among the socially interested, but I’ve found that limited time is key. I’ve always wondered a bit as to why the mainstream thought is that kids need social interaction at this age outside of the family – my conspiracy prone side tends to think it’s a result of control (or lack there of)…about the need to reduce the influence of families, etc.

  3. Thanks for this post, I was wondering what your opinion was on this topic. I took my now (almost)4yo to lots of outings and playgroups when he was younger, and have cut way back. He is very social, want to play with other children of any age or gender. Or even adults, he just seems to love being around others. He begs to go places, loves running errands, and I feel bad that we stay at home more. After discovering Waldorf and having a second child he only plays with others like 1x a week. He still begs to go places every day, but it has gotten easier to stay home most days. Setting a daily rhythm has worked wonders, but I think he wants more ritual in his day and I am the one struggling with it. Anyway, thanks for the post.

  4. Thank you for your encouraging words Carrie!
    I have been following your blog actually for quite some time now and I am getting a huge amount of great information from it and learn a lot!
    I am a Waldorf alumni but I do not know much about early childhood, nor about homeschooling, so your blog is a great source of information for me.
    Thank you for doing such a fantastic job with this blog!

  5. Thanks for all of your helpful posts, Carrie! I have an 3.5 year old and an 11 month old, and we are together full time. I do take them to a park/playground every afternoon where there are often the same kids that my older daughter plays with. I don’t take her there *for* socialization but just to get outside and play as we live in the city, and we have no yard, but she happens to socialize quite a bit if there are other kids her age at the playground. What do you think?

    If the playground is empty when we arrive she is very disappointed, but soon enough her baby sister will be able to run around with her.

  6. 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 read your blog religiously by the way, so I’m not trying to question you (in that way).

  7. HI Jane and Cheryl!
    Jane, I think the city is a different place when you have no yard….I would look though to see if you can find any “naturalized” places in addition to those areas with playground equipment…. I think many children are social, and if there are mixed ages that is great. The other thing is that many times the smaller children just stand around and watch the bigger kids, and that is okay as well…

    I am writing a post off your comment so look for it! And, I know your question was just a question, but even if it was complete disagreement that doesn’t bother me. Other points of view always stimulate thought and are a great thing! 🙂
    Many blessings to both of you!

  8. Pingback: More About “Social Experiences” For the Four-Year-Old « The Parenting Passageway

  9. Thanks for this post. This is interesting because I have to admit I feel a little self conscious sometimes about staying in so much. Some of my stay-at-home-mom friends are always meeting up with other friends for walks, park and play dates. We stay in a lot and never usually go on walks because my girls (2 and 4 mo.) do not like the stroller and I understand that they don’t want to be cooped up in there while I walk and talk with a friend (why do the other kids like this though?). After awhile one gets invited less and less and it’s a popularity thing. I have less mommy friends. I have other friends but not a lot of socialization during the week day. Honestly sometimes I don’t always like saying that we don’t have much going on. It’s easy to feel that we have to be all booked up to be important. We also have cut back on weekend activities this summer now that we have a newborn. I think it’s important to stay at home with the family, good rhythm and sleep. I feel so good about it but not so popular. How silly is this? It’s good to hear that others have similar feelings about our little ones and socialization/outings.

    PS – my 2 year old is always watching and it’s the other parents that think it should be different.

    • 2 is so very, very little. Many two years olds either want to be carried in a sling for walks, or they walk incredibly slow and look at everything. I would set a goal to get outside everyday, not necessarily for a “walk” where you cover a physical distance, but more of an exploration for a certain length of time. The outside time is so important for wee ones. There is a post on here regarding Fostering A Connection with Nature. The post on Nokken may also be of interest to you and how they structure their outside time for little ones. If you search the tag box and click on “children under 7” those posts should come up.

      I would also say look toward fostering your own adult network which will become more important as your children age…I don’t know if you can ever get an hour away on a weekend to talk to another mommy without interruption, but I do think that can be important to foster for some mothers.

  10. Just found your blog through the Simple Kids link — thanks so much for this post!

    Last year we sent our son (then four) to playschool, mostly so I could get a break from his intense personality. The teacher was very concerned because he was “not doing well socially”. She actually suggested that we should hold him back from Kindergarten because he was not socially ready for school. We were so concerned that we had him tested and talked this over with the local Early Childhood Intervention Team (speech therapist and psychologist plus an OT were involved). None of these professionals thought he should be held back.

    This year he is in Kindergarten. Now that he is five and a half, he is beginning to make friends and play with other kids just fine. He just wasn’t interested before.

    • Jill – I find that true of many, many boys – they simply are ready about five and a half or six.

  11. Carrie..this is off topic…BUT wondering if you have any thoughts on ‘treats’. My 3 and half year old contstantly expects to be bought something if we go to the shops. She totally expects it. Sometimes she is frantically running around the shop trying to find something to buy…most of the time she can’t find anything. She will have a complete meltdown if we don’t actually find something for her to buy. She often wants me to buy ‘baby’ stuff…dummies, formula, bottles (even though she still breastfeeds and has never had these things) or lipsticks/lip balms etc as treats…I can’t leave my kids and go shopping on my own, so she has to come.
    I love to buy her stuff, but would like it to be more of a reward….is she too young for this? How do I diffusive the situation when I say no.

  12. Just wanted to say that a year after posting your wisdom here, it’s still so valuable. I’ve read this post many times, and returned to it again today after (another) awful playgroup experience–my little tiny girl gets overwhelmed and turns aggressive in groups. she bites and it’s no fun for anyone. So why do I persist?

    You are a bit of a renegade, for sure, as so few people in our society go against the whole “kids need socialization” rap. And yet your words are so reassuring and supportive of what I’ve felt intuitively was right for my daughter–who’s only 2.5! Thank you for your voice of quiet reason. It will help me to make better choices in the future.

    • Kyce,
      Thank you for your kind words..I am a bit of a renegade, but I think we have lost so much of what a child needs in such a short period of time it is mind boggling. If you read books from the 40s, 50s and even the early 60s they often portrayed small children as the way they are — needing protection, limiting things, early mealtimes and bedtimes..I am not sure where we lost this in American society, I guess the late 60s and early 70s but I am on a quest to get it back for the sake of our children!
      Many blessings,

  13. I think being a stay at home mom to a 4 year old is the most difficult thing in the world! I run myself ragged taking him to the park/zoo/museum but what he really craves is social interaction. He’s in preschool 3 afternoons a week, I’m hoping this will be enough for him. It’s hard!

    • Liz, Please do keep reading on this blog…a four year old does like new, and some four year olds are social. But four is really not the height of getting along – for most four year olds anyway. In my very humble and take it only if you want to opinion, a four year needs practice in being content with rhythmic days and being home. They are only four. A year from now he will not remember museums or parks very well at all. A four year old is really very, very small. There are many posts on here regarding rhythm, homemaking, and about four year olds and the developmental changes from ages 4 through 9. Hopefully some of those will be a blessing to you.
      I am glad you found me, and I hope to see you as a regular reader….

      Many blessings,

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  16. I am enormously conflicted on this issue.

    My son is 3 in just over a week and I have a 7 week old. We are part of a homeschooling group – and meet up 3-4 times a week. And I feel it is too much, for my son and for me.

    But I also know it is not healthy for me to be at home alone for too many days at a time. And my son does enjoy getting out.

    I really struggle to keep a rhythm at home, and I think this is part of the problem – why home life becomes so stressful for me. But when I try to get a rhythm going – our homeschooling activities don’t fit in.

    So I find myself kind of hovering nowhere in particular. Wanting a strong homelife with a rhythm, but also wanting/needing more social support. And not really being able to combine these at the moment

    I also feel that the most legitimization I have for keeping my son home, is that we are part of a group. I don’t know how I could take that away, and still feel comfortable keeping my son at home…. yes, I have some thinking to do, and some decisions to make.

    • Inclusivemothering,
      I am sure you will make the right decision for your son and your family, but I honestly think that is an awful lot of outside the home time for an almost three year old. It is a lot even for a nine year old to have activities three times a week on top of school…
      Just a thought; takes what resonates with you of course! But if you do homeschool through the grades, you have to be home as the work in each grade ramps up, so it is not bad to get used to being home. If you need support, perhaps you could arrange some time with friends without your children?
      Many blessings, just thoughts,

  17. I appreciate your taking the time to respond. Thank you.
    I kind of feel that one of the activities in the week is GREAT (nature based outdoor activity – Waldorf inspired) and my son has a good relationship with the woman running the group. But I find myself obsessing about his social skills, and feeling uncertain being part of a group of mothers who do a LOT with their kids ito scheduled activities.

    I also feel a pressure to meet up with this group whenever they meet so that my son has ‘equal’ social opportunity. Crazy to see it in writing like that 😦

    I’ll be mulling this over some more.

    • Inclusivemothering,
      I think social skills are something I truly think about for the five and six year old. At six, I get very concerned when a child has no social outlets. But truly, three and four most likely need a whole lot less outside the home stimulation than our society seems to think.
      You will find the right answer within yourself.
      Many blessings and kind regards,

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  19. Carrie, You are amazing! I’m sure I’ve read this post in the past but here I am visiting it again and it SOOOOOOOO resonates with me! I’ve spent SO much time thinking my oldest is “different” but tonight I’m realizing, it’s really just the culture that is different now! I have recently been cutting back on time out of the house. I LOVE it, but it’s amazing how feelings of “being left out” or being different or just having a hard time saying no to people (who are all quite lovely, but we just don’t have time for more play dates!) crop up when you thought you had outgrown them. I love how someone in the comments called you a renegade because as each day passes on my journey with my children, I feel that I become more and more counter-culture. It’s a daily challenge but so worth it, I think! Anyways, thanks for being a renegade and giving me a place to turn. Your blog is my absolute NUMBER ONE resource as I “homeschool” my sweet littles!

  20. I’m wondering a bit if anything changes when your child is an only child and doesn’t/won’t have siblings to learn to interact with. My son is 2.5 years. He’s the watcher when there are other children around. He’s also highly imitative – wants to copy the 6 year old (with no accompanying parent) in climbing up the outside of the covered slide. I find our playground experiences are best when there are no other children present and saying that makes me feel weird or selfish even. It’s not that I want to keep him completely to myself (which on some level I do) but that I don’t see anything positive in his interactions with other children at this point – see copying the unsupervised 6 year old. Alone, my son runs and jumps and asks me to play with him, which I sometimes do and sometimes tell him I’ll just watch. Him wanting me to play with him so often (not just at playground, but home too) makes me wonder if getting together with other children is a good idea, but then I feel like a referee the whole time trying to curb the negative influences as the other children do things I don’t want him doing/learning yet. It doesn’t help that I am very introverted. I feel awkward standing around with other parents at the park observing the children play and also feel awkward trying to play with my son (while he stands and observes) while the other children are running around completely separate from their parents. I identify with “walks” being so slow as to go almost no where, but he doesn’t want to ride in a stroller for more than a few minutes at a time. We have playgrounds within walking distance but the closest real “natural” area is a 20 minute drive one way. Is driving out to the natural area for a couple hours one morning a week a good thing or should we be staying lots closer literally to home?

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