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The Active Life of a Four-Year-Old

Learn which activities are great for your child and which ones are too hyper.

The Active Life of a Four-Year-Old


Don't start your four-year-old out on roller blades—yet. Buy your child a pair "starter skates." Most have three settings: locked (the wheels won't turn at all), forward (the wheels will only roll forward), and full (the wheels roll at will). Start with the easiest setting and only switch to the next level after your child has mastered and become comfortable with the previous one.

Your four-year-old is no doubt active and energetic. She probably enjoys physical games and activities that involve a fast and frenetic pace. She runs fast, jumps, hops, and climbs to nerve-shattering heights with abandon (nerve-shattering for you, not for her). Your child has developed a great deal of coordination by now. She can walk in a straight line on the "balance beam" (which we adults call the roadside curb). She can race down a flight of stairs, landing with just one foot per step rather than leading with one foot and then following with the other. She can alternate feet in jumping rope. She can carry an open cup of water or juice without spilling it (most of the time, anyway). She may even be able to master the difficult art of skipping—or to move up from a tricycle to a bicycle (with training wheels, of course).

You can help put this new coordination to increasingly sophisticated use. If your child hasn't yet learned how to swim, her new coordination makes four a great age to start. You also can teach her how to jump rope. Another challenging physical activity you might want to introduce this year is roller skating.

Dance classes also are great fun at age four-for boys as well as girls. Dance classes give your child the chance to practice and perfect a variety of physical skills (balance, movement, rhythm, and coordination) and also provide a terrific social opportunity. Other classes or activities that encourage both physical and social development include:

  • Gymnastics
  • Martial arts
  • Soccer
  • Horseback riding

If your child seems less coordinated than other children her age, offer some pointers. Show her how to climb a ladder safely or how to set her feet for the landing at the bottom of the slide. Teach her how to kick a soccer ball or throw a baseball or football. Consider enrolling her in one of the classes previously suggested. (Your town or city recreation department may sponsor preschool programs at low cost.) Activities like these will help her to put a variety of muscles to work, strengthen her muscles, and let her practice coordinating muscle movements.

Besides seeing improved coordination and balance as well as greater strength, speed, and overall agility, you will notice considerable refinement in your child's fine motor skills, too. Actions that mystified her less than a year ago will seem easy to your four-year-old—especially if you encourage her to practice these skills. At four, your child can probably button her own shirts and manage zippers (though she might need help getting started). She can pour cereal, milk, juice, and syrup if the containers aren't too heavy. She can cut skillfully and precisely with scissors and string beads no matter how small they are.

How Much Activity Is Too Much?

Almost all four-year-olds run around like crazy. They jump on beds and couches, throw themselves around like rag dolls, and literally bounce off the walls. They have an apparently endless supply of energy and exuberance. And they are very, very loud!

So just because your child can't sit still for more than a minute without jumping up and racing off somewhere (few four-year-olds can), don't jump to the conclusion that he must be hyperactive. In all likelihood, he's behaving perfectly normally for his age. Although rarely diagnosed before elementary school, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) is one of the fastest-growing diagnoses in American pediatrics today. But in the rush to label and treat genuine cases of ADHD among America's children, the disorder is now probably overdiagnosed.

Certainly, if you have genuine concerns about your child's "hyperactivity" and short attention span, you should consult your pediatrician. But unless your child finds himself unable to attend to any task, even one that he finds engaging, he almost definitely doesn't have ADHD. So before rushing to the doctor to see whether your preschooler has ADHD, first try to provide him with plenty of opportunities for active play (preferably outdoors): running, jumping, climbing, chasing, riding tricycles or pedal cars, circle games, tag, follow the leader, and general physical silliness.

Also try to orchestrate activities that involve shouting, screaming, and general loudness. Your preschooler may seem unusually fidgety only because he hasn't been given an outlet for all of his energy. Regular opportunities for physical release—shaking his sillies out-may make it easier for your child to enjoy quiet times, too. Who knows? You may even find some quiet time yourself.

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