I receive emails, facebook notes, and phone calls fairly regularly from friends, friends of friends, and some day friends asking questions about what I would do in certain parenting and homeschool situations. I always find these questions a little bit humbling because I don't believe I know all that much, although maybe I know enough to know how much I don't know and somehow that can be helpful to others?! I don't really know.
Even as I had been working on our own afternoon preschool plans, I was contacted to ask for ideas on helping navigate the day with a 4 year old. I always love it when I get these kinds of questions, because I could picture EXACTLY what this person was describing to me. I have been living with some of the same challenges for the last few months at my house. Yup! I'm dealing with it to! We are all in this together, to be sure. I have friends and family that I always go to when I am struggling and I am grateful for the opportunity to be able to share what I have learned with other moms. We have to stick together in this crazy world of parenting!
So what about those 4 year olds? Four year olds are often intensely interested in their world, but not always so interested in doing things on their own. They want independence but still need plenty of security. They have tons of ideas, but lack the plans to make those ideas happens. They like to be with people, but they might want those people to be following their lead and doing what they want.
That's the nice way to say it. The less nice way is that sometimes all of this means they follow us around, always asking for "help" or "play with me" even moments after you have finished their favorite game or made it through their ambitious pile of reading material. They can also be endearingly stubborn and, in the case of my darling daughter, extremely loud when I don't do it her way!
That being said, here are some of my thoughts on thriving during this stage.
First of all, rhythm is important. Four year olds are old enough to know that after lunch he or she has time with mom (or dad) for a certain activity. Since we started doing afternoon preschool time, Kylee has gotten much less clingy during the morning when I am working on school with the boys. I am not big on strict time tables, but a consistent rhythm or routine will provide some of that security that preschoolers continue to need.
Secondly, preschoolers are quite capable of learning some big concepts, but only when they are ready. Some days Kylee and I work on moveable alphabet or other Montessori activities and some days we don't. I have learned (with all of my kids) that following their lead and providing direction is a delicate balance when it comes to this style of learning. I often find that just when I am about to give up on an activity it will suddenly be picked up and dusted off. There are no set rules and no standards for preschool achievement. (This is a minority opinion in many places, but one that I am firmly convicted of.)
Be present. I find that just because I have taught my preschoolers how to clean something, for example, does not mean that they are ready to do a task independently. They enjoy the company of another person while they go about their work. One of my favorite basic Montessori parenting books is At Home with Montessori, as it gives so many practical ways of including young children in the life of the house in every room. It is only the last year or two that I have found my older two boys playing on their own in another room with any regularity. They simply prefer the security of company. At our house we have a few toys in a small alcove/hallway area between Tim's office and the laundry room. We keep little stashes of books everywhere, even in our bedroom. Being close isn't always enough, but combined with the confidence of knowing time with Mom or Dad is coming it can have a positive impact.
Finally, don't assume that your preschooler will only enjoy your quality time if it is spent in their pursuits. Little kids generally want to grow up to be like their parents and are interested in adult work. This is core to the whole of Montessori. They might not be willing or able to "do the dishes", but sorting silverware while you put the plates away or rinsing dishes on a stool while you load has a certain appeal to most children in this age range. Just don't assume that your work will take less time with their help... think of it as planting seeds of cheerful work for when they are old enough to take on more responsibility!
Although you will certainly hear me talk about it here and in other places, I don't spend much time dwelling on what my preschoolers can and cannot do academically. I enjoy celebrating their milestones and new achievements, but mostly I want my preschoolers to get the chance to keep being little while they start to figure out what it means to be big. As Kylee is fond of pointing out, she is a both one of the littles and one of the bigs in our family!
With a little planning and a little patience, big little people can be a lot of fun to hang out with.