In just 4 short years, young children have already gained an incredible number of skills. From big milestones like learning to walk and talk, to developing their own social world and becoming increasingly independent, your 4-year-old already has an impressive range of physical, social and cognitive skills under their belt. As they start Reception, children have a new set of challenges ahead. Our Head of Pre-Prep, Anja Latimer, explains what to look out for and how to support your child through their first year at school.
Learning through play
At the age of 4, children learn best through play (and their mental health benefits, too) – so playing and exploring make up a big part of school life in Reception. Children thrive when they are given open-ended resources where there’s no right or wrong way to use them, such as cardboard boxes, pebbles and sticks. They also need lots of time to play and explore. At this stage it doesn’t matter too much what they produce – the process of play and exploration is more important than the outcome. So, for example, a typical 4-year-old might enjoy using paint, which develops motor skills and creativity. Parents and teachers shouldn’t worry about how much the painting resembles reality.
Adults can help children to hone their skills by modelling effort and practice, demonstrating that we can all learn from when things go wrong.
Active learning involves the child directly in the learning process. As a parent, you’ll recognise that 4-year-olds aren’t yet skilled at sitting and listening for long periods – they need to be active and try things out. Schools should provide new and unusual experiences and resources to engage Reception children, and give them time to become immersed in activities.
As a parent, it’s great to give children lots of praise, but try to make your praise specific. For example, you could praise effort, concentration, your child trying different approaches, perseverance, problem solving, or creative ideas.
Creating and thinking critically
Young children are creative by nature. In Reception, we encourage their creativity and help develop their critical thinking skills, by giving children lots of time to talk and think. The process of thinking is important in itself – so there’s no need to rush towards the right answer – instead, teachers listen to children’s ideas and value their questions. Open-ended thinking is encouraged by not settling on the first answer or idea.
Personal, social and emotional development
Four-year-olds starting Reception are beginning to develop social groups and friendships. It’s important to provide opportunities for children to widen their social interactions and to get to know everyone in their group – not just their special friends. One way to support this is to provide activities that involve turn-taking and sharing – something that 4-year-olds don’t always find easy!
In terms of their own personal development, children should want to succeed because it feels good for them – not for an external reward. So, while it’s sometimes tempting to offer a bribe to get a child to do a task, the best motivation is intrinsic – wanting to do something for the sheer satisfaction of achieving.
Communication and language
Just as it was when they were babies, good communication continues to be really important for 4-year-olds. At school we develop their communication, language and literacy skills by sharing rhymes, books and stories from many cultures.
This is also the stage at which children begin to read and write for themselves. We teach regular systematic synthetic phonics (looking at the link between letters and sounds), using a multisensory approach that combines listening, speaking, reading and tactile activities such as forming shapes in sand.
As a parent, you’ll know how much energy 4-year-olds have! At this age it’s important to provide time and space for energetic play every day. At school we provide open-ended resources like wooden building blocks, so children can spend time creating their own structures.
Head of Pre-Prep –Anja Latimer
Having worked in education for more than 25 years teaching in both London and Hertfordshire, Anja is well placed to offer insight into the subject of child development.
“I’ve been working at Aldwickbury for 5 number of years and it really is a fabulous environment for both boys and teachers alike. The Pre-Prep’s ethos of children learning through play and first hand experiences is fundamental to our practice. Our Reception classrooms and outdoor space is set up to facilitate and encourage the boys to explore and learn through doing. Our staff focus on developing the boys’ spoken language by engaging and interacting with them whilst they play, promoting vocabulary development and drawing on their natural curiosity of the world around them. This focus on pastoral care and social skills is embedded in all that we do in our Reception year, so that the boys are well established on their learning journey and the years of schooling ahead of them”.