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If children start school with a strong set of attitudes and skills that help them ‘learn how to learn’, they’ll be better able to take advantage of their educational opportunities. Some learning skills come naturally, but others can be developed with your help.

What to expect

When it comes to learning, four-year-olds are developing greater self-control and ingenuity. Their pretend play is more complex and imaginative and can be sustained for longer periods. They can also make plans and complete tasks.

Four-year-olds want to try new experiences. They also want to be more self-reliant and seek to expand the areas of their lives where they can be independent decision-makers.

Initiative, engagement and persistence

At four, your child will be improving his decision-making skills. For example, he might announce, ‘Today I’m going to work on my Lego’.

Your child now has an increased ability to focus attention, and can ignore more distractions and interruptions. For example, at preschool, she might focus on a drawing even when other children are playing loudly nearby. She might even say, ‘I’ll play later – I want to finish this’. This means she’ll be increasingly able to complete tasks, even those that are longer-term and less concrete (for example, keeping track of the days until her next birthday on a calendar).

Your child will have a growing ability to set goals and follow a plan. For example, he might say, ‘I’m going to pick up all these branches’. And then he’ll work until it’s done.

She’ll make more and more independent choices and show self-reliance. She might choose her own clothes and dress herself.

    Curiosity and eagerness to learn

    Your child might ask to take part in new experiences he’s seen or has heard others talking about. For example, he might say, ‘Jack plays soccer. Can I?’ He’ll ask questions about future events, as well as about the here and now. For example, ‘When will we go to Sarah’s house again?’

    She’ll start to show more enthusiasm for learning letters, shapes and numbers. While looking at a book, she might point to a word that contains the letter ‘S’ and say, ‘S! That’s in my name! What’s that word?’

      Reasoning and problem-solving

      As your child grows, he’ll become more flexible and able to draw on varied resources to solve problems. For example, he might try to build a large structure with blocks, but the building might keep falling down. After several failed attempts, he might try making a larger base or look at how other children have made their buildings work.

      Your child will seek help from both adults and peers, and has a greater understanding of the kind of help that might be needed. For example, ‘Can you hold this end of the string so I can tie this?’

      She’ll develop her ability to understand abstract concepts, especially when thinking is supported by physical interaction with materials. For example, she can systematically pour sand into measuring cups, then look at and comment on the amounts.

        Invention and imagination

        At this age, your child will engage in complex pretend play. For example, he’ll create long scenarios with other children, perhaps taking a pretend trip to many stops. He might expand the roles acted out in pretend play, and will be less dependent on realistic props.

        He’ll offer creative, unusual ideas about how to do a task, how to make something, or how to get from one place to another. For example, ‘I've got a great idea! Let’s walk backwards to the kitchen!’
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          • Last Updated 17-03-2011
          • Last Reviewed 19-03-2012
          • Unicef, Early Learning and Development Standards for Children from 0-6 Years. (2009).

            © 2002-2006 Public Broadcasting Service.  Reprinted from with permission of the Public Broadcasting Service.