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Having Fun

With Three- and Four-Year-olds

They're mischievious, temperamental, questioning, rebellious, amusing, all wrapped into one. Of all the ages and stages a child passes through, I think these two years are my personal favourites. Their minds are increasingly more inquisitive, and they can assimilate information and offer it back to you with their own particular brand of insight. And what insights! We often smile as they misuse a word, putting a whole different context on what they are saying, but they also make some wonderful observations about what's going on around them, and sometimes it is more a learning experience for the adult than the child. They have a joy at seeing the newness in things that we have become so accustomed to, that we take for granted because they are always there. Looking up at the sky one night, my then-4 year-old granddaughter commented on how beautiful it looked. Dark stormy grey clouds in stark contrast to the clear blue and the white marshmallow puffs, and behind all that, the sun setting. Since she was 2 we have talked about the sky as one of God's ways of showing us something beautiful. God painting beautiful pictures in the sky. This can be altered for those who do not believe in God, to their Supreme Being of choice, or Mother Nature. We often have conversations about things we see - we've watched bees buzzing in and out of flowers, and talked about gathering pollen and making honey, at the same time sympathizing with the bees for having to work so hard. We've fed the ducks, and noticed the differences between mummy and daddy ducks, and those of different ages, sang "ten little ducks went out one day" and talked about which duck swam the fastest, and which had the most ducklings. Walking to the park, we've picked leaves off bushes en-route, and compared the different hues of green, size, shape and texture.

My friends laugh at me, and say I turn everything into a learning experience. Guilty! And it's so much FUN! I love these times; I love letting little minds tick over madly and little mouths chatter with all that they are seeing and thinking. It's exciting for them, and fulfilling for me! They reason in a way that we don't. For instance - would you believe that fire sneezes? Well, when it catches hold, it goes "whoosh". What adult would have thought of something like that? Or, in the confusion of attempting to sort out family relationships, Angelica told her great-grandmother that she (my mother) was her other nanny, and that she (Angelica) was her granddaughter and she was GREAT! She knew the words "great-granddaughter" went together somehow, and worked it out that way for herself. It was rather apt in many ways.

We've built sand-castles on the beach, and waded in rock pools left by receding tides, gathered shells and then talked about their similarities and differences. We sing all sorts of songs as we travel by car, people look when we stop at traffic lights, but I'm not there to please them. I want my grandchildren to look back in later years and think - "we had a brilliant time with nanny when we were little". I want their childhood to be magical, full of happy moments, free and innocent. Children grow up so quickly these days and are so much more worldly wise; it's almost hard to be a child now, they are so much more sophisticated than we were at the same age.

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So, what kind of "structured" learning activities work well with this age group? Picture Lotto is an excellent one, encouraging observation and matching - both important pre-reading skills. There are also an array of sticker books available to suit all tastes - and the important thing here is that the children are practising hand/eye co-ordination when they fit the stickers into the blank areas, so it doesn't matter if they love Barbie and you hate the plasticity of the Barbie image, or Teletubbies, or Action Man. They'll have fun and yet they'll be learning a skill at the same time, even if the actual content of the sticker book is not to your liking.

Little girls also like cutting our "dollies" from folded paper, just like we did when we were much younger. Obviously, at this age, they'll need help - maybe with each step of the process, or maybe with the preparation. By using larger sheets of paper, and folds, you can draw the dolls in a bigger size, thus enabling little hands with safety scissors to do the actual cutting. They can then colour their dolls and draw in the features.

Carol Vorderman, of "Countdown" fame, has put her name to a series of maths workbooks which go from 3-5 yrs all the way up to high-school. There are 4 books in the set for each age group, and they are available separately or discounted as a complete set. For the little ones, it's more tracing dotted lines, recognising shapes etc. What is really nice about these workbooks is that they set children up to succeed, and each page has a space for the enclosed gold stars to be placed, on completion ...... and when the book is finished, there is a certificate which can be signed and presented to the child, to acknowledge the achievement. These are available from Dorling Kindersley and if you are in the U.K., please go to the DK website at

An activity which caused lots of laughs among children who I babysat, and my own grandchildren, was the "Ten in the bed" song, and we'd roll against each other on the bed, pretending to try to push each other out. Doesn't cost anything, doesn't need any special equipment, or particular talent, just time and a sense of fun. Also, the old party favourite "Statues", but allow for their age and ignore some of the wobbles! This age group loves to play "Simon Says" but if that's beyond your child's comprehension, just have them "pretend to be a ...." or "make yourself as small as you can", or other such ideas. You can adapt these for a single child also.

I am a big fan of "Kindermusik" but realise not everyone has access to a class locally, or maybe the money to pay for it. We helped my daughter pay for my granddaughter's class and it was money well spent. Teachers of "Kindermusik" usually advertise in the classifieds, or on local notice boards, and have undergone specific training and the classes themselves are a parent/child concept. So, what can you do if you are unable to let your child attend a class? Try to listen to all different sorts of music, and clap or march along to the pieces. Encourage children to "echo" a sequence of sounds. The idea is FUN, enjoy getting into it with your little ones. It has been said that music is a "whole brain" activity, and recent research is tending to back up previous studies claiming that children who are exposed to music early on (and I don't mean just the top forty on the radio!!!) are more easily able to grasp academic subjects later on.

Children also benefit from having their own 'chores' to do, small things, like putting their dirty clothes in the laundry basket, helping feed a pet, helping take trash out. These small things help them grow to realise that there are responsibilities that we have to do things - which is a big help once we become adults and are responsible for our own homes and working.

Children are a precious part of our lives, in a world that is increasingly harder to get employment in, without an education. 'Formal' education is not the only way for children to learn, and a love of learning (installed during the early years) can help a child grow and find their place in the world. Every experience is a learning experience. Children of this age can count groceries in the supermarket whilst 'helping'. Five potatoes, two tomatoes, two cans of peas. They can be taught to discriminate between small sizes and large sizes, or the difference in numbers and size, such as a 2 pack of toilet paper against an 8 pack. These all get stored into a childs mind and provide a basis for the more formal learning that comes along later.

I hope these ideas help you to fun-filled days with your children, whilst knowing you are providing them with a good foundation for all the learning that goes on throughout life.