Ages and stages: age four

Lucy, age four | SimpleKids.netAmelia, my youngest child, is going to turn four at the end of this week and it has me nostalgic for the last time we had a four year old in the house. Please enjoy this post from 2012, when Lucy was four years old.

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There’s a magical little creature who lives at our house.  She’s very shy around strangers, but around her family she lights up the room and is sometimes the noisiest child in this large family of ours.

She makes up stories and plays games.  She has a vivid imagination.  She loves horses and the color purple and baby dolls. She makes entire farms out of paper plates and magic markers. She dances and sings yet also likes to sit quietly with a stack of picture books.  She wears twirly dresses and silky capes and also Batman pajamas and a pirate’s eye patch.

This magical creature’s name is Lucy and she’s my four year old daughter.

“Four is, indeed, highly versatile.  What can he not do?  He can be quiet or noisy, calm or assertive, cozy or imperious, suggestible or independent, social, athletic, artistic, literal, fanciful, cooperative, indifferent, inquisitive, forthright, humorous, dogmatic.  He is many people in one.”  – Your Four Year Old: Wild and Wonderful by Louise Bates Ames, PhD.

the four year old |

My four and a half year old’s four current favorite things

1. Being the “little mommy”

If she has seen me do it, Lucy copies it.  I have a little mimic and we jokingly call her “little mama Lu.”  Little mama pretends by reading books to her babies and by rocking, comforting, feeding, and caring for them.  She makes grocery lists and cooks for them and takes them to the living room “library.”

thoughts on four year olds |

Her mothering extends past her babies to include her siblings, too.  She’s capable of being very gentle and patient (especially for a four year old) with her toddler sister.  She’s usually at my elbow when I pack the diaper bag, watching what I include and reminding me if I forget anything Amelia might need.

Recently my eleven year old reported that she woke up in the middle of the night to Lucy pulling up her blanket.  When asked about it the next day, Lucy said, “I didn’t want her to be cold and she had no blankets.  She might get a shiver.”

Which is not to say that she’s not sometimes stubborn or cross or that she doesn’t have days when she absolutely refuses to share anything and stomps and shouts.  While she can be very sweet and caring, the pendulum can also swing the other way.  But, thankfully, not quite as often or rapidly as at age three.

Lucy either LOVES something or she flat out HATES it.  There isn’t a lot of middle ground and compromises are hard won.

And, while her mimicry is adorable when she’s at my side, copy-catting her older sister isn’t so appreciated.  From a parenting standpoint, it can be tricky to navigate the needs of the eleven year old for privacy and personal space when the four year old wants to constantly be at her side, fascinated by all that her big sister says and does.

And, it didn’t take Lucy long at all to figure out that if she wants to annoy her older sister all she has to do is copy everything she says.  (It also didn’t take Jillian very long to figure out to be silent and smile, thankfully.)

2. Cooking and baking

Whenever Christopher or  I are in the kitchen, no matter the time of day or the meal, you can bet that Lucy is not far away.  She’s very curious about cooking and food.  She seems to be particularly interested in some of the ways we use food in social situations, too.  More than once she has brought a smile to the lips of a visitor to our house by asking them if they want something to drink or eat and Lucy is always the first one to remind me that we need cocoa after every trip outside.

She does a lot of imitation and pretend play with her toy dishes and play food, but she really loves any chance to cook “for real.”  From cracking eggs, to stirring, to adding ingredients, to tearing up lettuce and chopping up veggies with her safety knife, she is actually making a real contribution in the kitchen.  The learning tower is a good aid in this and lets her get right up to the counter alongside us.

She enjoys any opportunity for using the real kitchen tools – the rolling pin and pizza wheel are her favorites (the latter with close adult supervision, of course).

She helps put away the groceries and has learned the names of many fruits and vegetables this way.  Helping to put things away means that she knows where they are when it is time to use them as we prepare food, too.

Foods Lucy likes to help make:

  • cinnamon rolls
  • pizza
  • salads (lots of chopping, cutting, and tearing)
  • cookies
  • smoothies

Lucy and her snowcone |

3. Being read to

There are some advantages to being one of the younger children in a large family:  there is always someone to read to you, being one of them.

Lucy will bring us stacks of carefully chosen books and sit and read with us.  More and more I’m also noticing that she will sit and recite the stories she has memorized and “read” to herself, too.  Books and stories often become a jumping off point for pretend play.

She has an affinity for chain or circular stories where she can predict what happens next.

Lucy’s current favorite books:

thoughts on four year olds |

4. Painting and crafting

Within the past two months or so it is as if someone has flipped a switch and Lucy’s creative drive is “on.”  If it involves painting, cutting, glue, glitter, stickers, or pom poms this child is interested and eager to dive in!

Lucy likes to make crafts with a purpose and will usually tell me about its purpose as she’s crafting and then narrate a possible scenario for it’s use.  Recently she made a “centerpiece for the table” from craft sticks glued to a paper plate in a careful and very purposeful manner.  It might look random to an outside observer, but Lucy was serious about the placement of each stick.

Or sometimes she will draw or paint a picture “for the wall” or be cutting felt and declare it “for a doll blanket.”  She’s very keen on her projects having a purpose.  And we, of course, are happy to oblige.

Other things Lucy loves at age four:   playing outside (especially if we have snow!), knock knock jokes, taking walks, getting the mail, Wednesday mornings when the garbage trucks come, visiting the library, going grocery shopping with Daddy, going to the recycling center, eating cinnamon toast, and taking baths with lots of bubbles (as long as she doesn’t have to wash her hair).

“The typical Four-year-old is gloriously humorous.  From a loud guffaw to a subtle, sly wink, he runs the gamut of humorous expression.”Your Four Year Old:  Wild and Wonderful

There’s not much better than a smiling, happy four year old – wouldn’t you agree?

Does a four year old live at your house? What are they interested in these days? What are some of the challenges of this age? Some of the joys?

About Kara

Kara Fleck is the editor of Simple Kids. She is a small town mama, writer, knitter, bookworm, and hooligan. Kara lives in Indiana with her husband Christopher and their four children Jillian, Max, Lucy, and Amelia. You can find more of her writing at

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  1. I would say that my 4 1/2 year old loves all of the things you were talking about! She is also my oldest, and I can see the same tendencies in her that I had when I was younger (I was also the oldest). She especially loves helping me in the kitchen. We try to make mostly from scratch foods, so there is always a lot to do, and having her available to “help” is fun. She made our cranberry jelly this year for Thanksgiving and was proud to describe the process to everyone step by step. It is a fun age!
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  2. We are just entering the 3’s with our first daughter, and I could REALLY use any links you might have to parenting that age! I know that her behavior is normal, but trying to explain to my husband that she is not able to/going to act like a miniature adult is getting frustrating. (He seems to think I baby her because I don’t expect her to have the same degree of emotional regulation/patience of an adult). He seems to respond better to articles I leave for him rather than my lectures LOL.

    • Yes please! My little one turns 3 in April!

    • Age three can be hard, at least it has been for our family. Three is such an emotional year. You’re right that a three year old isn’t a mini adult. Having reasonable expectations of our kids is how we can set them (and ourselves) up for success, but some turmoil is part of the age.

      A blog for the preschool age that I love is Not Just Cute. Amanda contributes here at Simple Kids and she has a lot of insight into this age group. Find her at

      I also really like the Bates books that are age by age. They are a bit older, so there’s a little of a “hippie” vibe to them 😉 which doesn’t bother me at all, but might put some people off. They really help me get a handle on the development of each age and stage.

      I think it is important to remember, too that things change at this age very rapidly. There’s a big difference between a three year old, a three and a half year old, and a three year old getting ready to turn four. In six months things might look very different from today, and even in two or three months there are shifts as they develop emotionally and master new social skills. But, three is still really very little, so normal toddler behavior, as wild as it can be, is to be expected.

      Hang in there! :-)

  3. My son loves to help me bake. He always gets so excited to put his little apron on. Today we are going to finger paint. He likes to make lots of hand prints. Its so much fun!
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  4. I’ve got one of these cuties, and mine loves playing doctor. We also do lots of making maps, usually with paints or markers, and then using the maps to wander all over the house in search of “treasure.” The other thing she does with my 2 year old is put on shows. We have a red curtain and they take turns turning on some music and dancing for us, bowing to applause at the end.

  5. My kiddo is still three but loves much of what your daughter does. Her grandparents got her several of the If you give a… books for Christmas and she loves them!
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  6. My daughter just turned three and yet I see a lot of similarities and what she will grow into over this next year. I loved this sweet insight into a four year old’s life.
    And it helps me see that my daughter is after all, quite normal. Mama doubts are strong sometimes.
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    • There can be strong, can’t they? Here’s to ignoring those mama doubts and believing in our parenting! :-)

      I have the benefit of having walked this road/lived through this age a few times before with my older kids, but every child is so unique.

  7. My four-year-old boy is very into building structures with Legos. He also loves to play with superhero figures, but that’s fading a bit in favor of building (and I’m happy about that! I can only trap superheroes in a big “octopus” ball of yarn so many times). He also plays games on the iPad and watch the occasional movie, leading me to stress about his screen time. He loves his gymnastics class, wrestling with his daddy, and drawing “machines.” One of his favorite things to do is lie down on a big sheet of paper while I draw an outline of him, and then he fills it in and makes it a monster! Then we have to hang it on the wall, of course, so my entrance hallway is covered with big monster drawings. Oh, and he loves for me to read Magic Treehouse books to him.

  8. Thanks for this post! My middle child just turned four today and I’m looking forward to all the fun things he’ll have up his sleeve in the coming year!

  9. Thanks for this post! My daughter is 3.5 and her baby brother arrives just before her fourth birthday. This gives me hope that my daughter will perhaps be playing a little more independently by then :)

    • She will be, Annie, or at least more independently than now – and with a slightly better ability to be patient and a little more reasonable (not a huge amount, but enough that it will help a bit). Every six months or so seems to be a big leap in growth and development.

      Best wishes! :-)

  10. I have a 4.5 y.o. boy and I am really enjoying him right now! I think part of it is because he’s such a contrast to his 3 y.o. brother!!!! My big boy loves to build with Legos or a new toy he got at Christmas called Magformers (they stick together with magnets), and he has just recently gotten into drawing and writing; two weeks ago he brought home the first drawing that my husband and I could recognize as “something” (rather than scribbles) and we were beside ourselves with giddy laughter! It’s so much fun to see his mind growing and stretching and learning and expressing!

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