7 Fun Games and Activities for 4-Year-Olds
So much changes during early childhood that it can be dizzying for parents to keep up with what activities make sense at each stage. Cognitive and motor skills develop rapidly among 4-year-olds. Their focus also improves, especially when they’re engaged in tasks that interest them. Children also develop stronger problem-solving skills to puzzle through more challenging games.
These are all skills that kids will later use at school and with their friends, notes childhood development specialist Dr. Judy Sloop. She recommends that parents and caregivers support early learning by focusing on games that “help children work on sensorimotor coordination, interaction with other children, creative thinking, and following directions.”
To get started, here are seven games and activities that you can try with your 4-year-old:
- Build an Obstacle Course
An obstacle course is a great way to stimulate physical and mental coordination. For example, Dr. Sloop says you can create a course where children climb under a table, hop on one foot, roll on the floor while holding a ball overhead, and toss soft balls or bean bags into a container.
To add complexity, Dr. Sloop suggests instructing children to follow a sequence of steps to get through the course. This way, kids develop skills in listening and following directions.
- Hide-and-Seek Stuffed Animals
A fun twist on an old favorite is a hide-and-seek game using stuffed animals.
First, collect a bunch of your child's favorite stuffed animals and count how many you have before you start. Then have everyone close their eyes while one person hides all of the stuffed animals. Once hidden, have everyone start searching for the stuffed animals until all are found.
Education specialist Cara Day says that this game is “how I taught my children to count when they were little,” because it doesn’t end until the total number of animals are returned. Day adds that she “used beanie babies of every animal type -- from a peacock to a bull -- so I taught them about all different kinds of animals.”
- Make Your Own Play-Doh
Making your own Play-Doh is a great hands-on activity. You can find the complete recipe here.
Once you’ve made the putty and let it cool, Dr. Sloop let children explore their imagination. “Children can use the Play-Doh to roll out long snakes and then form them into shapes, letters and other designs.”
Working with the dough and using plastic scissors to cut pieces into new shapes helps with dexterity and develops fine motor skills, she adds.
- Build a Castle
Constructing a castle out of empty paper boxes is a neat way for kids to design a towering structure of their own.
Here, help your 4-year-old stack paper boxes in any shape or size that they like and stabilize the boxes with masking tape. This works both indoors and out, so long as the ground isn’t wet. Then, children can use chalk or markers to decorate the walls.
Parenting expert and pediatric specialist Jennifer Chung recommends the castle because it lets kids express their creativity. “Children love drawing bricks, windows and entryways,” she says, “or adding flowers and grass to the bottom of the walls.”
- Arts and Crafts
Arts and crafts are another great staple for 4-year-olds. Finger painting, collages, paper-mache, or crayon and marker drawings are all good options.
Chang advises that you should always keep construction paper, glue, pom-poms, stickers, crayons, markers and scissors on hand.
Dr. Sloop adds that “using an easel is especially good at this age, as children develop wrist and arm muscles for the writing skills that will later help in the school setting.”
- Fantasy Play
Dress-up and performance encourages creativity and storytelling. Kids have stronger language and narrative skills by age four to develop a plot line or act out a role.
“Children enjoy pretending to be someone else,” says Dr. Sloop, whether they’re putting on a show or playing scientist or doctor. Supporting kids to role play helps socio-emotional and language development.
- Don’t Forget Classic Games
Remember that classics stand the test of time because children love them and they promote early learning. Games like Candyland, Chutes and Ladders and Guess Who foster hand-eye coordination and teach children how to listen to directions and follow rules.
Dr. Sloop’s favorite part of these games is that “children often don’t realize that they are learning. They’re just having fun.”
The list of great games and activities extends well past our seven here. We’d love to hear some of your favorites for 4-year-olds too. Please add yours to the comments below!
Tiffany Smith is the director of content and publicity at William Woods University. She has written for All You, Time for Kids and the Boston Globe. And, as a former babysitter, she knows a lot about fun games to play with kids. Getting them to eat their veggies -- that’s a different story! Follow her on Twitter at @tiffanyiswrite.