Building the Family Literacy Circle’s Language & Play with Your “I AM FOUR !”

While we try to teach our children all about life, our children teach us what life is all about. ~ Angela Schwindt

WOW! Can you believe your baby is ALREADY 4 years old ?

And how DIFFERENT your child is from only a year ago ?

Way  too energetic, busy & imaginative to spend time with …..tantrums (most of the time….)?

Becoming a problem solver right before your very eyes?

Humorous? Very chatty, using LOTS of new words?

Wants to play WITH others?

I mean…. just the PHYSICAL accomplishments alone are HUGE:

  • runs, hops,  jumps & SKIPS (really worked hard on that one skill); leaps & balance are next…..
  • catches, throws & BOUNCES (whoa!) a ball; kicking & hitting on the horizon
  • pedals & steers a trike or lowrider; downhill racing….yikes!!!!
  • unzip, unsnap & unbutton clothing (yay?)
  • uses spoon, fork…….& knife (serrated butter) to feed, not propel, yet…….

SOOOOO, your (baby)child is performing these daily tasks solo with  A LOT of pride:

  • washing (with soap) & drying hands (on a towel….when reminded)
  • using utensils to eat (skillfully)
  • brushing teeth
  • combing hair
  • dressing in clothes ?!? (another whoa……)

Kindergarten is right around the corner (YIKES)…..

 Speaking of “Very Chatty”…..

Why & How ? MichaelMims
Why & How ? MichaelMims

Did you just hear your child say….”actually” and/or “as a matter of fact” ?!?!?

Here’s a fun & interesting activity ~ count how many times your four-year-old asks “WHY?” in a day, afternoon, hour….

I remember thinking to myself ~ after offering a reasonable, age-appropriate response to my little builder’s “why ?” ~ he is still asking “why”…. 

And “because I said so” never worked….

Oh, I did say, on several, well more than several occasions, “well, why do you think…..” and had my “mind blown” more than a few times as well !

“How?” questions are, also, favorites of the four-year-old inquiring & expanding mind.

Speaking of questions – asked & answered – you may want to find out which “wh-” questions your small inquisitor can understand & answer. for example, ask this series of related questions several hours after the fact:

  • What did you eat for snack?
  • Where did you eat your snack?
  • When did you eat your snack? ( a little more challenging because the concept of time is still developing)
  • How did you eat your snack?
  • Who did you eat your snack with ?
  • Why did you eat your snack ?

Building on what is known to acquire more answers is, in my opinion, what your “I AM FOUR!” child is exploring, discovering & constructing. Being able to verbalize so many thoughts & questions her/his brain has been working on for several years is especially gratifying. So, prepare to become the go-to Fountain of Knowledge for your preschooler.

These questioning marathons are wonderful opportunities as skill- builders:

  • responding in conversation-mode 
  • creating more complex sentences
  • sharing what is learned with others
  • critical thinking   (more on that later)
  • following sequential directions
  • storytelling- imagined & real
  • comprehending stories read/told
  • listening for important, relevant information
  • understanding new vocabulary

The Listening & Speaking Language of Literacy

Yes, right now, your four-year-old not only understands 3-4 THOUSAND words. s/he can, also, speak 1500 words…in complex sentences.

Don’t worry if you overhear your growing child “talking to her/himself”. S/he is just practicing conversation skills.

You may even hear him/her using a simpler sentence structure when speaking to younger children ! Amazing, huh ?!?

A word about enunciation – s, ch, sh, z, j, v, th, & zh are still difficult to produce and will probably continue to be for the next few years.

Is s/he creating words when a word needed for expressing a thought isn’t in his/her vocabulary? How wonderful is that?  Playing with words is a great building block for reading.  Keep those words in an “I AM FOUR!” dictionary.

Vocabulary Builders

There are many ways to help increase your child’s vocabulary:

  • Read aloud – often.
  • Use new, “big” words during daily conversations.
  • Make sure s/he understands the meanings of new words. Ask.
  • Add descriptive words to your stories & your child’s stories.
  • Create picture/word charts or word walls. review.
  • Use themes to grow vocabulary: Halloween, seasons, animals, foods, etc
  • Identify objects using color, number, same/different, size (big/little) 
  • Introduce quantity comparison words, like empty & full, more & less
  •  Teach positional & directional concept words

What Are Directional & Positional Concept Words ?

Both lists of these concept words answer where or  how objects & people are placed or arranged.

Directional & Positional concept words add dimension & more precise descriptors to your child’s  vocabulary. They, not only help define his/her world, but also, bring a greater understanding of order into it.

You can teach these vocabulary words everyday as part of your conversations with your child.

Building MsC
Building DirectionsMsC

Make it into a fun, interactive game using toys. Take turns putting the block in front of the bear and, then, behind the bear. Place the car near the ball and. then, far away from the ball.

Click on the link below to download & copy a list of these beginning concept words.

Beginning Directional & Positional Words

 If your child is struggling to learn these spatial concepts, here are a few teaching tips from Carrie Clark, a speech pathologist @ speechandlanguagekids.

  • Teach by demonstration & object, one pair of concept words at a time, ie up & down
  • Hand your child the object, telling him/her to hold it up in the air or down on the  floor
  • Ask a yes/no question while you demonstrate: Am I holding the (object) up in the air? Down on the floor?
  • Have your child tell you whether s/he is holding the (object) up in the air or down on the floor.

If the pair of concept words are too confusing, choose a different pair or just begin with one word of the pair.

Are You Following Directions ?

I cannot tell you how many 100s (uh-1000s) of times I asked this question as a classroom teacher ! OMG!!!!

Even when repeating the directions and, then, having students parrot back those same directions successfully, the follow – through lacked success….. Really- “Put your name on your paper.” Some of my FIFTH graders were not doing this, even with a prompt! GOOD GRIEF!!!

Perhaps some early childhood intervention will help prepare your pre-schooler for the onslaught of directions that will be part of the daily elementary school routine for every activity. AND from a  variety of teachers.

Developmentally, your four-year-old is not only understanding &  usually following 3 step directions, but also,  those directions do not have to be related.

Sidebar ~ when giving directions, try to say “please” & “thank you”. It is a good opportunity for modeling manners & showing appreciation. 

Does your child struggle with this skill? 

Click on the link below for access to The BLB Resource Library’s :

 Meeting the FOLLOWING DIRECTIONS Challenge

Let me know if the strategy works for you & yours !

Oh, and FYI, here’s the link to Carrie Clark’s great website for a ton of Speech & Language information, tips & games:

 Freedom to Play Promotes Brain Power

Play gives children a chance to practice what they are learning. For children, play is serious learning! ~ Fred Rogers

By the age of four, 85% of  your child’s core brain structure is formed. This core brain structure is the basis for future health and academic success. 

Play = Brain Power MiPham
Play = Brain Power MiPham

Studies continue to pour in regarding the critical role free play has in the growth and development of the brain, as well as physical   and social skills.

In 2007  the American Academy of Pediatrics reported that play stimulates brain growth in the areas of:

  • attention span
  • focus
  • visual tracking
  • hand-eye coordination

A research team at the University of Arkansas linked play to   increases in cognitive & thinking skills at infancy,  3 years of age & again at 4.5 years of age.

Various studies have linked higher learning skills  to playing with blocks.

Pretend play increases language & vocabulary skills in both speaking & understanding.

Play promotes, not only, the mental health of your child, but also, his/her physical health:

  • gross & fine motor control
  • strength
  • endurance

The social development of your child during play is HUGE! (more on play stages & types later) Play, not only, teaches your child how to play, but also, how to play with others. Cooperative play promotes:

  • creative thinking
  • problem solving
  • decision making
  • communication skills of listening, cooperating & negotiating

Free play isn’t just something children like to do ~ free play is something they NEED to do.

The Price of Free Play

In 2011, Dr. Peter Gray, a Boston University psychology professor, published an article in the American Journal Of Play regarding the importance of play. Gray and other play experts have noted the relationship between the decline of free playtime and the rise of depression, anxiety & suicides.

As the average amount of time spent in highly structured play, such as organized sports, play dates, enrichment classes, etc, rises, so do these mental health issues.

Passive leisure spent on screen time, such as television, video games. texting, etc, is, also, impacting the mental health of our youngsters’ growth & development in a negative way.

How to encourage Quality Play Time of “naturally brilliant toys” created a wonderful infographic with these simple, every-day tips you probably already include within your child’s play-scape.

Use everyday opportunities / schedules are not necessary

  • bathing time
  •  cooking a meal
  • setting the table
  • making home repairs
  • walking around the neighborhood
  • running errands
  • listening to music

Interactive Play

  • get on the floor
  • put together new puzzles
  • teach how to take turns during games
  • take an interest in your child’s games

Add “loose parts”  to encourage creativity during play

  •  make blankets, logs, ropes, buckets & boxes available
  • items that can be moves, changed, combined, manipulated

Go Outdoors

Water Play Frank-McKenna
Water Play Frank-McKenna
  • pitch a tent in the backyard
  • play & splash in the rain
  • plant a garden
  • make nature art
  • build a fort
  • collect rocks
  • watch wildlife
  •  go on a nature treasure hunt
  • blow bubbles

There’s Play & Then, There’s Play

Your preschooler is beginning to play WITH others more. S/he is learning the interactive lessons of give, take & cooperation ~ the Social stage of play.

Did you know within each of the stages of  play, there  are different types of play  ~ around 16 according to A Playworker’s Taxonomy of Play Types by B. Hughes? Your child has been engaged in a variety of play “types” since birth. With the help of the website, , I have listed 14 of them in alphabetical, NOT developmental order.

Check out this “Table of Play”.

Communicationusing words, suggestions & gesturesmime, charades, jokes, play acting, singing, whispering, pointing, poetry, ball games
Creativeusing self-expression & imagination to make & change things with an element of surprisedesign, explore, materials, tools, props, equipment, experiment
Deeptaking physical risks, developing survival skills & conquering fearclimb obstacles, lifting large objects, roller skating, gymnastics, lighting campfires
Exploratorymanipulating and/or moving objects for property, possibility & content informationhandling, throwing, banging, stacking, mouthing
Fantasyrearranging the world in an unlikely way ~ make-believetall as a skyscraper, tiny as an ant, go into outer-space, slay a dragon, climb Mt. Everest
Imaginativeignoring the rules of the physical worldbecome a tree, boat, animal, robot, alien, laser beam, teapot, hammer, spaceship
Locomotormoving in any or every physical directionchase, tag, hide & seek, tree climbing, hopping, skipping. turning around in circles
Masterycontrolling & using the materials of naturedigging holes, building a dam, constructing shelters, gathering food to eat
Objectusing hand-eye manipulation & movements on an objectpainting with brushes, coloring with crayons, drawing with chalk, pouring with a cup
Recapitulativeexploring family history & traditionsstories, folklore, culture, rituals, rhymes
Roleusing common, usual tools for interactionsweeping with a broom, talking on the phone, pushing the grocery cart, mixing the soup
Rough & Tumbleusing physical contact to discover flexibility & strengthtouching, tickling, wrestling, interactive exercising
Socio-Dramaticacting out real-life, personal experiencesbeing mommies & daddies, playing house, going shopping,
cooking meals, disciplining
Symbolicusing objects to represent other thingsa branch is a wand, a rock is a person, a string is a crown, a block is a cookie

See how busy your child has been synchronizing work with play ?!?

The Real Promise of Imagination

The imaginative child will become the imaginative man or woman most apt to create, to invent, and, therefore, to foster civilization. ~ L. Frank Baum

One of the most endearing experiences I had during my years as an educator in my Home Day School involved listening to children’s creative role-play.

Whether indoors or in nature, they were always entertaining each other with make-believe on the real life stage or a fantasy world.

The perceptions they revealed were enlightening as well as fascinating !

Rocks became feasts, sticks became magic wands, leaves became messages, and acorns became magic spells.

Blankets were capes, pillows were tunnels, tables were caves, and chairs were obstacle courses.

Nicola, a mother of 5 & creator of the site – craftykidsathome, shared her insights in the blog, “Benefits of Imaginative Play”. 

  • develops creativity, especially for problem solving
  • grows imagination, especially for story-telling
  • encourages language skills, especially for vocabulary
  • improves social skills, especially for cooperation
  • introduces career research, especially for “when I grow up..”
  • teaches life skills, especially for home chore contributions
  • explains real life scenarios, especially for current events

Unless, of course, your youngster is a total realist….then, this natural childhood playtime will needs to be “taught” and encouraged. its value is ENORMOUS!

A Play Plan

What “make-believe play behaviors” do you notice your 4 year-old child displaying?

Dr. Shen-Li Lee, author of Brainchild and creator of the parenting website @, shares some examples of “immature play” vs “mature play”:

Immature Play

  • repeats the same actions over & over
  • uses objects realistically NOT creatively
  • does not use toys or props in make-believe role-play
  • uses few words & dialogue to create play scenarios
  • interacts minimally with other children
  • cannot describe what will be played in advance
  • conflicts with others about props & roles
  • will play in scenarios for only 5-10 minutes

Mature Play

  • creates & acts out pretend scenarios
  • uses toys & props in symbolic ways to fit into the scenarios
  • uses a lot of language & includes imitative speech during role play
  • includes & interacts with others during role play
  • adds new ideas for multiple roles during the scenarios
  • discusses roles & actions before enacting scenarios
  • solves conflicts & invents props as problem solutions
  • can extend play scenarios for long periods of time, even days

There are several “schools of thought” regarding a preschool child’s growth and development through play:

Play Plans-Mufidpwt
Play Plans-Mufidpwt

Jean Piaget‘s theory states different stages of intelligence provide “self-initiated discovery” opportunities to develop independence and motivation. 

Lev Vygotsky‘s theory needs parent/teacher-guided social interactions to help the young child grow play from “immature to mature”.

Bizzy Lizzy‘s theory is a young, growing mind needs both: an engaging, stimulating environment to promote independent thought coupled with nurturing, interactive “teachers”.

If you want to assist your young builder with her/his play growth & development, check out ” Vygotsky’s Play Plan Guide for Parents & Teachers” in BLB’s Resource Library link below.

 Vygotsky’s Play Plan Guide for Parents & Teachers

Toys As Literacy & Pretend-Play Tools

“We all can dance,” he said, “if we find the music we love.”  ~       Giles Andreae Giraffes Can’t Dance

Does your “BIG” 4 year-old, who is trying to figure out the meaning of everything, want everything s/he sees on TV, in stores, at school, and, of course,  anything his/her friends have in their possession? See the relationship between the two? 

New studies show most preschoolers prefer to play with objects that will teach them the most. This spontaneous,  “active learning” of play gives them greater experiences about how those objects work. Alison Gopnik The Philosophical Baby 2009

Oompah’s infographic “Playtime!” includes a toy list for Highest Quality Playtime. These toys are open-ended, which means they encourage creativity & imagination. They, also,  offer  multiple opportunities for a variety of pretend play scenarios.

Here’s their list (with some additions)  of what kinds of toys & tools encourage what types of play:


  • books (see my Resource Library for some suggestions)
  • alphabet toys
  • strategy & board games (click on the link below for some ideas)


  • blocks, Duplos, Legos, Lincoln logs
  • nature tools: sticks, rocks, shells
  • puzzles
  • dexterity toys (shape sorters, lacing, stringing beads, nuts & bolts, stacking, latching & connecting)


  • balls (try an indoor bowling game)
  • trikes, low-riders & wagons
  • sand toys
  • trucks & cars


  • puppets, dolls, action figures, stuffed animals
  • costumes & dress-up
  • play kitchens, fire stations, school, stores, eateries, health clinics


  • art supplies: glue, crayons, paints, paper, scissors, colored chalk, play dough
  • musical instruments (click on the link below for DIY ideas)

Need a few  story “script” ideas ? 

BLB Shop has a collection of ready-to-use story scripts you can use while interacting with your child & her/his toys:

Toy~Telling Tales

Click on the link below to check it out.

 Pardon My Wordiness

 Dear Reader:

This  post began as a 5000 word “tome” (YIKES). So I thought dividing it into 2 separate blogs would be an easier-on-the-eyes thing to do for a more enjoyable read.

Part 2 of the “I AM FOUR!” post discusses how to promote  Reading & Writing skills with your Pre-Schooler. It, too, is filled with lots of resources , tools & tips.

See you there!

Bizzy Lizzy


Please share any accomplishments, questions, comments and/or concerns by filling out the Contact Me form below. You will NOT be subscribing to BizzyLizzyBiz. I look forward to hearing from you!

However if you wish to join the BLB Exclusive for additional  tips, ideas, updates & resources, please fill out the form below as a FREE Subscriber!