At ages four and five, children are at a pivotal time of development (think about your own memories from this period). During this time, children are balancing their new feelings of independence with their growing interest in friendships. While they’re feeling more self-assured as an individual, they’re also more aware of groups, communities, inclusion and exclusion. The concept of comparison becomes a stronger idea. Four- and five-year-olds are also on the brink of all their academic learning (reading, writing, math), and academic pressures, whether their own or others’, can begin here. Ahead, our favorite types of toys and play activities for helping four-and five-year-olds navigate their social and academic transitions through joyful play.
Blocks: Never Stop Building!
Now that they’re through their toddler years, four- and five-year-olds will use blocks as both a construction material and catalyst for dramatic play. They’re still eager to explore basic block principles, such as stacking and patterning, but are also ready to build more complex structures and explore advanced building concepts, such as mathematics, design and physics. As children learn to create a plan for their structure, then execute that plan, they hone their problem-solving abilities, perseverance and personal vision.
Blocks can also be used as a supportive tool for helping a child learn social awareness. At this age, their social world is expanding, and children are especially interested in the ideas of friendship, community and the concept of “membership.” Building a structure together gives a group of children a chance to collaborate with their peers and practice a well-rounded set of social skills. Cooperation, communication and negotiation all arise organically as little ones learn how to navigate, for example, two different visions for a tower.
And what about their structures?! From houses, to skyscrapers, to airplanes, their creations are all great springboards for literacy and writing opportunities. Introduce new vocabulary, write a story about the structure (Who lives there? What happens there?), ask them to describe their process and share what you notice.
Dress-Up: Understanding Feelings and Roles
A primary task for four- and five-year-olds is developing their large motor skills, which happens rapidly. At this age, kids need to move. They love to run, jump, climb and dance, all of which help them to develop mastery over their body. Dress-up play offers a fun physical outlet. When a child puts on a costume, they have permission to completely embody their character—and that means mimicking its movement. Watch as they put on a unicorn costume, then gallop or move like the unicorn they envision. With the freedom of an alligator costume, they’re invited to get down on the floor and slowly crawl or snap their teeth.
Dress-up is also a valuable way to help children explore and understand new emotions that arise from new social experiences, such as sharing materials, meeting new peers and overcoming verbal conflict. Becoming a character gives children a safe, controlled space to explore and process feelings. Dressing up as a superhero, for example, allows children to consciously and subconsciously work through concepts of power, strength, authority and right vs. wrong. By transforming into a character children feel empowered to explore emotions that would otherwise be intimidating.
Transportation Toys: Real World Fun!
By nature, four- and five-year-olds are keen investigators. They are rapidly taking in information and making sense of the real world around them. The types of transportation children see everyday—buses, cars, trains, planes, bulldozers—are a real-life wonder that creates endless intrigue. The seed of their excitement is a desire to understand how things in the real world work. They’re eager to explore cause and effect, construction and functionality. For generations of play, transportation toys will continue to stir young imaginations because they evoke a sense of movement and possibility.
Dramatic Play Toys: Work Out Your Imagination
With their feet firmly in the world of imaginary play, four- and five-year-olds are ready to turn any open-ended material into a play prop—a block becomes a taxi, an acorn is a home for a ladybug. Toys that promote rich dramatic play, character play and storytelling, such as our Fairy House Kit and open-ended manipulatives, encourage the development of language and literacy skills and role-playing, or being able to take on another person’s perspective.
With peers, dramatic play requires collaboration that enhance a child’s opportunities for dialogue and vocabulary development. In A Child’s Work, Vivian Paley states that “There is a powerful desire in any group of children to take up an idea, pass it around, and give everyone a chance to influence the outcome.” In order for multiple people to enact the same imaginative scenario or game they must come together, negotiate and make sense of the bounds of their play. This requires expressive and receptive language skills, and cooperation.