I recently watched ‘The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds‘ broadcast by Channel 4 on Tuesday 3rd November (Watch here – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-secret-life-of-4-5-and-6-year-olds). As the episode progressed, I found myself realising I have definitely been underestimating children as young as four years old. The hour-long duration of the programme was enough to capture the essence of the life of a four-year-old and the day-to-day thoughts, activities and behaviour of the children – not to mention, the emotional roller-coaster they endure because their ‘best friend took their toy or decided to play with someone else.
Oh, to be four.
A number of key points initiated…
- Children, at 4, 5 and 6, are at a partial age;
- Futures are formed from this young age;
- These ages are a crucial stage for a child’s development – what they learn now is the ‘blueprint’ for adult life;
- Moral argument can quickly become coercion;
- Supportive friendships have the ability to rapidly change;
- A history of friendships create expectations of behaviour;
- Ambitions from the four-year-old children in the episode include, ‘save the planet’, doctor and hairdresser – at the same time, and ‘jelly maker’.
Dr. Sam Wass, Educational Psychologist – MRC Cambridge quotes,
“To establish and maintain relationships, one of the key tools that children need is language. And at four, the average girl tends to be five months ahead of the average boy, in terms of their language skills. This can put some boys at a disadvantage in their social interactions.”
On reflection, what is meant by ‘average’? Every individual child is different and unique in the way they learn. Therefore, arguably, we cannot generalise, label or categorise children’s abilities, to give us a specific indication of ability.
“They’re beginning to learn to regulate their emotions, to interact with each other and to understand that other people have feelings, too. These are lessons that will inform a lot of their future interactions.”
On reflection, children respond in a variety of ways in different situations and therefore express a range of emotions. For example, experiencing a tragic incident, being vulnerable to an unsafe environment, bullying, winning or losing, achievements and many more. I believe it is not possible to teach a child these emotions because to do that would mean telling or showing a child which emotion ‘matches’, if you like, with which situation. Emotions are a natural human trait – they are intrinsic but often influenced by extrinsic factors. Therefore, we can only teach children how to cope with and respond to their emotions, by being a supportive role and most importantly, by understanding. This is a learning process which children are still going through at a young age.
“You give a child a new abstract concept to play with such as the concept of a friendship, and the natural instinct of a child is to want to prod and explore what that idea means. They tug it around a bit, see if they can break it and by doing this, they learn more about what the concept of friendship means.”
Professor Paul Howard-Jones, Educational Neuroscientist – University of Bristol quotes,
“Competition is motivating, it’s exciting, but it’s also great learning experience.”
On reflection, competition is an issue that is widely debated: is competition a good thing? My viewpoint is that is can introduce diversity, which may be viewed as a positive. However, I think competition is an important thing to teach our children to deal with, by teaching coping strategies.
“Children at this age self-segregate on the basis of gender.”
On reflection, I remember at primary school having to choose partners, groups or team leaders and the majority of the time, boys would choose boys and girls would choose girls. It was rare that opposite genders would be paired together. What does this say about our society? If anything, what does it tell us about our teaching strategies? As teachers and educators, the fundamental basis of our teaching and learning is around equality of opportunity and inclusion. We teach children the morality that everyone is the same, despite gender, race or religion. So, why do children self-segregate on the basis of gender? I would be interested to see any comments on this post regarding this issue.
And one final thought I will leave with you – extracted from The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds:
“It’s really striking how much children have to achieve at four years old. It may look like play, but actually they’re working really, really hard and they’re having to learn an awful lot. The way that they’re communicating with each other, the way that they’re experimenting and finding things out is really, really important for them.”
– Professor Paul Howard-Jones, Educational Nueroscientist (2015)
Watch ‘The Secret Life of 4 Year Olds’ – http://www.channel4.com/programmes/the-secret-life-of-4-5-and-6-year-olds