Can your 4 year old do all these?

This flyer arrived in our mail box a few weeks ago.


It advertises a local tuition company here in Singapore, who claim that “Children who join us from an early age benefit tremendously and have a headstart when they enter primary school … In fact, most of our students can handle P2 syllabus by the time they graduate.”

So, if I send my child to this tuition centre, by the time they are six years old, they will be capable of ‘handling’ the government-developed school curriculum intended for seven to eight year olds. Pretty impressive, I suppose. It may also be safe to assume that at six years old they would be capable of ‘handling’ the school curriculum for six year olds, as intended.

Our four year old cannot do any of the things this flyer suggests, in the ways that are shown.

Instead of creative writing, our four year old walks a knife edge between fantasy and the complicated reality of our world, growing his powers of imagination and logic through the intricate play scenarios he weaves on a daily basis. He has the power to turn a paper clip into a robot, or a jet plane, or a baby owl, depending on what is needed in his play plot.


The evidence of his creative story telling isn’t restricted by his four year old fine motor skills, or his developing understanding of text as having meaning. Instead, we see it in the abstract objects he brings into his play, to represent a whole world of possible creative story lines. We hear it when we tune in to the constant, muttered narrative he uses to talk through his independent play.


Our four year old can write and speak a smattering of Chinese. Much more than us. But he can communicate in a variety of ways, for a variety of purposes. He can enter play with older children, or change the way he plays for younger children. He can alter the direction of his play when new children arrive, suddenly adding extra roles to the drama unfolding.

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Our four year old cannot yet communicate fluently in another language, yet he understands the language of friendship. He can ask a new child to play, and can make himself understood through gesture if his new friend doesn’t speak the same language. He thinks of others and their motivations, and shows compassion for creatures great and small.


Our four year old may not be able to complete story sums and model drawing on paper, yet he asks THOUSANDS of questions in his desire to understand the world and how it works. He notices when a new dragonfly sits atop a branch in the bushes of our garden. He notices when the big black bumble bees come back after a lengthy absence. He quizzes us about why things die, and what might happen if the Eiffel tower was struck by lightning.



Our four year old develops theories based on his own careful observations, needing only time and experience to form sophisticated ideas about how the world works. His persistence, combined with time to experiment, has seen him learn to ride a bike, swim laps of the pool, and climb a tree – not hours of instruction and teacher-delivered examples.

Our four year old can spend time with his own thoughts, and loves looking out the window on our way to school. Sometimes his thoughts are so vivid and powerful for him that he puts his finger to his lips and tells me, “Shhh, Mummy, I’m having a dream.”


Our four year old cannot do the “Advanced Reading” pictured. Instead, he can read with nuance and expression, using his own understanding of how stories work to show how a book progresses. He can laugh at the funny parts, and show fear in the scary parts. His book collection is dog-eared with repeated readings. Even if he has read a book a hundred times, he still allows himself to be taken away by the story, captivated as if hearing it for the first time, surrendering to the magic of a good story and letting himself be taken on a new adventure.


So while our four year old can do none of the things this tuition centre’s brochure describes, he can do exactly that, and more, in such powerful, capable ways. Because we trust in a four year old’s ability to come to a better understanding of the world than what us adults might be able to direct him towards.

Because we trust him to play.







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