Who really knows what provokes that mischievous glint in the eye of a four-year-old just moments before they deliver the kick that makes the block tower tumble? I suspect it’s something about the thrill of destruction combined with the wondrous spectacle of discovery.

Four-year-olds blend the reckless abandon of toddlerhood with the wide-eyed glimmer of preschool learning. You don’t have to look very closely to see the wheels turning in that still-disproportionately-large head of theirs. They’re taking in everything they possibly can about the big world around them, categorizing things, naming things, and putting it all together like a puzzle.

But the world of a preschooler is much more complex than the average puzzle. Every time your four-year-old learns something new, they will immediately discover three more things they never thought to ask before. Life is a maze of questions and answers that lead to more questions.

As a preschool leader at a church preschool, I still remember the day I was tasked with teaching the Ten Commandments. An especially advanced four-year-old child who could read our handout asked me what “adultery” meant. Caught off guard, I replied, “It has the word ‘adult’ in it, and when you are one, you’ll understand.”

Four-year-olds are notorious for asking questions that are hard to answer in four-year-old terms. Most parents of four-year-olds find themselves at one point or another stumbling through long, winding, well-intentioned explanations about things they aren’t even sure they know how to answer in adult terms.

But don’t overthink their curiosity. Most preschoolers will remember the reaction on your face and the tone of your voice far longer than they will the accuracy of your words. It’s okay to leave some questions unanswered. Or, better yet, to only give the shortest, simplest answer possible. But just remember, the most extraordinary privilege is simply to connect to the heart of the four-year-old who is looking to you to guide them on their journey of discovery. We are, as exhausted explainers of every variety, quite beautifully, the first voice that gets to show the way.

Maybe that’s what makes the four-year-old year the most incredible year for establishing a solid foundation in your preschooler’s heart and mind. You are their first teacher. You are setting the tone for the elementary school years. So use this year to engage their wonder and imagination. Allow yourself a few minutes each week to get into their world and see through their eyes. Listen and learn alongside them. Let their curiosity remind you to ask a few questions about life that maybe you haven’t considered in a very long time.

– Jennifer Walker RN BSN
Pediatric nurse, mother of three, toddler consultant, author and co-founder of Moms On Call