The other day, I googled "what my 4 year old should know" and found an appropriately titled article called "What Your Four Year Old Should Really Know" from a homeschooling website. Awesome. Homeschoolers are really on top of that stuff.
I expected to see a list of tasks to do with said four-year-olds. Writing their name. Memorizing short poems and nursery rhymes. Simple geography. Beginner phonics, perhaps. I was prepared to feel, yet again (because this is something I struggle with on a daily basis), like a failure as a mother. After all, I haven't done any of these things with River. I have friends whose two and three year olds are writing their names and know the full alphabet. I've worked with him to learn how to spell and write his name, and while he knows R-I-V-E-R is his name when John and I are trading kid-secrets, he couldn't tell you how to spell it and he certainly doesn't have the fine motor skills to write it. I've done a few reading lessons with him and he knows the sounds for M, E, A, and S, but that's it. He is often too wiggly and distracted to sit through a lesson, and sometimes I find myself getting frustrated with his acting his age while I'm trying to teach him how to blend ME and SAM, so I limit the lessons to when we are both having a great day and Sister is occupied or sleeping. River can count to ten but gets five and nine confused all the time. He gets his ABCs all jumbled and sometimes the number seven slips in there and E and U are said more than three times.
Instead, what I read (and not just read, but saw, and understood, and totally agreed with) is that at the age of four, academic achievments aren't all that important. What a four-year-old really needs to know is that he is loved. His mind needs to be allowed to be open and playful, free and imaginative. He needs to know how to follow instructions. To listen. To practice sitting still and quiet some of the time, but allowed to be moving and playing most of the time.
River's mind is hungry for knowledge. He asks me questions all the time: why is the sun warm? How do seeds turn into flowers? Where is Texas? And when he asks questions, we explore them. I love to see that quizzical look on his face. But I am in no rush to push him to learn certain things, especially if they are very difficult or frustrating for him. He has time. He is only four! (In two days.)
Competition between mothers unfortunately can spill over onto our kids -- what we are teaching our kids, what we are doing with our kids, and how well it is accomplished. I've accepted that I may not be the craftiest person in the world. I'm not proactive about the activities I'm pinning on Pinterest. I don't print up work pages for River. I don't plan science experiments. I have a ton of great homeschooling books my mom has given me, but I haven't cracked many open. Our learning happens through conversation, exploration, and reading books aloud. I am in competition with no one -- and for my family, and my four-year-old, the harder stuff can wait.