How to Develop Motor & Cognitive Skills in a 4-Year-Old

By Kathryn Walsh
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Growing into a strong, healthy and curious child who will soon be ready for kindergarten is every 4-year-old's job. As a parent, you can help him get there. Work on strengthening his body and his learning skills as well as his language skills; they're all crucial to his cognitive development. Whether you're concerned about developmental delays or just want to give your child a strong foundation, every 4-year-old can benefit from skill development.

Activities for Gross Motor Skills

Gross or large motor skills use the whole body. Kicking, running and climbing are activities that require these skills. Keep a few plastic or foam balls on hand to use in developing your 4-year-old's gross motor skills. Play catch outdoors using a large beach ball. Once she's comfortable throwing and catching that ball, exchange it for a slightly smaller ball. Each time she masters using one ball, move to a slightly smaller one, suggests Betty Lou Barsley-Marra of the Department of Human Development and Family Studies at the University of Missouri. Running through a backyard obstacle course, walking like a crab and climbing on playground equipment can all improve your child's gross motor skills.

Activities for Fine Motor Skills

Fine motor skills are what people use to write, zip and button clothing and feed themselves. Encourage the development of your child's fine motor skills by providing lots of activities for him to do with his hands. Completing 12- or 24-piece jigsaw puzzles, finger painting and squeezing and pinching clay or play dough helps him build these skills. Activities that require hand-eye coordination are also useful for his development. Let him cut up paper with safety scissors or trace letters on paper. Punch holes in cardboard or card stock and ask him to string shoelaces through the holes or let him string beads onto yarn.

Activities for Cognition

Build your preschooler's cognitive skills by encouraging her to be curious and try new experiences. Take her to a museum or sign her up for a class that reflects her interests, suggests, and help her find answers to all the questions that 4-year-olds constantly ask. For example, when she inquires about how a machine works, find a picture book at the library or a simple video online that will explain it to her. Encourage her to try simple experiments at home, too. For example, talk to her about magnets, then provide a bowl of random small objects. Ask her to predict which ones will stick to a large magnet and then find out for herself.

Activities for Language Skills

According to the American Speech-Language-Hearing Association, you can support your child's language development by teaching him to ask for definitions of words he doesn't understand and by asking him to explain things to you. For example, ask him to describe the rules of a game he enjoys or what happens in a favorite book. You can also talk about categories and sorting. Ask him to identify the biggest food on his plate and the smallest, or ask him to sort his crayons into piles based on color.