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What Curriculum Should I Use For My 4 Year Old?

Recently on TheHomeSchoolMom’s Facebook page someone asked for recommendations for her soon to be 4 year old. It took me back to when I had a 4 year old and a 1 year old and had recently decided to homeschool.

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I. Was. So. Excited.

Boy sitting on a stack of books reading a book with text What Curriculum Should I use for my 4 year oldWhat curriculum should I use? (I bought KONOS and timeline figures and a gazillion Usborne books.) How should we schedule our days? (I bought Managers of Their Homes and carefully scheduled every moment of our days and then proceeded to never once use the schedule.) I made lesson plans and felt organized and believed that my kids were going to get the best education ever. And honestly, we had great fun with some of the activities – but none of it was better than what we could have done by just living and playing.

So after all these years (my kids are now 19 and 16), what curriculum would I suggest for a 4 year old? None. The work of a 4 year old is play. Studies show that play is how children learn. Take this time to engage your child. There will be plenty of time for setting and meeting goals later, should you choose to do that (unschoolers look at goals differently), but now is the time for play.

Here is my suggested “curriculum” for a 4 year old (or 5 year old or 6 year old) that will help them develop vital skills, build your relationship with them, and give them the hooks that they need to hang later learning on:

  • Read to your child. If she can read, let her also read to you. If your child is interested, extend your reading by cooking a dish that was mentioned in the book, or making a craft like one mentioned. If you are looking for something to guide you in choosing good books, I like the books used in Five in a Row for this age. If your child asks to learn to read, go for it — but in the absence of a physical issue or developmental problem, know that waiting on reading instruction is not harmful and can even be beneficial.
  • Play with LEGO® bricks. Or Lincoln Logs® , or Tinkertoys®. Or K’NEX®. Or simple wood blocks.
  • Go for a walk. Listen to your child and enjoy seeing the world from her perspective.
  • Go to the library. If your child can read, help him understand how the books are filed, how to use the card catalog, or have a library scavenger hunt.
  • Walk in the woods. This is the perfect age to take an Alphabet Walk and learn ABCs with rocks and trees.
  • Visit age-appropriate museums. Don’t try this when your child is hungry, tired, or otherwise primed for unhappiness. Here are some tips for improving field trips.
  • Go to the zoo. Many zoos and aquariums have annual reciprocal memberships that let you visit as many times as you like and even visit other partner zoos with your membership.
  • Go to a park or play in the backyard. Just being outside helps kids achieve a natural balance between our technological world and our natural world.
  • Play with maps. Let your child make a map of someplace familiar to her and have fun using just the map to find your way around. Let your child blindfold you and lead you through a maze of chairs and other obstacles that they have set up.
  • Play with Play-Doh®. The benefits of messy play are many, including developing fine motor skills, encouraging creativity, allowing expression of emotions in a safe way, and stimulating language development. Make your own playdough at home if you prefer.
  • Play dress up. Both boys and girls enjoy dressing up and playing or putting on their own “theatrical productions”. I remember my kids continually improving a large scale production of “The Wizard of Paws” over the years.
  • Dance, clap, skip, and move around. A lot. Kids are naturally wiggly and rhythm actually helps language skills.
  • Play games. Board games are always fun, and strategy games like Kids of Catan and Catan Junior can be enjoyed by even young children. Building games like Jenga® can be enjoyed by all ages (and apparently many species), and strategy games like Mancala develop motor skills as well as thinking skills.
  • Listen to him. Ask him “what if” questions when discussing things of interest. “What do you think would happen if this got really cold? Really hot?” “What do you think a cat would do with this?” “How deep do you think that worm goes into the ground?” Remember – you aren’t asking for a right answer, you are just getting him thinking. Instead of correcting answers, encourage further discussion: “Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way! Why do you think so?” Inquiry-based learning stimulates thought processes that lead to learning.

Enjoy this unstructured time with your child – it will pass all too quickly.

Update: Defending the Early Years and Alliance for Childhood have issued a report “Reading in Kindergarten: Little to Gain and Much to Lose” showing that there is no scientific evidence that early reading makes for better readers in the long term. The video below details the findings, and you can find a summary in this PDF file.


Mary Ann Kelley

Mary Ann Kelley lives in Virginia with her husband and has two grown daughters, both homeschool graduates. Mary Ann, who homeschooled off and on for 16 years, believes in school choice as well as allowing children to direct their own learning with guidance and input from their parents. Interviews with Mary Ann have been featured on HuffPost and in the Free Lance-Star newspaper. Her desire is to encourage parents and children to take personal responsibility for their own educational options and choices. In her free time, Mary Ann enjoys reading, cooking (check out her free meal plans), traveling, and genealogy.

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  1. Pamela

    I am trying to figure out where to start. I have been wanting to homeschool my children and with me at home with my newborn, I believe it’s the perfect time. Anyone in georgi with any helpful information please. TIA

    • Jeanne Faulconer

      Pamela, your best bet is to connect with people near you through local and state resources. Facebook is now a popular place for homeschoolers to organize groups and activities, so also search for groups near you on Facebook.

      See our Homeschooling 101 information here at TheHomeSchoolMom for information about where to start.

      Congrats on the new baby and good luck with homeschooling!


  2. Rosemary

    I love your blog already. We are a homeschooling family of seven children. I’ve been homeschooling for years now. There’s so much available sometimes I have some problems finding something that actually does works with my family. Homeschooling is all about experimentation and flexibility. It is also particularly about being able to think outside of the box. That’s another important skill for everyone. I love having control over levels of homework as well. Too often schools are missing the point of education. They are solely concentrating on test results and numbers not paying attention to the children.

    • Jeanne Faulconer

      Hi Rosemary,

      Yes, there are a lot of resources out there, and sometimes we have to try things to see what works. I agree that homeschoolers can be innovative and flexible. Many people choose homeschooling today because of the emphasis on testing in public education takes away innovation. Thanks for your compliment on TheHomeSchoolMom blog. We have a lot of articles we hope you’ll enjoy!


  3. Kaitlen

    Thank you for writing this. I feel like you were talking specifically to me. We have decided to homeschool our almost 5 yr old but after much research, I felt extremely discouraged that I was failing as a parent because she doesn’t know a lot of the things taught at a preschool level, but it’s good to know that I dont totally suck as a mom because we play all day.

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      Since most homeschool moms went to public school ourselves, it’s easy to get stuck in the school mindset of curriculum and structured activities as the norm. I’m sure your child is learning lots through your play together!

  4. Crystian J Ioppolo

    This is exactly what I needed. My oldest of 3, just turned 4. I have lots of friends with kids in preschool, and I just have been feeling bad that with my goal of homeschooling I haven’t implemented a classroom-like room and schedule. I do most of the things on your list, and it makes me feel like I’m not being lazy, but giving him what he needs. I make a sincere effort to make sure he gets his social interactions in, but I try to let him ask the questions and discover things as I expose him and his siblings to new things. Whew. Thank you.

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      It sounds like you are doing all the right things, Crystian! Classrooms were designed for teachers with large student to teacher ratios and duplicating that environment at home would mean losing out on some of the benefits of homeschooling. Homeschoolers don’t have those ratio restrictions and can give one on one attention focused on the way a child best learns. Best wishes to you and your children!

  5. Leah

    Lovely post. I plan on homeschooling our two children. We do not agree with all this formal assessment and unnecessary stress and testing as well. This way I can evaluate my two as much as I can and encourage them to enjoy learning too. American schools these days worry too much about standardised testing and inappropriate assessments instead of bad behaviour. Too much paperwork.

    • Jeanne Faulconer

      Hi Leah,

      I like to make the point that standards and tests are what takes THE PLACE of spending time with individual children and understanding what they are ready to learn and what they already know. And yes, this can end up with an emphasis on bureaucracy and paperwork rather than the little humans who are learning.

      I hope you enjoy your homeschool journey!


  6. Marlen

    Dear May Ann,
    I just came across your article “What curriculum should I use for my 4 year old, and read your article and the responses. It always amazes me, what pressure/expectation is put on children from early ages on. No wonder there is a saying “Youth is Wasted on the Young”. I home schooled my 3 sons up to High School and completely agree with your article. I grew up in Europe, started Kindergarten at age 6, First Grade at age 7. In Kindergarten we played, didn’t have to learn to read. Learning to read and math started in First Grade. In Grade 9, in comparison with today’s curriculum, I was on 12th Grade level. During my home school time, I did a lot of research of schools and curriculum and was always amazed, how far behind they were, in comparison with the one to I had. Especially in math. What I learned in Second Grade math, in most curriculum today, is taught in 3rd and 4th Grade. No wonder, that average students are at least 2 years behind, when they reach High School. What really confuses me, is, how can students be so far behind, even tough they start so much earlier, in Pre-K and K, with learning and being taught.

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      Hi Marlene – Thanks for your comment. I’m not sure that students are generally behind (that has not been my experience but I can only speak for myself – my own kids were much further along in each grade than I was 30 years ago), but I think generally the less pressure put on children in the early years, the better the outcome. The larger problems that I see are the constant pressure to teach to tests and the way that teachers in schools are no longer able to ignite curiosity in their students. I am far less concerned about when a child learns something than I am about how well they are able to learn it and whether the methods used have a detrimental effect on their desire to learn.

  7. Amy @ Orison Orchards

    I love your recommendations to keep things fun and enjoyable and relaxes, but just want to add that all of my younger kids WANTED their own workbooks, because my older kids all spent the morning around the table, ‘doing school’, and my littles wanted to be included in what the rest of us are doing. Little people enjoy being with mommy, doing what she’s doing, even when she’s weeding the garden (learn some Botany) or cooking or sewing or ‘doing school’ and they are such little sponges that it really is to their benefit to allow them to tag along and participate. LIFE can be a valuable part of the curriculum.

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      Hi Amy,

      Absolutely! As I mentioned to Micki above, each mom knows their child, and if your children are asking for worksheets and wanting to read and wanting to do math, then go for it! I don’t ever want to come across as hindering child-led instruction. What I do want to do is help new homeschool moms to prevent burnout and kill the love of learning.

  8. Micki

    OK, how about when you have two children less than 2 years apart and the 4 year old WANTS to do schoolwork?

    I get this judgmental attitude from people (not saying this post is, just that I have) who act like I am being ridiculous to have my 4 year old write in a journal and do guided reading with me, but she wants to do everything her big sister is doing. They are best friends and share everything.

    Her big sister taught her to read. Her big sister taught her to add and subtract. Her big sister is her role model. If she is doing a math worksheet, by all means, little sister is going to, too. And you know what? She is good at it! She might even be better at Math than my older child. I think that is great!

    They both get plenty of play time and we do lots of hands on learning, but we also do daily math and reading.

    Unfortunately, it really hurts when homeschool moms, who are the only people who get this journey I’m on, post memes on Facebook that say things like “Every time someone asks me what curriculum to use for a 4 year old, I want to hit them in the face with a shovel.” And I get told not to be “that mom” who is pushing my kid too hard.

    I don’t push her at all. In fact, it would save me a huge amount of work if I didn’t have to sit through a prek and first grader reading to me each day and check math velcro activities for both kids!

    I just feel like kids are unique. Situations are different.

    While the home school community is really supportive if your kids are a little “behind” public school norms, I feel it could do a better job at supporting families of kids who are a bit ahead of those same norms.

    If it’s all about indiviuality, can’t we just focus on our own kids and their desire?

    And I apologize if this comment comes off as accusatory or grouchy. I don’t mean it that way. I sincerely am just looking for… I don’t know. I guess I want to share my situation so other moms don’t feel like they are some sort of achievement focused momzilla just because they let their preschooler jump into schoolwork rather than making them enjoy their last “free” years as a carefree innocent. 🙂

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      Hi Micki – I completely understand your frustration. As I mentioned in the post, there are certainly children who are ready and interested in going further. This post was not written for the mom already homeschooling who has a younger child wanting to “do school.” My ideas here are aimed at the new and excited homeschool mom (like I was) – the mom whose oldest is four (or five or even three) and who wants to implement a full on curriculum.

      Each mom knows their child, and if your daughter is asking for worksheets and wanting to read and wanting to do math, then go for it! I don’t ever want to come across as hindering child-led instruction. What I do want to do is help new homeschool moms to prevent burnout and kill the love of learning.

      Thank you for sharing your perspective. I think it has value and will help other readers.

      Mary Ann

      • Micki

        Thanks, Mary Ann.

        I didn’t feel like you were making those accusations at all. I just have seen it shared on social media a couple of times now as proof of that viewpoint, so I felt it needed to be said here. And if you didn’t always approach comments with such level headed wisdom, I wouldn’t have felt like I could have. 🙂

  9. Lydia

    I have an eight year old and a five year old. We’ve been homeschooling for three years now, and I for the most part agree. I found some fun, age appropriate things for my five year old son this year, but really apart from using the star fall app on his tablet, we just free flow through things. He’s doing great, and I’m not in the least bit worried about where he should be. He’s actually ahead in writing skills from where my daughter was coming out of public pre K. When they’re that young, it’s fun to just let them learn through play. It’s surprising how much they actually do learn that way.

  10. Nao

    Great ‘curriculum’! I love the freedom of homeschooling – the ability to be able to do all these creative projects and delight-driven learning. Do you have a curriculum for a one year old?

  11. tia

    hi all, thanks for this I’m about to pull my 4 year old out of school, and all is going through my head is what if and I have to teach him to write spell, read and some where teach him the language that is spoken here that I have no idea how it is lol but ill have to get someone to help lol. but wanted to do it all through play as that’s how they learn, I also have a just turned 2 year old so will be doing them together, but by reading this I don’t have to stress as they can do it at there own pace and through play, just got to work out what to do as I live so rural with not much around x

  12. Rebecca

    We recently started homeschooling because I’m now able to work from home. This is exactly what we’re looking for! You’re a lifesaver!

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      I’m glad you have the opportunity to be at home with your child(ren)! Enjoy this time. 🙂

      • Rebecca

        Oh, believe me, I couldn’t be happier! We are so blessed! I’m sure it won’t be easy, but time is my most valuable asset.

  13. Hasina

    I love this and here I was thinking that my daughter needed more structure classroom-like at home. I have done most of your suggested and not on purpose. Sometimes I just listen to her make up a story too. Their imagination and articulation is so underestmated. Thank you for this

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      I’m glad you found the article at just the right time, Hasina! Enjoy this time with your daughter. 🙂

  14. Lynn

    Thank you for this!! I am in this boat right now! My daughter will be 4 in a few weeks and I have the overwhelming feeling I need to start school with her. She knows her alphabet (lower & upper) by sight, knows the sounds they make and can write them as well, can count 30+ with minimal help, knows her colors & shapes, knows how to spell and write her first & last name. After watching a math leapfrog movie she now knows that 4+2 is 6 etc. I feel like I should be doing more and was thinking of starting to focus more on her learning how to read. I just need to sit back and let her be a kid!!

    • Mary Ann Kelley

      Enjoy this time with your daughter! She is learning so much just by engaging with the world around her – it’s a wonderful period of development.

  15. Anne Gregor

    In homeschooling, they can choose to work through their curriculum as quickly or slowly as they feel comfortable doing, establishing their own pace. A child who struggle in one or more areas academically should consider homeschooling as an excellent one-to-one environment to learn the skills necessary to catch up.


  16. Kathy

    Both my kids graduated two years ago, and I did what Mary Ann suggested. All through the learning years, I would remind my kids that there is a season for everything. Once they were becoming more academically inclined, I reminded them to give it their all. The season for “dedication to learning” would pass though they would never officially finish learning. So, for the just beginners … let the kids have their season for engaging play and exploration and curiosities! That time will pass too!

    And Mom, it passes for you too!

  17. MamaBear

    My hubby “reluctantly” agreed to a trial year of homeschooling our 2 youngest who were 5 (daughter who’s persistent & strong-willed) & 3 (son with slight speech delay) both extremely bright. We spent the last school-year doing much of what’s on your list. Other than play (sometimes “purposeful” sometimes just for fun) and LOTS of art, we didn’t do much that would look like learning from the outside. My daughter was ready to read, so we worked the lessons in “Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons”She flew through them, working weekends – sometimes doing 6 lessons a day (at her insistence – not at all “pushed”). We also took a lengthy As the end of the school year approached, I worried that hubby would think we weren’t doing enough. He often asked what we did today, saw no worksheets or other “evidence” of learning. My responses (which sounded a lot like we read a dozen books, did/found something cool outside & a bunch of other fun stuff) didn’t inspire confidence that he was seeing what I was seeing. After all, I’m home seeing it happen while he’s at work just hoping to hear about it. And then they started telling him things (naming off parts & equipment from the fire trucks at “Touch-a-Truck Day”…why all rocks look/are different. Finally he was seeing what I was seeing.

    We will be “officially” homeschooling this year – our letter of intent is on it’s way to the district. With the littles being 4 & 6 now, I plan to play just as much & have just as much fun going forward. My daughter will see a little more structure, but not “classroom” structure – I want to make sure that when/IF they ever do find themselves in public school, they meet or exceed the educational & social standards for their age/grade.

    I always love to see someone else who’s about letting the kids have fun & learn along the way. 🙂

    • Mary Ann

      So glad to hear how well this worked for you, Mamabear! I look forward to hearing how this coming year goes for you. We used Teach Your Child to Read in 100 Easy Lessons as well. I’m also very fond of Five in a Row for younger children – it’s fun, bonding, and uses some great books!

  18. Charity

    I have been thinking about this a lot. I have two older girls, 8 and 6 that I will be in my second year of homeschooling. I am planning to be more structured with them and am afraid it will stifle us, sigh. But what you say at the end is where I have been leaning with my 4 year old. She is a bright, cheerful little girl. And she sometimes asks for schoolwork and I print something fun out and give it to her. I think I want to keep it that way for this coming year too.

  19. Lady Lilith

    I do this with my girls after school even thought they are older. There is nothing more educational then hands on interactive games. I modify playing for different skills but kids like having fun. I like whey they are happy and they like to learn. It is a win-win situation.

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