Choosing the right activities for kids based on what they enjoy and where they're at developmentally can be tricky. Likewise, selecting the best toy for each stage can also be challenging. Many times in the past I'd planned what I thought was a really fun kids' activity only to then realize my boys totally weren't ready for it. I'm also guilty of "peaking too early" with certain toys. In other words, I've got over-excited and bought a toy before my children were developmentally ready for it, only for them to get bored of it by the time they reached the appropriate stage to benefit from it.
Today, we're going to break down the ages between 4-8 and look at what milestones children will be reaching and how they will impact the types of toys and activities that they may be interested in.
Before we look into the developmental milestones, it's important to remind ourselves that no two children are the same. One 6 year old may be doing cartwheels around his friends while another may be struggling to jump. No matter their age or expected milestones, we need to meet them where they're at; show them love, patience and understanding. They'll get there and when they do, they'll be running rings around us all! If at all worried about your child's development, contact your pediatrician and chat through your concerns.
Developmental Milestones: Age 4
By this age, your child will have started playing more with others and may even have a best friend. She'll understand how to share and take turns and will enjoy being social.
Four year olds have a better understanding of rules and structure, especially those who've started pre-school. They have a good sense of right and wrong but might still be uncooperative and demanding at times.
Their motor skills will be advanced enough that they are more coordinated. They can also balance or hop on one foot for short periods. They have started to catch a ball and may be riding a tricycle. Their fine motor skills are advancing and they'll be able to hold a pencil and cut out simple shapes as well as cut and mash their own food!
Best Activities for Kids Age 4:
Kids love being read to and you can foster their love of reading early on by reading to your child on a regular basis. Find a book that they enjoy and you'll soon find your child being able to "read" along with you (mostly, by rote). They'll love hearing stories and looking at the pictures while snuggling up with you.
Your preschoolers will love the feeling of the sand running through their fingers. They can build castles or make funny shapes and just enjoy the freedom of playing with sand. You can even hide things in the sand for them to discover!
Chalk Board/Dry Erase Board
A fantastic opportunity for them to let their imaginations run loose and develop their fine motor skills as they play with colors, shapes, patterns and magnets!
Kids this age love to get messy and work with their hands. Protect your floor and their clothes and give them the opportunity to get colorful.
Developmental Milestones: Age 5
Many 5 year olds love to sing, dance and act! They love attention and aim to please. They can tell what's make-believe and what's real and have active imaginations. By this age, they're starting to want more independence and, happily, can be quite cooperative (when they want to!)
They're able to speak much more clearly than before and are talking in full sentences. Their knowledge is expanding at a rapid rate and understand every day things like food and money.
Physically, they're coming on in leaps and bounds. They're able to stand for longer periods on one leg, and can hop, skip, and some can even do a summersault.
Best Activities for Kids Age 5:
At-home Obstacle Course
Playing catch with your kindergartners is a great way to practice their hand eye coordination and gross motor skills. You can even build them a mini obstacle course in the back yard for them to run, hop, skip and jump around!
Watch your 5 year old as she and her friends giggle in delight as they roll down the hill, ride their scooters down the path, climb up the play structure and slip down the slide at your local park. A great way to exercise their gross motor skills, get fresh air and be active!
Become a Storyteller
Bring their favorite stories to life by encouraging your children to act out their most-loved stories. They'll have fun playing the different characters, putting on silly voices and dressing up.
This is a great way for your children to demonstrate their artistic abilities and inspire them to think big and use their imagination! They can draw, scribble, and color in. They can play hop scotch, tic tac toe or make a track for their car toys and trains!
Developmental Milestones: Age 6
As we know, playing is a fantastic way to express our feelings, get lost in the moment and learn some valuable life skills. As a child transitions from being a preschooler to middle childhood (around age 6), she changes in so many ways. She'll be more articulate, more literate, more opinionated, more independent, and more aware of the world. She'll have a better concept of time, will have started to really develop her friendships and become more coordinated (thanks to her gross motor skills!). The world around her will excite her and frighten her. She'll be entering 1st grade!
As a first grader, she'll be introduced to the world of reading, writing, math, science, social studies and possibly even homework! After-school activities may consist of organized sports or classes, but it's important to make time for good old fashioned playing!
With better concentration and an increasingly ability to follow instructions, she'll be more interested in board games and card games than ever before. Often these have the dual benefit of being fun and educational.
Best Activities for Kids Age 6:
Play Dress Up and Put on a Play
Take a break from the norm and become a roaring lion or a courageous superhero or a character from their favorite book. Your 6 year olds will enjoy playing pretend and stretching their imaginations.
Your 6 year olds will giggle in delight as they put on funny voices and make their audience laugh. They'll have fun making up stories, acting out the different parts and being center of attention!
Arts & Crafts
Get some colored pens, paint and paper, some safety scissors, glue and stickers and get stuck in. It's time to get creative. Make a mask and pretend to be a cat, make a paper airplane and watch it fly, make a hat and become a witch/wizard, or decorate a birthday card for a friend or family member. In the world of arts and crafts, the list of fun things to make are endless!
Whether it's LEGO, K'nex, Mecanno or Polydrons - get out the building blocks and your 6 year olds will have a great time making simple objects either from their imaginations or using the instructions.
Developmental Milestones: Age 7
7 year olds are becoming increasingly independent as they become more involved in things outside the home and family like sports, school, and hobbies etc. Physically they have well developed coordination skills and many are full of energy, even after a day at school. They can throw, kick and catch a ball, ride a 2-wheel bike and some can do a handstand.
These 2nd graders will be speaking fluently, with few grammatical errors, and able to follow instructions with three separate components. By this age, most kids will be able to read by themselves and will start to enjoy books and the feeling of independence as they read them on their own.
They are starting to form close bonds with friends and are eager to please people. They start to worry more about what people think of them and are less carefree in their manner as they consider the impact and take life more seriously than before.
Best Activities for Kids Age 7:
Go Fly a Kite
Find a windy spot and watch as your children look up in wonder as they watch their kite soar into the sky! A great early lesson in aerodynamics and a fun kids' activity for a windy afternoon!
Games like Simon Says; the Yes, No, Black, White game; I Spy (with my little eye) are ideal games to play with your child anywhere, anytime with no equipment needed! So, whether you're in line at the store, at home waiting for dinner to be cooked, early for an appointment, or hanging in the park, these games are a fun way to pass the time. These types of games will help exercise their memory, observation and listening skills, storytelling and lots more.
Try a New/Old Activity
7 year olds are often eager to practice their skills and try out new ones so this is a great age to go for a bike ride, skateboarding, roller blading, ice skating, skiing, swimming, dancing... whatever they may be interested in. You never know what might become their new favorite activity. Just remember to be patient, encouraging and let them advance at their own pace.
Give them a patch in your yard to take ownership of. Planting seeds and watching them grow give kids a sense of purpose, responsibility, pride and self-confidence. Watch them dig and care for their plants while giving them a lifetime love of their environment and a new found appreciation of nature.
Developmental Milestones: Age 8
Eight year olds enjoy and have the ability to problem solve, use independent thinking and come up with creative strategies. Their reading and writing skills are developing at a rapid rate and their vocabulary is expanding each day. Physically their gross motor skills are approaching the mature stage and practice is key!
8 year olds enjoy being around their friends and are starting to express their own opinions more assertively. This is the age they are more likely to succumb to peer pressure as they become more interested in their friends' opinions.
Emotions are at an all-time-high, and angry outbursts are not uncommon. Patience and delayed gratification are not developed and they can find it hard to wait for what they want. They are learning by trial and error and starting to use expectations and predictions to make their decisions.
Best Activities for Kids Age 8:
There are so many great movies from golden oldies to modern day releases. Check out Common Sense Media for ones that are appropriate for your child. Whether you're looking for an uplifting movie, a funny comedy, or a coming of age movie, there's plenty to choose from.
Get busy in the kitchen and enlist the help of your favorite 8 year old. Whether you're baking cupcakes, decorating a cake or preparing a meal - your kids will love pouring, measuring, mixing and tasting!!
Put on your hiking boots, pack a picnic and have an adventurous day out. Explore a bat cave, take a dip in the lake, go fishing, check out the wildlife, climb rocks, and most importantly, have fun!
Board games can be a great way to engage with your child and take advantage of their increased attention span. By this age, they can focus on longer games (like Monopoly and The Game of Life) and will enjoy learning new strategies to beat you with!
It's important to remember that every kid develops at his or her own pace. Every child is wonderfully unique and some kids may need more sleep than others, some may need more physical activities than others, some may need more sensory stimulation that others, and some may be ready for a certain toy or activity at a different time than their peers. Either way, we need to find what works best for them as individuals and, as parents, help to ensure a healthy balance.
Read more about the value of play on childhood development and how children learn through play. For a full round up of the best toys for kids ages 4-8, check out our recent blog posts on best toys for girls, best toys for boys and best learning toys.