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 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 talk about what milestones children reach between the ages of four and eight, and how this impacts 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 six-year-old might be able to do cartwheels around his friends while another is still 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 you are 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 more advanced, which will in turn allow them to be more coordinated. They should also be able to balance or hop on one foot for short periods of time. They should be able to catch a ball and ride a tricycle. At this age, their fine motor skills are advancing and they're able to hold a pencil, cut out simple shapes, and cut and mash their own food!
The 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.
Playing in Sandboxes
Your preschoolers will love the feeling of 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!
Using Chalk Boards/Dry-erase Boards
A fantastic opportunity for them to let their imagination run wild 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 an opportunity to get colorful.
Developmental Milestones: Age 5
Many five-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 imagination. By this age, they will have developed a desire for more independence and can be quite cooperative (when they want to!).
They should be able to speak much more clearly than before and talk in full sentences. Their knowledge is expanding at a rapid rate and they understand everyday things, such as food and money.
Physically, they should be able to leap and bound, stand for longer periods of time on one leg, hop, skip, and even do somersaults.
The Best Activities for Kids, Age 5
Running Around an Obstacle Course
Playing catch with your kindergartners is a great way for them to practice their hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills. You can even build them a mini obstacle course in the backyard for them to run, hop, skip and jump around!
Spending Time at a Playground
Watch your 5-year-old and their friends giggle in delight as they roll down the hill, ride their scooters down the path, climb up the play structure, and go down the slide at your local park. A great way for your kids to exercise their gross motor skills, get some fresh air, and stay active!
Telling Their Own Stories
Bring their favorite stories to life by encouraging your children to act out stories they love the most. They'll have fun playing different characters, talking in silly voices, and dressing up.
Drawing on Sidewalks
This is a great way for your children to demonstrate their artistic abilities,think big, and use their imagination! They can draw, scribble, and color in. They can play hopscotch, 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 the age of 6), they change in many ways. They become more articulate, literate, opinionated, independent, and more aware of the world. They get a better concept of time, start to really develop their friendships, and become more coordinated (thanks to their gross motor skills!). The world around them begins to excite and frighten them. They are ready to start the first grade at school!
As a first grader, your child is 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!
Thanks to better concentration and improved ability to follow instructions, your child should be more interested in board games and card games than ever before. These often have the dual benefit of being both fun and educational.
The Best Activities for Kids, Age 6
Playing Dress Up and Acting
Take a break from the norm and become a roaring lion, a courageous superhero, or a character from their favorite book. Your 6-year-olds will enjoy playing pretend and unravelling their imagination.
Putting on a Puppet Show
Your kids will be more than thrilled to talk in strange voices and make their audience laugh. They'll have fun making up stories, acting out different parts of them, and being the center of everyone’s attention!
Dedicating Time to Arts and Crafts
Grab some colored pens, paint and paper, safety scissors, glue, and stickers, and get creative. Have your kids make a mask and pretend to be a cat; create 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 is endless!
Playing with Construction Toys
Whether it's LEGO, K'nex, Mecanno, or Polydrons—get out the building blocks and your kids will have a great time making simple objects either from their imagination or using the instructions.
Developmental Milestones: Age 7
At this age, kids become more and more independent, and involved in things other than their home and family (e.g. sports, school, and hobbies). Physically, they should have well-developed coordination skills and lots of energy, even after a day at school. They should be able to throw, kick and catch a ball, ride a two-wheel bike and even do a handstand.
These second-graders can speak fluently, with few grammatical errors, and can follow instructions with three separate components. By this age, most kids should be able to read by themselves, and should start to enjoy books and the feeling of independence as they read them on their own.
This is the time when they’re supposed to form close bonds with friends and aim 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
Flying a Kite
Find a windy spot and watch as your children look up in wonder as their kite soars into the sky! A great early lesson in aerodynamics and a fun kids' activity for a windy afternoon!
Engaging in Verbal Games
Games like Simon Says,Yes, No, Black, White game, and 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 at 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.
Trying a New/Old Activity
Seven-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, rollerblading, ice skating, skiing, swimming, dancing, and anything else 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 gives kids a sense of purpose, responsibility, pride, and self-confidence. Watch them dig and care for their plants while giving them a lifetime of love for their environment and a newfound appreciation of nature.
Developmental Milestones: Age 8
Eight-year-olds enjoy and have the ability to solve problems, 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!
At this age, kids enjoy being around their friends and begin 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 start learning by trial and error, and using expectations and predictions to make their decisions.
The Best Activities for Kids, Age 8
Watching Family Movies
There are so many great movies out there you can watch with your kids—from golden oldies to modern day releases. 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 eight-year-old. Whether you decide to bake cupcakes, decorate a cake or prepare a meal, your kids will love pouring, measuring, mixing and tasting!
Put on your hiking boots, pack a picnic basket, 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!
Playing Board Games
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 their 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.