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Tips for 4 and 5 year olds

Tips for 4 and 5 year olds

Four and five year olds go through so much development at this stage of their lives, both physical and mental. Each child is unique, and they are going to develop at their own pace. As adults, we need to remember children develop at their own pace, and this can be affected by their health, and their socio-economic background.

At this stage, children learn mainly through play. This may include activities and games like role play, make-believe scenarios, stories or just talking to each other. It is essential to nurture an environment where children can learn at their own pace, through curiosity, creativity and exploration.

These tips are designed to provide you with an understanding of the developmental milestones of four and five year olds, and give you the confidence to adapt the programme to the children in your group.

Remember: four and five year olds can express their thoughts and emotions, so you can actively involve them in the planning of activities, making them leaders themselves and encouraging them to participate in activities by giving it a go.

At this age, children are creative, curious, and imaginative.  Their favourite activities are role-plays and make believe scenarios. Children’s pretend-play and make-believe scenarios can be complex and sophisticated, but, at times, you may need to help some of your Squirrels work out what is real and what is fantasy. Here are some tips to include role plays and make-believe scenarios in your sessions:

  • You can use building blocks and malleable materials (for example play dough, foam, and salt dough) to encourage children’s creativity and imagination. This activity, for example, encourages children to work with leaders to build a den. You can divide the children into smaller groups if it is easier for you. With help of adults and Young Leaders, you can ask children questions like ‘What is a den?’, ‘Who do you think lives in a den?’, ‘Can we pretend to live in a den for today?’. The children will be very excited, learn something new and work towards their Squirrels Brilliant Builder Activity Badge and Squirrels All About Adventure Challenge Award. If you do not have boxes, or do not have outdoor access, instead of a den you can build a pillows and blankets fort.
  • Props can be used to take on a variety of different roles and encourage children to ask question and explore different scenarios. The use of props should not be complex. Simple objects like a phone, clip boards, or dressing up clothes can open-up a new world of stories and possibilities for children. For example, for the activity Emergency Superheroes, you can leave around the room a phone, a high visibility vest, and a clipboard. You can ask children who they should call in case of a specific emergency. ‘Who should we call if you have tummy ache?’, ‘Who should we call if we see a fire?’. The children can then act out to be a doctor, a nurse, or a firefighter. This can also help you work towards the Squirrels Local Superhero Activity Badge.

Having a routine is central to the Squirrel programme. Routines help children feel comfortable in their setting, and help them understand the concept of time. At four and five, children may have a loose concept of time, but through your activities at Squirrels you can help them improve it. See some of the examples below for how you can help children become more confident through the use of routine.

  • At drop-off, you may want to have a Welcome routine. For example, children can play a game once they arrive, or they can sit on the carpet with a Young Leader to read a story or do some colouring. Knowing what to expect from their day or afternoon at Squirrels can also help children who may struggle to separate from their adult figure (parent/guardian/childminder).
  • Routines can also be used to help children think and plan ahead – and develop their confidence! You can encourage children to think through simple tasks to make decisions. For example, if you are planning a walk to the local park, you may want to ask the children the following questions: ‘What do you need for the walk?’, ‘How should you get dressed?’, ‘What can we see at the park?’. Challenge them about what to do in case of bad weather, or when you should start heading back to the hut to meet their parents.
  • Another example of planning is for an activity badge, like Squirrel Super Chef Activity Badge. If you're planning to cook with the children, you can get them to set a menu, or decide what you need to buy to prepare a meal.

Most five year olds can sustain their concentration for 15 minutes. However, we know this can vary from child to child and depends on the context in which they are placed. See the examples below to help them increase their concentration

  • You can develop their concentration by using activities with a goal. Building activities are a good way to help them stay focused and work towards an objective. You can challenge Squirrels using The Best Bridge activity by splitting the group in half and getting them to build the longest bridge with objects in the room (boxes, scrap papers, nature’s treasures).
  • Mindfulness and physical activities can also boost focus and concentration. Activities like Wake up to Yoga can be used to help children relax, stretch, and concentrate on their body. You can also take children on a Mindfulness Walk. You can walk to the local park (or outdoor area if you have one) and ask children to use their five senses to explore nature. You can ask them ‘What can you see in the park?’. You can also take it further and let them sit or lay on the grass and ask them ‘What noises can you hear?’. They can then recreate the noises using their voice or items found nearby.
  • Be mindful of the way you talk with them. Use clear directions and short sentences to make sure children concentrate and understand the activity. Repeat the goal of the activity, by asking children: 'What are we going to do? Build a bridge!’, and let the children repeat that. Last, thank the children for listening to you, and use encouraging and supportive remarks throughout the activity. Positive reinforcement is excellent for confidence and focus!

During Squirrel sessions, you'll probably notice that energy levels run high. With improved skills for running, jumping, and hopping, children will be more confident in their play, and be brave in exploring the surroundings. You can build their motor skills and coordination through a series of activities.

  • For example, you can set a challenge and ask them ‘Can you stay on one foot while I count to five?’, or ‘Can you hop like a bunny?’. You can also plan activities like climbing, or do short hikes. The children will enjoy them and learn about the positive aspects of staying active and safe.
  • Four and five year olds also love to dance. Playing music and creating simple choreographies can help children boost their attention, focus, creativity, as well as stay active. With the activity Daily Dance, you can create musical instruments with paper plates, bottles, ribbons, play music and dance to it. You can use different type of songs (slow, fast, upbeat) and let the children dance differently to different types of music. This is an excellent activity for the Squirrels Be Active Activity Badge. So, go ahead and plan a Dance Party!
  • At this age children may be confident with major body movements (like jumping, skipping, running), but they may still struggle with their fine motor skills, such as hand-to-eye coordination. If you are planning to do arts and crafts, you may want to use chunky pencils, malleable materials (like play dough or foam), as well as building blocks. Children can use their hands rather than only two fingers and be more independent.

At Scouts, it is all about creating activities that can challenge and empower children. The children in your Squirrel Drey will have different personalities, likes, and dislikes. There may also be huge differences, in what a four year old can or cannot do compared to a five year old. For example, some four year olds may not be in school yet, so their learning development may be different from their friends who are attending Reception. So, how can you create activities that can be equally challenging for the children in your group? You do not have to change the programme completely, nor do you need to develop different activities for each child. Remember, you know the children in your group, so you have the knowledge and expertise to develop great activities for them.

  • One thing you should always keep in mind is to encourage children to take the next step. You can tweak activities or games to ensure that all children are equally challenged and can learn something new. For example, if you're planning to do a physical activity, you can start by asking children to jump using two feet. And then take it further: ‘Who can stand on one foot until I count to five?’, and then ‘Who can hop on one foot?’.
  • If you're doing an arts and craft activity, there may be children who can draw a picture, but you can also challenge others to write their name on it, or to add a word to describe their drawing.
  • You can also give some children extra responsibilities by using a buddy system. For example, if you're planning a game with more complex rules, you can ‘buddy up’ children so they can help each other to understand the rules better. A buddy system also works well during storytime. Some children may get distracted easily, but if they're buddied, they can sit down and listen for a longer period of time. Buddies also work for tidy-up time. Being buddied up with an ‘older’ child may also boost confidence and develop skills faster.

Four and five year olds go through a huge growth in vocabulary. They learn new phonics and words every day and can build more complex sentences. There is some difference in the way five and four year olds communicate, and how you can communicate with them clearly.

  • Four year olds may still express themselves using short, but meaningful, sentences. They can mix up pronouns (he and she particularly) and tenses. Five year olds, on the other hand, can build more complex sentences, and talk about past and future experiences.
  • Tell them clearly what you expect of them. Be accurate when you talk to them, and try to maintain eye contact (this boosts their focus). Remember that, at this stage of their lives, they are sponges, and they will repeat every word you say – it is a way for them to learn and cope with new vocabulary.
  • Do not overcomplicate sentences, and avoid using big words or specific dates and times, as they may not know their meaning. For example, if you are talking about the history of Scouts, avoid the nitty-gritty details. Sentences like ‘Baden Powell started Scouting in 1907 on Brownsea Island’ carry little to no meaning for children. Instead, saying ‘Baden Powell started Scouting a long time ago on an island’ may be better. You can also enrich this story with a picture of Baden Powell and a picture of Brownsea Island.

When planning activities, remember to include your young people. You are there to deliver a programme for them, with them. Children at this age are starting to develop their personality and sense of self, and most importantly, they are beginning to understand what they like and what they don’t. You can ask them about what they enjoy doing, so you can include those activities in your Squirrel sessions.

  • Encourage them to share their thoughts about a game or a story. You can do this at the end of a session. Ask them to give you a thumbs up or down about a game or an activity Also, you can use stickers, or happy or sad cards so that children can tell you if they liked - or didn’t like - the session.
  • You can let children decide what game or activity they want to play. It may be hard, at times, for children to make a decision – especially if you give them a lot of choices. You can turn this decision-making process into a game. You can put 2 or 3 games or activities at different corners of the room and encourage children to run (safely!) towards their preferred choice.
  • Some children may still not sure exactly what they like or dislike, and may tend to follow what their friends are saying. Do not worry, they’ll become more confident over time. You can also encourage them to explore their feelings and emotions through activities like Happy or Sad?. Children can learn about different emotions, how to express them, and work towards the Squirrels Feel Good Activity Badge.

Giving children choices empowers them to create a programme that is truly child-led. They can also become individuals who can speak up for themselves, and become more confident about their personal likes and dislikes.

When entering a room, children should feel safe to explore and eager to learn and play. This does not mean that you are required to invest a significant amount of money to make the room inviting. You can decorate it with some of your available toys, or a carpet for storytime. You can also ensure that the room is at the right temperature and with good lighting. Decorating the room can also help children work towards their Squirrels Get Creative Activity Badge.

  • If you have an outdoor space, make plenty use of it. Children can be encouraged to explore nature, ask questions about the weather and seasons to enhance their understanding of the world. You can also collect nature’s treasures such as leaves, flowers, sticks, or small plants to decorate the indoor area. You can also use activities like Magical Tree Trolls to use natural materials to create decorations for the room.
  • If you have enough indoor space, you can dedicate different corners of the room to specific activities. You can create a storytelling corner or an arts and craft corner. This can also help children feel more comfortable and settled in the environment.
  • Encourage children to tidy up at the end of the session, and keep the room clean. You may not always have the time to do this, but if children learn to clean up after playing, they will become more responsible and caring towards the environment.

Children at this age will come to hug you, jump on your lap, or hold your hand. This is a way for them to express that they are comfortable being around you, and they enjoy your company. It can also mean they're anxious, or not comfortable with something. Remember: don’t push the child away. By pushing them away, it's like saying ‘you're not important to me’. It's important to discuss physical boundaries when planning Squirrel sessions

  • Physical boundaries are important, as nobody wants to be placed in an uncomfortable situation. We encourage you to discuss a policy with other leaders in your group, as well as with parents. At Scouts, we take safeguarding seriously, so encourage leaders and parents to read what the organisation does regarding young people’s safeguarding.
  • You can also involve children in the conversation. You can use activities like Fun with Feelings to help children explore their emotions about physical boundaries and how to express them. Allow children to act out their feelings, or draw them using pencils and colours. In this way, children can become more comfortable and confident about their own boundaries, and learn to say ‘no’ when they are not comfortable.

Behaviour in the programme

Scouts should be an enjoyable experience, and promoting positive behaviour's essential to the smooth running of any activity. It’s always difficult to run a meeting when you have to deal with challenging behaviour.

Some behaviours may be linked to medical conditions, disabilities or additional needs – see our inclusion and diversity pages for more information. For specific information about behaviour in autism, please visit our autism section.

When dealing with challenging behaviour, it’s important to work with the young person’s parent or carer to plan support strategies and to make reasonable adjustments to meet their needs. Get to know your young people, establish good routines and systems, use positive language and communication, and offer praise and recognition. All this will help with setting a good standard and positive behaviour. 

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Promoting positive behaviour

Check out our top tips on promoting positive behaviour for everyone in Scouts.

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Discussing behaviour with a parent or carer

Discover guidance for discussing behaviour with a parent or carer.

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