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Your 4-year-old now
Sticks become swords. Preschoolers love to use props to enter the world of make-believe. At four, your child's imagination is in hyperdrive. She can become whomever she chooses — a fossil hunter, mother, or pilot. Pretend play allows your child to explore new roles, resolve problems, and negotiate relationships. Her fantasy creates longer, more complex dramas that can roll in others, so now play scenes can last many hours or be repeated across several days.
To help her travel to these fantasy worlds, keep a box of props on hand — the more versatile the better. Your old shoes and cast-off clothes spur more creativity than store-bought character costumes. You may also be surprised how many uses your child can find for the same object: A basket can carry goodies to Grandma or be a sailing ship for her doggie.
Look around the house for ideas. Empty cereal boxes and broken toasters can stock a pretend kitchen. Stuffed animals and cardboard bricks become a zoo. If you keep the objects in a box or trunk, rotate them occasionally. Your child will love rummaging through to see what's new.
Your life now
Make your life a little easier by encouraging your child to pick up after herself — in the playroom, her bedroom, the bathroom. Don't wait till a room's a wreck to tidy. Instead, build some cleanup time into daily routines; before you move to the next activity (say, from bath to bed), spend a few minutes having "pickup time" together. Eventually your child will learn to anticipate this ritual. At this age, a simple command to "clean up your room" won't work without you breaking down that overwhelming task and working with her on it, at least as the "executive organizer."
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