You’re a progressive, 21st century parent, right? You buy organic when you can, steer clear of anything with high fructose corn syrup, and even considered cloth diapers (for about 20 seconds). You’d do anything to increase your child’s chances for success later in life – so here’s one of the cheapest and easiest ways to make a big difference in their future: brain-stimulating games. And I am not talking about video games, leap-pad, or iPad apps.
How and why brain games help
“The root of later learning is grounded in strong cognitive skills,” explains psychologist Keith Gibson, Ph.D. “By helping their children build skills like memory, comprehension, logic and reasoning among others EARLY – even before school years – parents are actually increasing the chance of academic success, and likely life success.”
The cognitive skills that Gibson refers to are the underlying skills that make learning and remembering easier. Attention, processing speed, logic and reasoning, auditory processing, visual processing, and short-term/long-term memory are all cognitive skills.
“It’s not about teaching your kids the ABCs,” says Dr. Ken Gibson, who is the founder of the national brain-training franchise, LearningRx. “Processing skills, like sound analysis in fun rhyming games, are much more important because they help successfully think, understand, visualize and create useful associations, which will help with reading later. What good does it do if a child can point out the letter B in a story, but doesn’t know what it sounds like?”
Best of all, honing cognitive skills is something that can help all children because all children have strengths and weaknesses. Making all areas of their brains stronger can only make them more successful in the future.
Brain games you can play at home
For toy store addicts, there are many store-bought games that can help improve a wide variety of cognitive skills. The original echo game, “Simon,” is great for auditory processing, memory and processing speed. It requires children to make connections between what they see and hear, what they remember and how fast they can put those pieces of information together. “Mastermind for Kids” is a new version of an old classic that increases logic and reasoning. For older kids, board games like “Stratego,” chess and checkers can also help with mental tools like planning, memory, comprehension and focus. For very young children, phonics flashcards can be a great springboard to early reading skills, like sound analysis, sound blending and segmenting.
Of course, there are plenty of free games that you can play to increase cognitive skills. The trick is to find several that are age-appropriate and that your kids find enjoyable. Here are a few favorites:
- Paperless Tic-Tac-Toe: Take the classic game of tick-tac-toe and assign each box a number. Have your child visualize this grid in her mind and call off the box number in which she wants to place her mark. You and her must remember what boxes have already been filled and by who. Also, try playing tic-tac-toe by drawing the grid in the air and pointing to the box you want to place your mark in. (What it helps: Memory, visualization, planning, focus, problem solving)
- 20 Questions: Think of a person or object and give your child 20 chances to narrow down what you’re thinking of by asking yes or no questions. To help them improve their logic and reasoning, teach them to strategize by using questions that will significantly narrow down the categories, such as “Are they alive?” or “Do we have one in our house?” (What it helps: Memory, visualization, planning, focus, problem solving)
- Poetry: Have you child choose four words that rhyme and then ask them to create a poem with the same number of beats in each line. (What it helps: Auditory analysis, verbal rhythm, memory)
- The Picture-less Book: Read a passage from a book aloud but don’t show your child the pictures. Have him/her describe the scene of what they heard using all their senses. “I hear the ocean hitting the sand, I smell the fish, I can see the white clouds and the blue sky …” (What it helps: Attention to detail, visual processing, comprehension, executive thinking)
- Abstract Storytelling: Have your child demonstrate a story, such as “Humpty Dumpty,” by using objects from around the house, such as paper clips, cups, pillows, etc. to represent items and thoughts from the story. For older kids, make this more difficult by having your child demonstrate more abstract thoughts, such as representing math word problems through illustrations. (What it helps: Executive thinking, comprehension, visual processing)
- The Visual Spelling Test: When studying with your child for an upcoming spelling test, ask her to visualize each word instead of writing it down and to write each letter in the air with her finger. Have her point to the location where each letter is visualized. Try spelling each word forward and backward. (What it helps: Visualization, sound analysis, segmenting and blending)
- Needle in a Haystack: Take a page from a newspaper and time your child as she circles all occurrences of a specific letter. Identify which sound symbols are more easily found than others and focus on increasing both accuracy and speed. (What it helps: Visual processing speed)
If you find a game or two that really hits home, increase the fun by adding a timed component. Kids often love to push themselves to beat their best time and this too will build their processing speed. Remember, whatever brain games you choose, make them fun for you and your kids.