‘Play is our brain’s favourite way of learning’
– Diane Ackerman
Research has proved that more than 70% of a child’s learning takes place in the first five years of their life. A child’s brain is busy taking in all the information fed to it through various senses. Children try to find structure and meaning in the world around them. The things they see, hear, feel and do will shape the way their brain functions. The newly formed neurological foundation determines everything from moral values to intellectual ability, which your child will carry for the rest of their lives. Experiences after birth, in conjunction with your child’s genes, determine the eventual wiring of their brain.
This is exactly why we need to make sure that children are exposed to optimal experiences that help to kick-start brain development during the formative years. Fortunately, sending the young brain to the gym is easy, if it is made to practice the right brain-boosting activities. Learning can be made fun and enjoyable through various activities that help develop the child’s thinking, awareness, creativity, motor, and linguistic skills and more! Gentle, loving fun combined with responsive language from you creates an atmosphere in which learning thrives.
Although brain games are classified into different groups based on the skill it highlights, most activities work on multiple levels and help hone a combination of skills.
Thinking and Problem-solving Skills
The more children think, the more they grow. Activities that push the brain to think harder are beneficial to the child’s development. Do not underestimate the straightforwardness and simplicity of ‘Stacking and Nesting’ games in aiding this growth. Children have to identify suitable objects and place them in the right order – above, below, inside, outside etc. Albeit simple activities as these pose problems that children have to solve.
Puzzles are excellent games that improve problem-solving skills too. The difficulty of the puzzle can be determined according to the age of the child. Puzzles should be fun to solve and not too hard, lest the child loses interest. Multiple puzzles can be linked to set up a ‘Scavenger hunt’. Even a simple list of items to be found around the household or classroom counts as a Scavenger hunt. Since this involves physical activity too, it helps to develop motor and cognitive skills as well. A makeshift ‘Maze’ can be set up at home that children have to cross. While mazes drawn on paper help with hand-eye coordination and thinking skills, an actual maze made of cardboard and pillows forming obstacles that children have to crawl under or over can go a long way in developing physical skills.
‘Similar and Opposites’ is a basic activity in which children have to identify similar objects and those opposite to each other. For instance, collect pictures of things that are opposites, such as big and small, hard and soft, up and down, inside and outside and so on. Talk to the child about the concept of opposites, mix up the pictures and let him/her pick out the contrasting features.
‘What’s next?’ This is a guessing game. While reading them a book or showing them a movie, ask children to predict what might happen next. Give them hints and reward them if they guess right.
Imaginative and Creative Skills
Children’s ability to generate new thoughts and ideas is essential for productive adult life. Building blocks is a well-known children’s game, and for good reason. The child can either copy an already set pattern or make a brand-new structural pattern of blocks. Allowing the child to play freely with blocks will help him/her form new patterns. Repeating patterns get lodged in memory and this can be imitated in the other day to day activities, to learn how to follow patterns.
Clay, crayons, paint and other creative materials can be provided to children. The skill to create new things is best observed when a child is given a crayon and paper when his/her imagination runs wild. Reading is a great activity, especially through comic books or graphical novels for children. Reading books aloud to children stimulates their imaginations and expands their understanding of the world.
Making music is great for children’s awareness, sense of timing and more. Get the children to sing along with some music, or clap along, or create games so that they have to copy the timing and number of claps.
Emotional and Social Skills
The brain perceives emotions as a result of personal interactions with other people or objects. Any activity in which the child spends time in a good company contributes to emotional development. That is why children are encouraged to play with toys, doll-houses etc. Teaching children to nurture and care for their toys aids in emotional growth.
Board games are an excellent choice as a socially-interactive game. They teach the very important value of patience. Waiting for your turn, the dynamics of winning and losing, healthy competition are all brain-boosting situations to which children are introduced, through board games.
Language and Communication Skills
Children acquire language through listening. The brain registers words that are heard over and over. That is why it is necessary to talk to children. The more words they learn, the more connections the brain makes. Labelling is a natural activity through which children can make word-object associations. Parents and teachers can label the things the child sees and hears. While it can be an activity or a game, it is best to make labelling a part of daily conversations.
I Spy is a fun activity to play one-on-one or in groups. Say ‘I spy with my little eye…’, followed by something you see. The child is supposed to find the object you see. It helps the child to associate words to objects, their colours, sizes and shapes. The same can be achieved for unfamiliar objects, like animals, using Picture books. The advantage of language games is that they inevitably help with memory skills as well.
There is no shortage of fun activities for your child. But it is necessary to pick out those games that are productive and not just fun. Any activity they engage in must be growth-oriented, lest they make negative impressions on the child’s brain due to its very receptive nature. Only the right activities will nurture a healthy, developing mind.