Brain development is a lifelong process. But its development in the childhood years is important because that forms the foundation for the growth later in life (1).
Therefore, parents have to focus not only on the physical growth but also on brain development of the child. And just like the body needs exercise to grow, the brain needs some activities to function well.
MomJunction has come up with some of the best brain games for kids to play and sharpen their mental abilities.
Top 20 Brain Games For Kids
You can try physical activities, puzzles, word games, teasers, riddles, and other activities to exercise the gray cells and aid in the child’s cognitive development.
Brain Training Activities
The more active the brain is, the better it develops. Here are a few activities designed to engage the child’s mind and boost brain development.
1. I spy with my eye
A classic game that has been played by generations, I Spy with My Eye makes the child more observant of the surroundings and helps them use their deduction skills. This is the perfect game to play with younger children while you wait for something, such as a doctor’s appointment, in a queue at a restaurant or on a drive.
What you will need: Eyes, ears, and imagination; time
The idea of the game is to make the kids look at the world around them and wonder about the little mundane things we take for granted.
- Look around the room and pick an object, but do not reveal what it is.
- Then say “I spy with my eye something…” and then mention a feature of an object, such as its color, shape, or size. For example, “I spy with my eye something blue or round or spiky.”Give the child a chance to guess what it is each time. Keep giving more clues by sharing more features of the chosen object.
- The participants can take turns to pick objects while the others guess what they are.
2. The brain-body coordination activity
We function efficiently when the brain and the other parts of the body work in tandem. This activity helps improve motor coordination in children.
What you will need: Space to move around freely, stretch and bend
You can try different activities to achieve the goal i.e., brain and body coordination. We have listed a few examples below.
- Wiggle your toes: Get the children to sit on a chair with their feet dangling. Take off any shoes or footwear they have on and ask them to move only the toes on both feet up and down, or round and round. You can also ask them to move only two big toes, or just the toes of one foot so they learn how to exercise control on the body movements.
- The other hand: Every time your brain sends out an instruction, your dominant hand takes over the job. But this time, ask the child to use the other hand to help improve their coordination. If they are right-handed, ask them to use their left hand and vice-versa. Start with simple and safe tasks, and try harder tasks once they learn how to use the other hand better.
- Rub your belly while patting your head: This is a tricky coordination activity that you can try with the older kids. It is not easy and will need a lot of practice and concentration, which help in the development of the brain.
3. Pretend play
Pretend play helps develop a child’s social and emotional skills, thinking abilities and language skills. It also exercises the child’s working memory, as they try to stay in character and display behaviors accordingly.
What you will need: Ideas, scenarios, props if needed
Pretend play is at its best when children use their imagination and create scenarios and situations that they have to deal with. But sometimes, the caregivers may nudge it.
- Create a list of scenarios or situations that the children can enact. Don’t give too many instructions – just pick a scene and let the children use their imagination to play.
- Examples include shopping at a supermarket or being a doctor, banker, firefighter etc.
- Make a box of props using old clothes, accessories, and objects and keep it in the children’s room or the classroom. Encourage children to use them for pretend play.
4. One word story
This group activity lets the children build a story, one word at a time. The game encourages them to put on their creative thinking hats while ensuring they don’t stray away from the theme.
What you will need: Space to play, themes if any
- Make the children stand in a circle, facing inside and each other.
- Pick a child at random and ask them to start the story with a word. You can pick any word you like, such as ‘once’, ‘yesterday’, and ‘suddenly’ to begin with and the children have to choose a word to continue it and finish the sentence.
- They have to build the story until it comes to a conclusion or the moderator says stop.
5. Memory game
The classic brain game boosts a child’s ability to recall things that they have learned recently, strengthening their memory power.
What you will need: Space to play, flashcards if you have
You can play the game with or without flashcards.
With flashcards: This is suitable for one or two players.
- Get a set of memory game flash cards, which have two cards for each symbol or sign.
- Mix the cards thoroughly and arrange them face down on a table.
- The player turns a card face up and then turns it back while making a mental note of the symbol.
- The idea is to remember the position of the cards and uncover them correctly to pair them up. The game is over when all cards have been paired.
Without flashcards: This is ideal when you are traveling and do not have flashcards.
- Sit in a circle and pick a theme: cities, animals, objects, foods etc.
- The first player starts the game by saying a word. The next player has to repeat the previous player’s word and add a new word to create the list. The next player does the same, and the number of words on the list continues to grow.
- The players have to list all the words in the right order at every turn.
- Anyone who misses the order or changes it is out.
- The last one standing is the winner.
Besides these screen-free activities, puzzles can also support brain development in children.
Puzzles For Brain Development
Puzzles can effectively engage the child’s brain, exercising their problem-solving and analytical skills. Jigsaw puzzles and block puzzles also promote hand-eye coordination and gross motor skills. Here, we have listed a few puzzles appropriate for children.
Sudoku is a number-placement puzzle that has 9×9 grid with numbers in a few boxes. The goal of the player is to fill in the remaining slots with the appropriate numbers such that a number appears only once in each row and column of the puzzle. The player has to use numbers from 1 to 9 to fill the grid in as little time as possible.
7. Rubik’s cube
A Rubik’s cube is an excellent tool to keep the child engaged on long road trips or when there’s a lot of waiting period. Each side of the cube is differently colored, with nine small squares on each side. The goal is to get all the same-colored squares to one side in as little time as possible. The cube is an excellent tool to sharpen the brain, enhance concentration and improve the child’s spatial awareness.
There are 43 quintillion ways to solve the cube, which means every time a child plays with it, they will enhance their skills.
Should you go left? Right? Wait, weren’t we here before?
Being in an actual maze is thrilling and can help a child’s sense of directions and observation skills. Mazes on paper are equally interesting, as they boost the visual and motor development skills, problem-solving ability, and fine motor development. The more the number of mazes a child solves, the faster they get at solving them.
What you will need: Ready-to-use maze puzzle books or sheets, pencils, and erasers
Jigsaw puzzles are simple and easy to solve for younger kids. They also contribute to the child’s cognitive development by enhancing their problem-solving skills, visual perception, and spatial awareness, along with fine motor skills. Jigsaw puzzles improve a child’s shape recognition skills and the ability to recreate what they see by putting all the pieces together.
Usually, jigsaws have 20-30 pieces. You can try larger and more complicated puzzles with more pieces for older kids and teens.
Brainteasers are nothing but riddles that make you think. Often in the form of a question, brain teasers compel you to deduce the answer with the help of clues that are in the question itself. Here are a few examples of brainteasers for children.
What belongs to you but is only used by the others?
Answer: Your name
Why can’t a man living in Scotland be buried in England?
Answer: Because he’s living, and we only bury the dead.
A truck drove to a village and met four cars. How many vehicles went to the village?
Answer: One truck
Feed me, and I will grow. Give me a drink of water, and I will die. Who am I?
Physical Activities and Exercises That Work The Brain
Not all games that work the brain need you to sit in one place. Here are a few activities that keep you fit physically and mentally.
11. Scavenger hunt
Scavenger hunts are fun and warrant quick thinking and action, compelling the children to exercise their working memory. Scavenger hunts can be organized indoors or outdoors too, where the kids will have to indulge in some physical activity such as walking, running or climbing.
What you will need: Small objects that are easily hidden and safe places where you can plant them. Ensure a hunt that is not too easy or difficult. Also, make sure the path or places you choose to hide the objects are safe for kids.
12. Obstacle courses
Obstacle courses exercise the brain-body coordination and improve the child’s kinetic skills, agility and problem-solving. Set up an indoor or outdoor course that challenges the child mentally and physically. A well-set obstacle course should make the child crawl under something, jump over, climb over, hop, skip, and walk. Obstacle courses boost early brain development and help the child gain better control over their physical movements.
What you will need: Chairs, cushions, string or rope, hula hoops, a tub of water and a timer. You can also use other objects that may help you chart the course better.
13. Stacking or nesting toys
Stacking or nesting toys may seem like a simple activity for babies and toddlers. But it has the potential to enhance early brain development while improving the child’s fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Picking up items exercises the fingers while the act of placing them on top of the other objects exercises the hand-eye coordination.
Stacking or nesting also works on the depth perception of the child. For older kids, you could make them stack cubes or chairs or other materials to make a tower that stands tall.
What you will need: Stacking or nesting toys for younger kids and toddlers, materials that can be stacked for older kids; space to play.
14. Simon says
Simon says is a classic game played at schools and parties. The game may seem simple at first but can get challenging as you play. Whether you play with just a handful of kids or big groups, the game never gets boring. Simon says helps improve the child’s listening, interpretation, and social skills.
What will you need: Space to play, a small or large group of children
- The game begins with one person being ‘Simon’, who gives commands to the other players.
- The children have to listen to what Simon says and follow them. For instance, Simon says, jump, bend and touch your toe, pat your head or stand on one leg.
- But here is the catch here — the other kids must follow the commands only if the sentence begins with ‘Simon says’. If it doesn’t, and the other children still follow the commands, they lose points.
- The player with the highest number of points wins.
15. Neighborhood map quest
Charting a map is not easy. But who’s talking about a treasure map or even a world map? We only want the child to draw his or her own map of the neighborhood on a piece of paper. This activity aims at improving their knowledge about their surroundings.
What you will need: A3 or A4 size papers, pencils and erasers, rulers, crayons or sketch pens
- Give the kids a sheet of paper and pencils or crayons.
- Ask them to go around the neighborhood for a quick look of the area. Escort them and allow them enough time to observe the surroundings and make a note of them mentally.
- Once they are back to the classroom or the house, ask them to draw the map based on what they have seen.
This activity encourages their spatial thinking abilities and teaches them the basics of mapping, routing, and direction.
Pen And Pencil Brain Games
When the weather is not ideal for outdoor activities, you can try these pen and pencil brain games to keep the kids busy and improve brain development.
16. Dots and boxes
This is one of the oldest games played in classrooms, office meetings and at home! The simple game with a set of dots on a paper can keep the kids occupied during long rides or free hours at the school. The game is for two players.
What will you need: Paper and pen or pencil
- On a plain white paper, make a square of dots. Start with a smaller square (6×6) and then move on to a bigger square (9×9 or 12×12).
- Two players take turns, using different colored pens to join two dots to make a line.
- The aim is to be able to join dots to form squares. When players complete a square with their line, they score a point and get to put their initial in that box.
- The person with the highest number of boxes with their initial in it wins.
17. Tic tac toe
A game of Xs and Os, tic tac toe features a 3×3 grid with one player choosing the X and the other choosing O.
What you will need: Paper, pens or pencils
- The game is played between two people. It starts by drawing a grid, by crossing two parallel and perpendicular lines, forming nine squares.
- The first player begins by placing an X in one of the squares.
- The other player puts an O in another square.
- The players keep adding Xs and Os to try and get three Xs or Os in a row: horizontally, vertically or diagonally.
- The player who gets three Xs or Os in a row wins, although in most cases, the game ends in a draw.
18. Paper telephone
Paper telephone is a fun game that encourages a child’s interpretation skills, drawing or artistic abilities. The game is played by at least three to as many as ten people.
What you will need: A paper and pencil or pen.
- The players are given a word or theme or object that they must depict in the form of a picture at the top of the page.
- Once done, they pass the paper to the next player, who writes a caption and folds it to reveal only the sentence and not the image before passing it to the next person.
- The next player has to draw an image to go with the caption and folds it so that only the second image is seen, before passing it to the next player.
- The game continues with participants writing a caption and drawing the image alternately until there is no more room on the paper.
The results are amusing, but the game is suitable for older kids and teens.
Pictionary is similar to charades, except here, the players have to draw the clues on a board instead of enacting them. The game enhances the child’s creative thinking abilities, communication skills, and interpretation skills.
What you will need: A white or blackboard, marker or chalk, list of topics, movie names or objects.
- This is a game for groups. Divide the kids into groups of two or more, depending on the size of the group.
- One member from each group is chosen and given the topic to depict through an image or picture. The rest of their team members must guess what the word or theme is.
- The team that gets it right gets points.
When you are going on long drives or to places where the kid will have nothing to do but wait, a crossword puzzle could come in handy. Crossword puzzles are among the top tools to keep the brain active and hone the child’s vocabulary. Some studies also suggest that crosswords help improve the memory function of the brain.
Each puzzle is a grid of empty squares that should be filled with the right word based on the clues given. The more a child works on crosswords, the better he or she will become at solving it.
What you will need: Crossword puzzle books or sheets picked according to the child’s age, pencil and eraser.
Besides these games, try other brain training activities such as trivia and use online or mobile apps when you do not have access to other games or resources. Some brain training games might feel like class projects or assignments all over again. Instead of those, pick fun activities that exercise the brain in a playful way.
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