How to Exercise Your Brain and Challenge Young Minds

How to Exercise Your Brain and Challenge Young Minds

The brain wins my unofficial award for the most miraculous of all organs. It’s the one that controls every thought and every action, according to the Society for Neuroscience. Just like for any other part of the body, exercise is important, and brain games are a great way to boost mental agility.

For kids, mental exercises encourage cognitive development and can support both mental and physical skills. Are you and your family ready for a mind workout? These simple games teach you how to exercise your brain and how to encourage youngsters to join you.

Mixed-Up Memory

Start this game by laying out a cookie sheet or a towel on the floor. Then, have your kids search the house, gathering eight to ten small, unrelated household items. Ask them then to arrange their items randomly on the towel.

Physical fitness is important, but so is mental fitness. Here's how to exercise your brain as a family.

Set a timer, and allow them to look at the items for one full minute.

Physical fitness is important, but so is mental fitness. Here's how to exercise your brain as a family.

When the time’s up, have them turn around so their backs are to the display and the items are now out of sight. How many items can each child list off from memory?

Older children may like to take this game to the next level. Here are a few variations that both exercise the brain and reveal interesting clues about how the mind works:

Physical fitness is important, but so is mental fitness. Here's how to exercise your brain as a family.

  • After seeing how many items they can recall, scramble the items and let them look again. How many can they recall this time?
  • You can also try collecting and arranging the items yourself before allowing them to view the objects for 60 seconds. Can they recall more or fewer items with this method? What does this say about their participation in a game or activity?
  • Supply pencil and paper. Let them both view and write the names of each item for a minute before turning their backs. Can they recall more items having completed this extra step?

Mirror Image

This is one of the best games for your brain, as it helps boost concentration and focus. Face your child and have her begin moving very slowly. Maintaining eye contact, try to mirror her actions. Then, switch roles to have her mimic your movements this time. Add a twist by asking another child to watch and let him guess who’s the leader.

The Old Card Game

So few families enjoy a good old-fashioned card games these days. According to a report cited in the Wall Street Journal, card games are linked to improved performance in math, a benefit any parent would welcome. The act of shuffling and dealing cards alone improves hand-eye coordination and engages you brain in ways no video game can.

Start with the game Old Maid. Make a tradition out of playing regularly, and when your child grows out of it cognitively, resist the temptation to move on to more challenging games. Instead, you can use the old game as a safe place for conversations about awkward topics.

Sound Match Game

Dr. Eric H. Chudler, the executive director of the Center for Sensorimotor Neural Engineering, maintains an entertaining website that shows your kids how their own brains work.

Physical fitness is important, but so is mental fitness. Here's how to exercise your brain as a family.

One particularly fun game on his site is called Sound Match. It’s great because it challenges the youngest minds while helping them associate a sound with everyday life. To get started, pull up the game and listen to the first sound. Which picture matches it?

Physical fitness is important, but so is mental fitness. Here's how to exercise your brain as a family.

Challenge older kids by having them listen with their eyes closed and answer before looking at the choices. This game is so immersive, kids don’t even know they’re learning.

ClapPass

This brain game is also a physical one that combines social and mental skills. It’s the perfect wordless activity for hanging out in long lines or sitting in waiting rooms. Simply assemble three or more players and explain how it works. You, the grownup, begin by making eye contact with another player and clapping once. That player then “passes” the clap by looking at another player’s eyes and clapping once. On and on it goes. When your kids are ready for a challenge, have them try to pass a simple, rhythmic series of claps.

I feel smarter already. How about you? Bookmark this page so you’ll always know how to exercise your brain with your favorite people. And don’t stop there—tweet your customizations to @TomsofMaine.

Image source: Bethany Johnson

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

If you exercise your body, you know it feels good. Giving your brain a mental workout is beneficial too and also feels great. Try these activities with the youngsters in your life. You will end up challenging yourself (and each other!).