As parents we all want our kids to be bright little buttons who can use their brains well. And the good news is we can help to develop their cognitive abilities.
Boosting your child’s brain power doesn’t mean trying to turn them into little geniuses who can do algebra by the age of two, or speak three languages while they’re still in nappies. It’s about helping your child use their brain to focus and think things through. You can help to achieve this by
developing four basic skills known as executive function. These are:
• Paying attention This means helping them to focus for sustained periods of time and shift that attention when necessary.
• Controlling impulses Teaching them to understand they can’t just do what they want, when they want. • Being able to plan This is the ability to look ahead, work out what you need to do to achieve a goal, and carry out a series of actions to help you get there.
• Using memory Holding on to thoughts and applying them to current situations. In the same way that muscles grow stronger when they are repeatedly put to work, when the brain is used and stimulated, it builds pathways that help it function better. Many of the activities you can do to help your child’s brain to develop are relaxing and fun things you are likely to be doing with them anyway. But here’s why it’s particularly important to make these things a regular part of their lives.
Most kids love this and do it instinctively – you should be encouraging them. Acting out pretend scenarios involves using their brain in lots of different ways. When they play pirates or princesses, they have to stay in character, which is good for impulse control – and they also have to plan what is going to happen next in their story. Playing make-believe also involves remembering what has come before and being focused.
OPEN UP THE GAMES ARCHIVE
There is so much more to generations-old games such as I Spy, Simon Says and What’s The Time Mr Wolf? than simply passing the time or keeping kids entertained on long car trips. They encourage kids to use their brains in different ways – for example, they have to pay attention to
their surroundings in I Spy and focus on what is being said in Simon Says and What’s The Time Mr Wolf? Simon Says also teaches impulse control and how to follow commands.
ONCE UPON A TIME
listening to stories being read aloud requires your child to pay attention and use their memory to keep track of characters and what has happened so far. listening like this involves different abilities than flicking through a picture book and just looking at the images.
GET BUSY IN THE KITCHEN
kids love baking. not only does it mean they get to eat something tasty at the end, but it teaches them to follow a plan and pay attention. it can also be good for their memory because they have to remember what they have already done. controlling their impulses not to eat the uncooked mixture is another good lesson!
These are great fun and easy to set up in your garden or living room using everyday objects like chairs and cushions. They’ll keep kids entertained for ages for free, and can provide a good physical workout. But they’re also working out the brain because they involve planning physical actions and figuring out how to achieve a goal. They encourage co-ordination and when your child masters a course you have set up, you can change it to make it more tricky and challenge them further.
Not only is this a great habit to establish from an early age, but teaching your child to tidy up after themselves is a good lesson in planning and organisation. It helps them learn to sort things into categories and remember where things go, and to prioritise.
These take a bit of time and planning on your part but are more than worth it. Start by coming up with
a series of picture clues relating to hiding places – for example, a picture (that you’ve hand-drawn or cut from a magazine) of a sock means they should look in their sock drawer, a letter means check the letter box. Have lots of clues leading them to different places and put a little prize at the end. This is great for memory and paying attention.
ARTS AND CRAFTS
This is lots of fun and encourages their creativity, but is also great for concentration and planning. be more adventurous and try something other than just colouring in or painting – try collage, clay modelling and papier-mâché. They’ll also get a sense of satisfaction when they finish their project.