- Games are more than an enjoyable pastime – some types of play can actually make kids smarter.
- Unstructured games, art, and even bath time can help kids strategize and explore their creative potential.
- Here are six games, from an expert, that will make your kids smarter.
Becoming smarter is more than just learning your ABCs and shapes. Kids can actually become better thinkers and strategizers and hone their social and verbal skills by simply playing.
You can generally skip “brain games,” because they have been largelydebunked, according to Popular Science. Games don’t have to be tactile either (though they can be). Unstructured play allows your child to explore the world on their own terms.
Laura Markham, Ph.D., author of “Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids,” spoke with Business Insider about the best games your children should be playing that will give them the aptitude to succeed later in life.
1. Unstructured play
Unstructured play, according to Dr. Markham, gives children the chance to learn many different things. “They’re experimenting with the world,” she said.
It can help them learn self-control, figure out how things work, and learn to resolve differences with other people. “We know pretend play is really important for kids in learning self-regulation and how to navigate conflict,” Markham said.
A2014 studyin the journal Childhood Education found that unstructured play enhances a child’s cooperative skills, builds knowledge through imitation, and helps them gain new insights through trial and error.
2. Bath-time fun
Experimenting with pouring water and discovering how much can fit in different-sized containers is a precursor to maths, Markham said.
3. Board games
Get off screens and play as a family, Markham said. She encouraged parents to check out cooperative games, like “The Secret Door,” where kids have to work together.
“Connect 4” allows players to work on strategy, planning ahead, and “divided attention” (having to keep an eye on what the other player is doing). Remembering where the ships are in Battleship tests memory. Markham is also a fan of the card game SET, which is based on numbers, shapes, and colours, for kids who are less verbal.
Games where children have to compete are OK, but Markham said that parents should cool it on the competition. “Take off the pressure of the competition,” Markham said. “It’s important for parents to know that while all kids need to learn to be good sports, sometimes we’re asking a lot of them at the age of 3, 4, 5, 6, 7.”
There’s one classic board game Markham doesn’t recommend. “I remember throwing out Sorry,” she said. “It encourages you as a player to sabotage other players, and young kids can’t handle that.”
Any kind of art is great for kids because it’s expressive, Markham said. While preschoolers often love to paint, she said that as kids get older, they become more frustrated when their painting of a cow doesn’t look like a cow. As a result, they sometimes stop doing all kinds of art, she said, and “they miss the opportunity for self-expression.”
Whether it’s clay or Play-Doh, anything that’s tactile uses a part of the brain that’s not used when speaking, Markham said. She feels strongly that all kids should have art supplies on hand.
“When kids spend time outdoors, they become calmer and happier,” Markham said, and that’s true for adults as well.
Markham said she believes strongly in growing things, going camping, teaching kids to start a fire safely, hiking, and using binoculars to look for birds. Anything that connects kids to the outdoors, especially if it gets them off screens, is a wonderful thing, she said.
You and your child can take turns writing in a shared journal, which has many benefits, Markham said. Markham recommended starting this when your kid is about eight years old.
A journal exchange like this can strengthen your relationship, Markham said, because it helps kids share things they may be “mortified” to bring up with you in person.
Not sure where to start? Markham said that parents should share emotions with their child, like how much they miss him or her when they travel for work. “Keep it short,” she said. “And be sure to respond quickly so the kid doesn’t lose interest in it.”
Your child will also get the benefit of practicing communicating back and forth with someone through writing. “That is a lost art,” Markham said, “which is a really great thing for kids to learn to do.”
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