Brain Building in Progress

Brain-Building Fun: Six Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

The smallest humans learn best through play. That doesn't mean you need to buy expensive or enormous toys, however. Here are six fun activities that are also brain-builders – though your child doesn't ever have to know!

Blocks: Blocks are possibly the world's oldest toy. They help develop experimentation–the ability to form a hypothesis ("What happens if I put this big block on top of this little one?"), test it ("It tips over!"), and form a new one ("Big on top of small goes crash"). Parent tip: Keep things challenging with blocks in a variety in shapes, weights, and colors.

Sand and water: A bucket of water, a basin of sand, and a few cups and scoops can keep your child mesmerized for hours – and all along, he's learning about volume and texture, liquids and solids. Parent tip: Try an open-ended question every now and then to engage your child. ("Those sticks you added are standing in the sand all by themselves. I wonder why?")

Reverse follow-the-leader: This activity lets your child be in charge. She wants to drag a leaf across a puddle for ten minutes? No problem. Dig a hole with a stick? Don't interrupt. And you can do this together in a park, a playground, or even your own backyard. Parent tip: Let your child lead, and ask an occasional observational question. ("You're digging really hard. What did you find?")

Dress-up: Playing dress-up develops imagination, creative thinking, and even impulse control, which is vital as your child gets older. Parent tip: Encourage your child to try on clothes you've put aside for dress-up during his next play date and watch his imagination really take off.

Pretend cooking: Hand your little one an empty pot and a wooden spoon, and let her "cook." She knows it's just pretend, but not only is she entertaining herself, she's developing pre-literacy skills. Parent tip: If your child asks for "real" food, but you're not ready to deal with a big mess, try stand-ins. A sponge can serve as a sandwich, for instance, and playing cards could be pieces of chicken.

Hide-and-seek: This age-old game is probably the most fun way to develop navigation, mapping, and spatial skills. Parent tip: For a toddler, who doesn't quite grasp the idea of hiding, try hiding an object. Put a sippy cup or a stuffed animal under a pillow as he watches, then ask him to find it. He'll be proud and astonished – and learning about location and predictability.





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