Stimulating young minds

Learning doesn’t just happen at school. You can stimulate your child’s mind at home with these simple activities:

Sometimes when kids seem to need a lot of extra attention, are bugging you constantly to watch TV and movies, or are generally in your face 24/7, they might actually be asking for more intellectual stimulation.   When kids get bored, they turn to you for help, but they might not know exactly what they’re wanting.

If you think this might be what’s happening in your household, I’ll give you some ideas and examples of simple things you can do to stimulate your child’s mind, support more independence, and encourage self-directed activities.

First, consider your child’s favorite things.  Does she love dinosaurs, dolls, horses, or art?  Does he enjoy cooking or playing in the sandbox?  These preferences can inform which kinds of activities your child will enjoy right now.  Let’s say she’s into dinosaurs.  She loves to play with her dinosaurs and sometimes corrects you when you call them by the wrong name.

So, how can you create an engaging, self-directed activity that will build on your child’s knowledge and encourage her to learn even more about dinosaurs?

If you have a book in which dinosaurs are classified into carnivores and herbivores, you can create a fun activity that she can do on her own.  If you combine her basket of dinosaurs and the book about carnivores/herbivores, add a green piece of construction paper on which you will write “Herbivores” and a red piece of paper on which you will write, “Carnivores” you have a fun game!  Just show her how to set out each piece of paper, choose a dinosaur from the basket, look in the book to check whether this dinosaur is a carnivore or a herbivore, put the dinosaur on the appropriate piece of paper and then choose another dinosaur!

When she has classified all of her dinosaurs she can come get you and you can discuss her reasoning.  Be careful not to correct your child’s work at this point.  The idea is to encourage self directed activity that is intellectually stimulating and if she thinks she’s going to get a “bad grade” at the end, there’s no motivation to do the activity again.  However, if you sit with her and ask questions like, “Wow, I’m confused, I thought a stegosaurus was a carnivore, how did you know it’s an herbivore?” then she gets to teach you, and teaching is an even more stimulating way to learn something.

Another idea for a pre-reader is to make small paper signs that say things like door, mop, sink, book, ball, table.  Put tape on the back of each and then invite your child to find the items and tape the signs on.  Pretty soon, your child will begin to recognize words even before he’s able to read!

You can also adapt this activity by using a basket of miniature items and laminated cards with words on them for beginner readers.  Easy words like dog, cat, and hat can be matched up with a tiny toy dog, cat, or hat.  Kids love these types of matching games and they learn while they play!

To make this game easier for a child who’s not reading yet, create sets of cards.  First, create two matching cards each with a sticker, picture or drawing of a cat and write the word cat below.  Now cut the word off of the second set of cards.  Now you have three sets of cards- a control set with pictures and words, a set with pictures only and a set with words.  Show your child how to match up the control set with the other sets.  Again, remember, it’s not important that they get it right, it’s just important that they’re engaged and having fun with it!  I find that it helps to do this activity at a table or on a small rug on the floor so that their workspace is contained.

I hope that some of these ideas have sparked your creativity and your desire to stimulate your child’s mind.  Please write to me with your thoughts, other ideas, questions, and stories about how these activities work for you!

Big hugs, Shelly

7 comments
Fashion Blog
Fashion Blog

hey, this is a really great article! thanks a lot for sharing!

Shelly
Shelly

Hey Nina,

I love it that you're taking a more proactive role in making sure your sons needs for intellectual stimulation and attention are better met. Nice!

I love the game memory and love to play it with 5-7yolds. I think this game is especially useful because it teaches kids to increase their memory skills in a fun and exciting way. Your son may also enjoy checkers and go fish.

Regarding activities, I bet he would enjoy getting more involved in the kitchen and food preparation (dish washing, vegetable chopping with a safety chopper, learning to crack eggs, etc.) And depending on his interests, you can create a challenging game out of just about anything. Sometimes with this age group it's fun to create a treasure hunt around the house or an obstacle course in the back yard.

Given how smart your son is, I'd also recommend playing some word games with him while you're busy at other tasks. You can practice rhyming, classify animals into mammals, fish, reptiles or birds, come up with words that start with the same letter, and even make up songs and stories together.

I hope that's enough to encourage you to get even more creative. I'm so happy to hear that you're having fun together and may the fun times continue!
.-= Shelly´s last blog ..Stimulating young minds =-.

Nina Nelson
Nina Nelson

Shelly,
Our son just turned 5 and he has always had tons of energy. And is always getting into trouble! My husband and I decided last week that since we believe in prevention in every other aspect of our life, that we should practice that with our children instead - make sure they aren't hungry, tired or bored. We decided that this is exactly what Isaac needs because he is so energetic and smart. Lately we've been playing a lot of Connect 4 with him and we've noticed a difference in his behavior. And now he beats us all the time! Do you have any other suggestions for good games for 5-year-olds or activities that you've used in the past? Thanks.
Nina

Shelly
Shelly

Hey Connie, Absolutely I have ideas for a 9 year old! I'll throw out a couple here and if you'd like more individualized ideas, you're welcome to email me directly shelly@awakeparent.com. Again, you want to tap into your 9 year old daughter's interests so she could be reading chapter books, learning about other cultures, learning geography, ornithology, learning the names of marine mammals or insects.

Depending on where you are and what season it is, she could collect flowers from the garden to adorn your home, create artwork for her bedroom walls (learn to draw, paint, sculpt or collage).

If she loves babies and little kids she could begin a 3 year long program to prepare her for babysitting. You can teach her to diaper a doll, how to hold a baby, what is dangerous for babies and toddlers. If she's into growing plants, she can have a few of her own houseplants to care for, and she can plant a small garden in the spring. If she loves animals she can begin to walk the dog or feed the cats or possibly even volunteer at the local animal shelter (I'm not sure what your local rules are for volunteering ages).

I hope this helps and I'm curious, has it spurred any ideas you have about what would be most interesting to your daughter?
.-= Shelly´s last blog ..Stimulating young minds =-.

Connie
Connie

Wonderful article! Now do you have ideas along the same lines for a 9 year old? My daughter gets so bored when none of her friends are available. Thanks for a great post.

Shelly
Shelly

I agree completely! Thanks for reminding us to take a holistic approach and consider lots of options and strategies for how to make sure everyone's needs get met. It's funny, it seems like we have a tendency to get on to a relationship and communication kick here at Awake Parent and once in a while I feel an urge to balance that perspective with some practical ideas and activities. But of course if kids are needing closeness, connection, and physical contact, I'm all for giving them that too!

Christee
Christee

Shelly,
I like your ways of mentally stimulating our children! It's so much better than sitting them in front of a video. And, self-directed activity is emancipating for both parent and child! However, I think there are also times when our children seem to be "in our face 24/7" and what they might be needing is some of our time and attention. So, taking a break to read them a short story along with some cuddle time might do the trick. Or, even if we don't have time to give them undivided attention, physical nearness can still help. Suggesting that he look at a book on my lap, while I do another activity can satisfy my son. Or, suggesting she play with some toys under my desk while I finish working, can also provide "close time" with my daughter without requiring total one-on-one time right at that moment.