‘Exercising the brain is all about getting out of your comfort zone,’ says Pooneh Roney, a mathematician and teacher who has spent the past few years studying neurological development and the latest theories surrounding intelligence and IQ. ‘If you want to improve your academic performance, do something you wouldn’t normally do. If you find the task difficult, then so much the better. We learn by our mistakes, through correcting our actions bit by bit until we get things right. The process of failure and correction helps our intelligence grow,’ she says.
The activity doesn’t have to be expensive or time consuming either. It can be something as simple as brushing your teeth with the wrong hand. ‘It’s like varying your work out at the gym. If you always do the same things, your fitness will plateau,’ she explains. ‘You need to mix things up. Learning a new skill will create new neurological pathways, which will in turn, improve the fitness and performance of your brain.’
Pooneh suggests parents spend half an hour, three times a week, engaging their children in challenging activities, and encouraging them to exercise physically. ‘There is a direct correlation between children who are physically active and academic performance,’ she says. ‘Just running about, using your body and engaging in playground games, is really beneficial for your child’s brain power.’
The intelligent toy box
Snakes and ladders
Good for: Counting and recognising numerical clusters without having to count – ie, like knowing immediately which side of a dice is worth four, five or six moves. Snakes and Ladders is the easiest game to start with, and can be played by children as young as four. Moving the counters from square to square while they count is an excellent way to help them learn the numerical concept as well as higher double figure numbers. As it’s a game of luck rather than skill, anyone can be a winner, too.
Good for: Logic and reasoning, problem solving, sequential processing, planning and attention. Chess has quite a few rules, and might be a bit much for anyone under the age of seven to cope with. To help them learn the rules faster, write down the ‘piece’ moves in list form, so that they have the information to hand. There are some brilliant free online games sites that provide beginner lessons and games against the computer. Visit www.chess.com for an online game.
Good for: Memory and visual processing. Pick up a cheap pack of cards for the purpose from any good toy shop, and start by using a maximum of six cards (three pairs).We’re fans of the online www.primarygames.com version, where shapes appear on screen and you have to click on the correct pairs. The game gets harder with every correct pair you find, plus the added interest of playing against the clock, makes it quite addictive.
Good for: Visual processing, concentration, problem solving, planning, reasoning and more. Just the physical process of seeking out pieces that fit, and build a picture can stretch your child’s mind. If they are more iPad happy, there are plenty of jigsaw apps they can try, but nothing quite beats the old fashioned way.
Good for: Fine motor skills, deductive reasoning, problem solving, sequential processing and planning. Get them stretching their imaginations, but also building from the instructions too. Searching for exact pieces and understanding the task will put their concentration skills through a workout.
Good for: Fine and gross motor skills. Developed by British primary school teacher and mum-of-four, Shonette Bason, Dough Disco gets little ones handling blobs of Playdoh in a formalized but fun way. Her methods are being used in some primary schools in Dubai. You can do Dough Disco at home by downloading her routine on www.shonettebason.com. Then put some music on and get grooving!
Bounce and count
Good for: Sequencing. If your child is struggling with counting to high numbers (getting their tens sequences muddled up, ie 30, 50, 40, 60 and so on) playing a catching or bouncing game will help. Throw a ball to each other, counting as you go. An easier method is bouncing or skipping. Count with your child as they bounce (on a bed or a trampoline) or skip, all the way to 100. Not only is it great exercise, but their counting will improve in leaps and bounds!
Good for: Left and right brain communication and hand-to-eye coordination. Exercises include drawing figure eights in the air, doing the cross crawl (marching while touching left elbows to right knees and then right elbows to left knees), and so on. There are breathing exercises, de-stressing activities and repetitive movements to improve concentration. Ask your child’s teacher to demonstrate a few activities, and then repeat them at home. Check out www.braingym.org.
Good for: Everything. Studies show that children who spend a good amount of time engaged in active play do better in the classroom than children who don’t.
The Brain and Learning centre specializes in courses and educational activities to help childhood learning. www.thebrainandlearning.com