Even some educated adults will pause briefly in doubt before answering this question: “Is the brain a muscle or an organ?” The basic and correct answer is the brain is an organ; however, it is easy to see why those of us who are not anatomists can be confused by this question. Our brains do act like muscles in many ways, the most obvious of which is that they can be trained with exercise.
If you decided to do push-ups every day for 30 days, you would inevitably see your arms start to change: you’ll see more definition and muscle tone (or at least you should if you are doing the push-ups correctly!). Though “brain exercise” doesn’t create the same kind of outwardly visible results, you will definitely notice the change in other ways.
Try carving out a half-hour each day for fun brain teasers such as quirky questions, tongue twisters, crossword puzzles, math riddles, jigsaw puzzles, word puzzles, and riddles with your kids for 30 days.
Some of the results you may “see” in your kids (and even in yourself) include:
- Improved memory (critical thinking)
- Better concentration
- Increased reaction time in tackling a problem
- Sharpened problem-solving skills
Furthermore, the time spent together working on something that is both educational and fun is a fantastic bonding experience for parents and their kids. If you can continue to make it a regular habit, both you and your children will reap the rewards of this time well spent.
We will get you started with ten fun and inexpensive or free ideas for exercising brains below.
Is the Dress White and Gold or Is It Blue and Black? Optical Illusions to Tease Brains
Everyone remembers the dress that was seen round the world, sparking debate and demonstrating the power (and popularity) of optical illusions. Introducing optical illusions to your kids is a great way to stimulate their minds, encourage discussion and debate, and arouse their curiosity.
Is it a duck or is it a bunny? There are numerous free resources online you can use to print out some well-known optical illusions and then ask your kids to name the first thing they spot in the image. See if you can determine any optical illusion patterns in your household (for example: do right-handed family members view the optical illusions differently than those who are left-handed? Is there any pattern among different age groups or genders?)
One of These Things Is Not Like the Other
“Spot the difference” is a classic brain teaser game for kids and you’re never too old to exercise your brain with these entertaining challenges. There are a variety of free resources online to find and print your own, and they are also a common feature of the popular kids’ magazine Highlights. Plus, you can take it a step further by challenging your child to challenge you. Ask them to draw out their own “spot the difference” set of images to test mom and dad’s abilities. Encourage them to draw their surroundings. For example, your child might draw two pictures of his own room, and perhaps in one, he removes the bedside lamp from the drawing.
Chain Chain Chain…Chain of SOUND!
To exercise your child’s memory (and by extension your own), try out a sound chain game. Here’s how it works: each person in the chain creates one sound. This could be a snap, a clap, a whistle, or any other sound you can produce with your own body. (Don’t be surprised if your children want to insert the famous “armpit fart” in their chains of sounds. They’re kids, after all!) The goal is you must repeat the sound the first person made, and then add your own, adding a new sound each time someone chimes in for a turn. So, the chain could become whistle, clap, snap, stomp, snap, whistle…and you keep the round going until someone breaks the pattern. This is a fun way to give everyone in your family a memory workout.
Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes: A Classic for a Reason!
This one has been around for generations and it’s still a favorite for all kids today. The bonus of playing Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes is that your young ones are exercising both their brains and their bodies. Use the game to prompt a discussion about how brain exercise and physical exercise are related; teach your kids about the benefits of keeping both mind and body strong. Also, a pro tip for parents: Heads, Shoulders, Knees, and Toes creates a great excuse to emphasize the importance of stretching, too. Moving too quickly from head to toes might just find moms and dads feeling the strain.
Up the Ante with the Classic Alphabet Game
Most of us are familiar with various alphabet games for kids. For example, you might start by naming a city that starts with A, then another that starts with B, and so on. However, you can really challenge your kids by asking for three or even five items per letter instead. For example, while playing a round of the alphabet games for food, players might chime in with answers such as “A: apple, almonds, and, arugula. B: bananas, beef, and, beets.” Keep it going for as long as you can, and with so many categories to consider the sky is the limit for this brain teaser game. Alphabet brain teasers are a great way to pass the time on long road trips, too.
This Is Not Your Grandmother’s Scavenger Hunt
Scavenger hunts are another perennial favorite and a rite of passage in the childhood years. But they don’t have to be boring and predictable, and there’s no reason to take the easy or lazy route with “find something green in the yard.” Make it more of a challenge with requests such as “bring back a plant with sheath leaves” or “bring home a sedimentary rock.” Add an element of zany fun by turning it into “bring home a sedimentary rock and then make up a rap about it!” Obviously, these types of challenges are better suited to older kids, but it’s still okay to ask the younger ones to simply find something green!
Extra Extra: Read all about It
If you still receive a daily paper (the actual, physical kind), make it a habit to work the crossword puzzle and/or Sudoku with older kids. A simple crossword puzzle is one of the best things you can do to strengthen your mind, and it is a fantastic habit to instill in kids from a young age. While the newspaper crosswords can be too difficult for younger children, there are tons of free resources for crosswords online or inexpensive crossword books in your local discount stores.
Make the Connection Word Games
Another fun game to play with your kids is challenging them to make a connection between two words. Here’s how it works: you tell your child to come up with a common link for these two words “tennis and noise.” The answer? Racket! Another example is “bed and paper.” The common link? A sheet! Encourage your kids to quiz you with “make the connection” challenges as well.
Do It all in Reverse This Time
One fun way to stimulate brain activity and challenge your kids is by reversing some of the most common items they are asked to recite. For example, give your kids the task of reciting the days of the week in reverse order (or even alphabetical order). They have been rattling off the days of the week from even their toddler years, but asking them to change that pattern requires a great deal of concentration. You can also ask them to recite the months of the year this way, or even challenge them to spell their own names in reverse. For another fun challenge, ask them to list as many words they can think of that are the same when spelled in reverse, such as “mom” or “bob.”
Classic Games Are Classic for a Reason!
Lastly, don’t forget the value of playing some good old-fashioned board games with your kids. Monopoly, Clue, Candyland, and other board games have been around for as long as they have for a reason: not only are they entertaining, but they teach kids a wide variety of important lessons. These classic games strengthen a child’s ability to strategize; they help them hone their math skills; and, of course, games teach kids about winning (and losing) gracefully. Furthermore, you can even create your own family traditions with classic games: for example, the winner of the Friday afternoon Uno game chooses that night’s dinner, or the Sunday afternoon Monopoly champ chooses the movie the family watches that night.