Revving Up Kids' Brains for School

Posted by Whole Earth | 08.27.2020

Girl holding a puzzle piece with a woman behind her holding another puzzle piece next to it



Revving Up Kids’ Brains for School


School will be starting soon. Have you and your family been staying close to home for what seems like far too long? Without a traditional summer vacation, life may have settled into a routine where one day is much the same as the day before. With school on the horizon, it’s time to whisk away the mental cobwebs and rev up our kids’ brains. Here are a few suggestions to exercise their “little gray cells” and have fun at the same time. 


A key element for success is for parents to participate. Don’t pass these suggestions along like a homework assignment. These activities are more play than work. Certainly not all will appeal to you or your child, but hopefully one or two will resonate and you can use them as a warmup for the school year.  


First on our list: puzzle stories. These are brainteasers in the form of tales. We’re partial to George Shannon’s series of Stories to SolveMore Stories to Solve and Still More Stories to Solve. Shannon uses folktales from around the world to lure us into a story and then presents us with a conundrum we must resolve to learn how the story ends. This approach works well with kids who don’t like traditional brainteasers. Working on brainteasers together as a family may help the reluctant child learn strategies they can apply in the future.


Another type of puzzle that can stimulate a child’s mind is a jigsaw puzzle. Looking carefully at a puzzle piece and then locating its position within the larger image can sharpen a child’s visual acuity. Jigsaw puzzles can also model the process of finding a solution for many problems: start with a small piece, find the surrounding pieces, and gradually join together groups of pieces to arrive at the complete the picture. For starters, look for puzzles with well-defined images whose pieces can be easily sorted into place and with enough pieces to be a challenge but not overwhelming.


Tangram's, also known as the Game of Seven Cunning, are another great way to get the brain juices flowing. Tangrams are made of seven geometrical pieces that can be arranged in a square and are used to recreate silhouetted figures. Sounds easy but it can be a challenge. Making the silhouetted form with the seven pieces exercises the brain’s powers of visualization. It’s easy to make your own tangram set with cardboard and to find figures to solve online.


Want to increase kids’ manual dexterity and the coordination between eye and brain? Try Origami! Folding squares of colorful paper into a menagerie of creatures, including the Peace Crane, and other surprising shapes can also challenge our kids’ brains. Origami requires following directions, making connections between a diagram and the paper in one’s hand, and making precise folds for the best result. It’s also an opportunity for experiencing firsthand the truth that practice makes perfect or, at the very least, an improvement.


As kids head into the school year, listening may be a skill that needs to be strengthened. Everyday life no matter how boring, is still filled with distractions, and settling down to listen to a teacher may be a stretch without some practice ahead of time. A daily family storytime may help, but not at bedtime. We don’t want our kids to associate listening and sleeping! Find a book that’s engaging for the whole family, and if you have older children, one that they too can take a turn reading aloud to the group.  Here are a few classics and award winners for your consideration: The Secret GardenThe Wizard of OzLittle Women, Sherlock Holmes tales, The Sword in the StoneJames and the Giant PeachIsland of the Blue DolphinsA Wrinkle in TimeThe Watsons Go to Birmingham - 1963HolesEsperanza Rising, and Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. The American Library Association’s website and your local librarian can help you find many more read-aloud classics. 


We hope you’ll find these mental warm-ups useful for your kids before the school year begins. There are no worksheets that look suspiciously like homework. They’re just fun activities that can help clear the cobwebs from a summer seemingly stuck on replay.




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