Wake up and work out your child’s brain

Using muscles makes them grow. The same is true for a key organ: the brain.

So feed your child’s brain with a great day focused on cognitive play. Entice children to engage their thinking skills and pump up their gray matter while having fun with friends.

Morning play session

Presenting math as fun serves children now and in their future, and morning is a fine time to introduce challenging concepts. Zillio Mini Mountain simplifies basic math skills by offering visual and kinesthetic examples. This allows children from age 4 and up to engage in addition, subtraction, multiplication and division as a multi-sensory playful experience.

Mid-morning session

The cornerstone of learning is memory, and games can be great for that. A fun one for older children, The Touch Game, works with memory, sensory awareness and small motor skills. For younger children, the What’s Inside Box, prompts them to hide and then remember the collection of play items tucked into this soft, sculpted exploration box. To avoid frustration, increase or decrease the number of objects hidden in order to slowly build both memory skills and self-esteem.


Food can nourish both the body and the mind if you give a child the right motivation. Turn lunch into a game by asking children to count the crackers before and after they eat. Ask them to identify where the foods come from (trees for fruit, ground for carrots, plants for tomatoes). You can even make simple Bingo cards for all the guests and have the children put a marker on every word item or color they take a bite of (purple for grape, yellow for cheese). This helps develop word and color recognition. It’s also a very tricky way to get some of those veggies eaten. Continue playing/eating until all the children win a Bingo prize (dessert or snack).

Afternoon session

Banish after-lunch fatigue with an active game like parachute scrabble. Hide a bunch of letters you made under a blanket and have two adults hold the ends. Raise the blanket on the count of three like a parachute and have the children collect as many letters as they can before the parachute falls down on them. Challenge children to create words, identify vowels, spell their name or trade letters to make new words.

Wikki Stix alphabet toy is another fun way for children to make their own letters or numbers. These wax-coated yarn pieces are stimulating to the touch and fun to form, bend and create with.

Late afternoon session

Now is the time for some interactive reading to keep children motivated and involved. Read a short book or just a page or chapter. Then reread it again leaving out important words for the children to fill in. You can even blindfold kids to help them concentrate. Another fun book is, My Many Colored Days, which integrates scarves and music while working on color recognition, listening skills and exploration of emotions.

Early evening

Work on recall skills by having children recap the day’s events by writing in a journal or verbally telling their stories. Creative journaling can involve writing, poems, drawings or even just making a list.

Deidre Pate Omahen is a mom and a former Chicago Special Parent advisory board member.

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