Every parent wants what is best for their children. What exactly is best? How do we get our children to succeed? What’s the key? Search the web and you’ll find a plethora of opinions on the subject. Parents who want to stimulate their children’s brain development often focus on things like early reading, flashcards, educational DVDs and language tapes. However, a large and continually growing body of research suggests that playing games with young children, such as Simon Says, may be the best way to increase their ability to do well in school.
We tend to equate learning with the content of information retained rather than the process of learning itself. We judge children’s intelligence by the what they retain, rather than how they’re learning. Focusing on the how of young children’s learning rather than the content itself helps them develop the skills they need to take in more information as they grow up. This is why play requiring children to listen to and follow rules and develop self control tends to be much more predictive of long-term success than flashcards and educational DVDs.
Research has repeatedly shown that children who develop focus and self-control early in life have better academic achievement long-term. One study of 814 children between the ages of 3 and 6 shows that children who do well in Simon Says-like games do better in math and reading once they get to school. Another study showed that preschool children who started the school year with relatively low levels of self-control showed improvement after playing games like Red-Light Green-Light in class.
It may come as a surprise that simple games like Red-Light Green-Light, Freeze Tag and Simon Says require a very high level of cognitive functioning in young children. Such games test their ability to pay attention, remember rules and exhibit self control; all qualities that also happen to be correlated with academic success. Megan McClelland, an early childhood-development researcher at Oregon State University has led much research on this subject. McClelland says that “play is one of the most cognitively stimulating things a young child can do.”
Given these findings, which games are best for helping young children develop and practice skills that will help them build the skills they need to succeed? According to researchers, the key is to start with a simple game and add increasingly complicated rules. For example, a game researchers at Oregon State University call Head-to-Toes is used to assess preschool children’s development. At first, the children copy the instructors movements, touching either their head or their toes. Then, once they have the hang of it the rules are changed, and the children are instructed to do the opposite of what their instructor is modeling. This can be a difficult task for anyone, particularly young children. Such tasks test and help develop focus, self-control, and improve one’s ability to listen attentively. Games like Head-to-Toes sound simple but require a very high level of executive function for a preschooler, including working memory to remember rules and mental flexibility to do the opposite of what’s being modeled. Clapping and singing games also require an extraordinary amount of attention, focus, and memory flexibility in young children.
So, put away the educational DVDs and stop flashing cards at your toddler to help them learn and just play! For more ideas of games to play with your children that will help them develop important skills they’ll need for life, check out the resources below!