What are some good brain-boosting indoor activities for kids?

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Today’s question is one we’ve all probably thought about a lot. (Or at least a little, like whenever the cable goes out.)

What are some good indoor activities for kids that can boost my little one’s brainpower more than just watching TV?
– Elyssa

Well, Elyssa, here’s the short answer: pretty much anything.

When it comes to your child’s brain development, the fact is that almost any activity you do with her is better than plopping her in front of the TV. Studies show that kids who are exposed to more television have smaller vocabularies – which is bad for all sorts of reasons, including that language development is linked to reading skills. So the stronger your child’s vocabulary is early on, the better prepared she will be to read later.

We know what you might be thinking: “Well, half the time the TV is on, but no one is even watching it.” Unfortunately, it turns out that even when the TV is on only in the background, parents tend to speak less to their kids – which means that kids are learning fewer words. So your family would be better served just switching the set off.

But that doesn’t mean you have to be a total TV Nazi either.

We know that sometimes parents just need some “me” time – the kind that only 46-plus inches of plasma can buy you. That’s why TV is used strategically in our house to occasionally reward good behavior, create fun family movie nights, or this.

So before you turn on the tube next time, consider these alternative ideas for indoor activities that will be better for your kid’s brain (and probably lead to some fun parent-child bonding, too):

Art.

Four-year-old's art project, or Jackson Pollock painting?
Four-year-old’s art project, or Jackson Pollock painting?

We used to be intimidated by art, thinking that we had to have a “plan,” or be making something specific. But then we realized that we can just bust out a whole bunch of art supplies – paper, stickers, glue, markers, googly eyes, cotton balls, stamps, paint, whatever – and let our kids go to town. It’s low effort and everyone always has fun. Of course, sometimes it’s high mess, but that’s what paper towels are for.

Games.

Games are great for building kids’ vocabulary and math skills. Plus, bringing back family game night is a totally cool, retro thing to do.

Puzzles.

Jackson Pollock painting, or three-piece duck puzzle?
Jackson Pollock painting, or three-piece duck puzzle?

Kids love puzzles and they’re great for building spatial and critical thinking skills. Help your kiddos get more out of their puzzle practice by letting them struggle through the tough parts a little before jumping in to help. And keep a variety of puzzles on hand – from a three-piece picture of a duck to a thousand-piece Jackson Pollock painting – to make sure your kids will always be challenged.

Running around.

Get up and move, even if you’re indoors. Play chase around the couch or roll balls to each other on the floor. If parenting has you too pooped to participate, you can always keep your kids moving by playing the finding game: “Quick, go find me something blue! …That was too fast. Go find me something chartreuse!”

Baking.

This is another messy one, but it’s also really fun. Baking is a particularly great time to get some good number talk in. Read the recipe out loud and discuss measurements as you go.

Letting them play ALONE.

Kids need lots of interaction with you, but they also need time for independent play. When kids explore on their own, they encounter lots of brain-boosting learning opportunities. (And you might even be able to sneak in a few mind-melting minutes of Real Housewives when the kids aren’t looking. …Isn’t being the parent great?)

For more tips on fun activities for kids, check out the whole section of our website we’ve devoted to Playtime!


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