What if I told you there is a way for your children to become better thinkers, keep their eyeballs healthy and build social skills all at the same time?
Brain games will do just that!
Brain games for kids are an essential part of my parenting toolkit. They fill the time while waiting in line, driving in the car, or those sticky moments when you can't just let your kid be bored without chaos raining down.
Sure, an electronic brain game on the phone or tablet might do the trick, but these screen-free brain games that boost quick thinking skills are different!
They require your children to look at you, each other, and the world. Did you know that nearsightedness is on the rise because children's eyeballs don't spend enough time adjusting and readjusting to focusing on objects in the distance? (source: my opthamologist!) Well, these mind bending brain games will get your kids' eyes off the screens and get their young minds thinking and growing! Pretty soon they'll be playing all kinds of mind games with you (ha ha).
A few of these games can be played solo, but most require at least one other partner, which means kids are working on social skills as they navigate the ins and out of cooperation and competition.
Brain games are also good tools for classrooms, when teachers need to give kids a little "in-between" activities.
I chose three categories of screen-free brain twisters below. Verbal fluency games which rely of quick thinking and literacy skills (such as word games) ; Pen and paper games; and physical brain games which require objects, or utilize kids' bodies.
Verbal Fluency Games
Hink Pink. Hink Pinks are rhyming word puzzles. One person thinks of a two word rhyme and gives a two word description. The other player then must guess the "Hink Pink." For example, if one person says, "angry boy", the other player responds, "mad lad." Or, "wet canine" becomes "soggy doggy."
Human Thesaurus. Choose a simple word like "beautiful." Think of as many synonyms as you can. If playing with others, you can set a timer and trade off with different words, or write words down and see who can come up with the most.
Verbal Venn. One player chooses two disparate objects, the other player attempts to find a linking characteristic between those two objects and the word that would go in the middle of the imaginary Venn diagram.
For example, player one says, "magazine and oven." A potential answer might say, "Cookbooks: things that you read and things in the kitchen." Player one does not have to have a answer. This is a fun one and get get really crazy! Here's a visual, but this game is all verbal!
Not Three of a Kind. One person names 3 similar objects and the other player(s) have to figure out how one of them does not fit in the group. For example: banana, lemon, strawberries. Bananas and lemons are yellow fruit so strawberries are the odd one out.
Rapid Fire. In 30 seconds say as many words that start with one letter as you can. Optional: restrict the words by category.
Backwards in Time: Say the days of the weeks, or the months of the year, in backward order as fast as you can. Repeat! If playing with a partner use a stopwatch to see who can go the fastest.
Pen and pencil brain games
Count the Shapes. This doesn't really require a pencil, unless you want to try and outline the shapes to help you unlock the answer! Look at the two images below. In the first one, how many triangles can you count? In the second, how many squares? How many triangles?
Download a printable of the triangle brain game here.
Download a printable of the square brain game here.
Apple Tree. This is a less-macabre version of an old favorite, Hangman. One person thinks of a word and draws dashes along a paper to represent each letter in the word. Above the dashes he draws a tree with 7 apples. The other person guesses one letter at a time. If the letter is in the word, the first person fills in the blank(s). If not, the incorrect letter is written inside one of the apples. If the person guesses the word before all the apples are filled, he wins, if not -- well, he loses. Of course, you can always play Hangman the traditional way, too!
Dots and Boxes. This is one of my favorite pen and pencil brain games. I have instructions and a video here --> how to play dots and boxes.
The Game of Sim! This is a clever 2 person puzzle brain game that even involves a little geometry. Read the Sim game instructions here, or watch the video below.
Physical Brain Games
You can purchase physical puzzles, like Rubik's cube or other old fashioned brain teaser puzzles, but you can also make your own!
Bead Escape Puzzle. I show you how to make this old fashioned string and bead puzzle, so you can have it on hand for kids to do on their own. It is an excellent game for problems solving skills. They won't be able to resist it.
Removing tape. This is great for toddlers and preschoolers. It is so simple, yet it keeps little brains and hands working. Place strips of painter's tape on the floor or on a table, chair or bench. You could even do this outside on a porch or deck. Do a test strip if you are worried about stickiness, but I haven't had any problems with blue painter's tape. It is surprisingly fun for little kids to try and pull up the tape They have to figure out what is the best way to grab it, to tug on it and if they want it to come up in one piece, the angle and force!
The T Puzzle. Tangram-like brain games are lots of fun for kids. I have the pattern for a T Puzzle that you can print out for free. The puzzle actually takes most adults 30 minutes to figure out! Watch the video to see how it works.
Bonus: Here are some tangram puzzle sheets to print out
Hand-Slap Reaction. Do you remember this game? It's actually great for concentration and reflexes! Person A holds their hands palms down in front of their body.Person B holds their hands palms up under Person A's hands. Person B tries to quickly bring their hands up to slap the other's hands. But person A wants to avoid having their hands slapped. If Person B reaches out to slap and misses, they lose. The trick is that if Person A removes their hands and Person B has NOT brought up their hands, they lose.
Bonus: Clapping games are also excellent brain builders!
For plenty more screen-free brain games that you can play anywhere, anytime, check out these ideas: