Just like kids' bodies need plenty of activity to stay strong and healthy, their brains require exercise to stay sharp. Here are some simple brain-stretching activities that deliver a surprisingly strong mental workout.
Jigsaw puzzles are fun for the whole family. They also improve hand-eye coordination, problem-solving abilities and spatial reasoning. Challenge your kids to solve a puzzle in the shortest time possible. Be a part of the fun and create some fantastic together-time for you and your child.
Engaging your kids in a game of Hearts or Old Maid helps strengthen memory and math skills. Younger children get the same benefit from Go Fish or Concentration. Teach your teenager to play bridge; it requires strong concentration and memory skills, plus the social interaction helps increase alertness.
Who doesn't love stories around a campfire or by flashlight under the sheets? Have your child make up a funny story using words or themes that you provide, or take turns starting a sentence that the next person finishes. Encourage them to be as creative and descriptive as possible.
This type of activity stimulates seven areas of the brain, including those responsible for language and speech. It can be hilariously entertaining for those listening -- you could even consider making a fun YouTube video and sharing it with relatives. For extra fun and a memorable keepsake, print out their story onto copy paper, then have kids illustrate each page.
Activities that require the use of both hands, like sculpting, playing the piano, even origami, help improve left- and right-brain functioning at the same time. Another idea: Have your kids draw or paint with their non-dominant hand -- the results are bound to amuse! Any project that uses the non-dominant hand exercises the non-dominant side of the brain, and it's important to keep both sides equally fit.
Sometimes a stronger mental fitness program is necessary. If you have a child with ADD, one who is struggling with poor grades and a lack of focus, or even one who is simply heading into middle or high school in the fall whom you want to have every advantage, consider scheduling neurofeedback sessions with a mental health professional who specializes in this area.
Neurofeedback teaches children -- or adults -- to strengthen and control the brainwaves responsible for focus and concentration, creating new pathways in the brain to enhance information flowing from one area to the next. The best part? Once these new pathways are established, they don't go away; your brain just keeps traveling down that new highway.
Before embarking on a mental fitness program that incorporates neurofeedback, it's important to do your homework. Seek out an experienced mental health professional with extensive neurofeedback training. A good place to start is the Biofeedback Certification International Alliance (www.bcia.org), which has a directory of certified neurofeedback providers.
Once you find a provider in your area, ask about the type of program he or she provides. A good provider will create a program around the needs of the child; since every one is totally unique, there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to training the brain.
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