Instead of packing lunches and throwing a waffle at each kid on their way out the door, you’re eating all of your meals at home as a family these days…and wearing leggings 24/7. These are the great parts of social distancing. But ever since your children’s school closed, you’ve been worried that easy access to distractions (hello, Nintendo Switch) will set them back. How are you going to keep your kids’ brains sharp? Easy. Here are six of the best brain games, courtesy of Becky Rodriguez, a real homeschooling mom of three (a 4-year-old girl and two boys, ages 8 and 9).
1. Name That Shape
Best for: Preschoolers
The basic shapes we first learn about as children—circles, squares, triangles and rectangles—are everywhere in our homes. A great way to teach your kids how to recognize these shapes is to ask what they are as you go about an activity like cleaning.
“We’ll put my 4-year-old daughter’s toys away, and I’ll pick up a block and pretend to forget what shape it is,” says Rodriguez. “She’s a little know-it-all and can’t help herself, so she’ll be like, ‘It’s a square, duh!’ So then I’ll try to trick her and ask about something like her vanity chair, which has a rectangular back and a square seat. But she got it!”
2. Tape Job
Best for: Toddlers and preschoolers
All you need for this game is a roll of tape that’s easily removable, like painter’s tape. Find something your little one can reach, like a coffee table. Tear off pieces of tape and place them all over the table—on the top, hanging off the edge, on the legs. Rodriguez suggests that part of the tape, like an end or a gap in the middle, isn’t touching anything. This makes it a little easier for kids to grasp.
The goal here is simple: Remove each piece without ripping it. The activity engages your child’s brain and fingers in some fun fine motor work. “It’s fun for her, but it’s actually really fun for me to see her try to figure it out on her own and become more dexterous,” says Rodriguez.
3. Chain Reaction
Best for: Ages 6 and up
Pick a letter, any letter, and choose a word that begins with that letter. You can go back and forth with your kids until one of you repeats a word or someone blanks for so long that you all erupt into laughter. Repeat until they’re geniuses.
“The last time we played this, we were playing with the letter C and my 8-year-old pulled ‘cardigan’ out of nowhere,” Rodriguez says. “I can’t tell you the last time I even wore a cardigan.”
Best for: Ages 8 and up
Kids in second and third grade are just learning what a synonym is, so why not make a game of it and quiz them a little?
“We’ll start slow,” Rodriguez says. “After my youngest goes down for a nap, the boys and I will start with something like ‘pretty,’ and then someone will say ‘beautiful’ or ‘cute.’ They get super competitive with it!”
5. The Verbal Venn Diagram
Best for: Ages 8 and up
Those overlapping circles our teachers used to help us learn how objects or ideas can be related? They’re still a thing. But while you’re making dinner and your kids are whining, “How much longer?” you can distract (and educate) them.
“I’ll point to two things—this past weekend it was a baking sheet and a package of chocolate chips—and I’ll ask my oldest, who’s in third grade, to tell me all the things he can think of that relate to each,” she says. “You’ll be so proud when they say chocolate chip cookies or chocolate banana bread, because it means they understand that to make chocolate chip cookies, you need the baking sheet and the chips, and that the baking sheet goes in the oven underneath the loaf pan when we’re making banana bread with chocolate chips.”
6. Odd Man Out
Best for: All ages
You don’t need an educational magazine with detailed illustrations to get your babe’s brain working. This is also a game the whole family can play together, regardless of ages.
“I’ll ask my 4-year-old what doesn’t belong with an apple, an orange and a baseball,” Rodriquez says. She knows they’re all circles but will understand that two are fruits, so the ball is out.” Then her 8-year-old, who loves art, will get red, orange and green. He’ll know that green, the cool-toned color, is the answer. And her 9-year-old will get a lineup like Frozen 2, The Secret Life of Pets and VeggieTales, and he’ll have to recognize that the first two are movies and the third is a TV show.