Monday, April 9, 2018

Playing for Brain Power

Credit: Gareth Wild via

The clip above is of a toddler methodically disposing of important family items by shoving them through the pet door. While I am sure the family is happy to have solved the mystery of the disappearing TV remotes, this toddler’s fascination with the pet doors is its own mystery.

This lovely young scientist is conducting a series of experiments that not only inform her brain about three dimensional shapes fitting through holes, but also help to develop her thinking skills for future learning.

This is what play is all about. Play not only helps a child to understand the world, it also develops executive function skills that are necessary for problem solving. In this clip the toddler is practicing focused attention, she is remembering which sizes fit and which do not, called divided attention, and she is working on something called cognitive flexibility.

The PBS show NOVA: Bird Brains reported that scientists in one experiment found birds left to play with shapes and containers developed flexible thinking that allowed them to solve complex puzzles for peanuts. The birds that had not been allowed to play typically gave up on the puzzles and abandon the peanut reward. Here is a clip from that show:

PBS NOVA Bird Brain

The lesson for us as parents is to remember that God designed the brains of children to grow and learn while they are moving, playing and experiencing their world. We want to be careful to not stop this process. Children need to be up and about, inside or outside, playing, exploring, and practicing trial and error. If we stop them because we want to “teach” them a skill, keep them quiet with a screen, keep the house perfectly clean, or keep them a bit too safe, we will interrupt that process.

Children need to play. It is the single best thing for brain development, language development, and emotional development. It is also the best way to prepare your child for school or any other kind of learning.

So put away those screens. Send your children outside. Let them entertain themselves. They are developing brain skills.

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