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5 Rainy Day Activities to Build Your Child’s Brain

By Dr. Stephanie M. Carlson

Because executive function (EF) skills are so important for school readiness and lifetime achievement, several studies have examined whether they can be trained. So far, their results suggest that EF can be improved in early childhood through brief, direct training using computer games, as well as related curricula and supplemental activities.

Below are some fun, simple, at-home activities you can use to engage with your young learner to help support their EF skills. As you try them, keep a few research-based principles in mind:

Discover more resources at Reflection Sciences, Inc.

Cooking

Cooking encourages children to take turns and hold instructions in their memory. It can be adapted to any cooking project!

Adjust the challenge level down

Give kids pre-measured ingredients, but help them add each in the bowl in a specific order.

Adjust the challenge level up

Appoint your child as the Head Chef: “Today you are the Head Chef and I am your assistant. You can decide what we need to cook, and I will help you when you tell me that you need it. What is the first step?”

What's Missing?

In this activity, children will first look at an array of toys, characters from stories, or household objects in a room, then close their eyes or leave the room briefly. When they open their eyes or return, the goal is to determine which item(s) are missing or have been removed or rearranged.

Adjust the challenge level down

Add a sticky note to the spot where something was removed and ask them what was there.

Adjust the challenge level up

Increase the number of items to be remembered and rearrange them before allowing the child to look.

Scavenger Hunt

Ask children to look for items around the home according to the different rules you decide on.

Adjust the challenge level down

Ask children to focus on the colors of the rainbow and first find things that are “red” etc.

Adjust the challenge level up

Make the rule about shapes (e.g., triangles) or things that begin with a letter sound like “B.” If you have time, you could hide a stuffed animal and then leave a series of clues or notes for your child to find it.

Freeze Dance

With this game, children are asked to dance to music and stop moving when the music stops, and freeze into their own creations.

“Let’s play a game! I am going to play some music and you can move your body however you want. When the music stops, you ‘FREEZE’ right away. When you hear the music start again, start moving your body again.”

Adjust the challenge level down

Ask children to wiggle their bodies without music until you say, “Stop.”

Adjust the challenge level up

Change the tempo, or ask them to freeze into something they are learning about, such as animals, but it has to be a different animal each time.

Bear/Dragon

This activity is similar to the playground game Red Light/Green Light but can be done indoors. Present two puppets and ask them to do what the Bear puppet commands (e.g., “wave your hand”) but NOT to follow the Dragon puppet’s commands. (Any two puppets or stuffed animals may be used.)

Adjust the challenge level down

Suggest children sit on their hands when the Dragon puppet speaks.

Adjust the challenge level up

Switch the rules afterward (follow the Dragon but not the Bear).

Discover our top Noggin content picks for building EF: Improving EF Skills in Kids.

About the Author

Stephanie M. Carlson is a developmental psychologist and professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. She is a Co-founder of Reflection Sciences, a company that provides executive function measurement and solutions for students. She serves on the Advisory Council at Noggin and has two grown daughters.

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