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Brain-Boosting Activities for Your Preschooler

How activities such as playing, reading, and learning languages stimulate your preschooler's mind.
WebMD Feature
Reviewed by Laura J. Martin, MD

There’s no way to guarantee your preschooler is going to be a little Einstein. But certain activities for kids aged 3 to 5 are more likely to give their brains an early jump start and put them ahead of the game.

Up until age 2, babies’ and toddlers’ brains are growing by leaps and bounds every day. They develop language and motor skills faster than they ever will.

But between 3 to 5 years, that growth slows. Instead the brain is making countless connections within its different regions.

Preschoolers focus more on absorbing the world around them. Their minds are developing problem-solving skills and using language to negotiate. They’re also learning how to coordinate their bodies to do things like aim and kick a ball.

“Kids should be out there exploring and getting ready for their next important job: going to school,” says developmental pediatrician Michele Macias, MD, spokeswoman for the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and chairwoman of the AAP's section on developmental and behavioral pediatrics.

One-on-One Time

The No. 1 brain booster for preschoolers is one-on-one time with parents, Macias tells WebMD.

Even though this is a time to learn independence, the parent-child attachment is still there at this age. “The simple exchange of language and ideas is a much more important brain builder than putting your child in a million different activities,” says Macias, a pediatrics professor at the Medical University of South Carolina.

Reading Together

Not only is it a great way to get quality “face time” with your child, reading together is critical to boosting brain power.

Studies show that hitting the books with your preschooler improves early literacy. It helps kids sharpen language and vocabulary, and sparks discussions with the parent that promote a better understanding, says child psychologist Richard Gallagher, PhD.

Books that tell a story and ones that teach counting, ABC’s, sorting and matching, and similar core concepts are perfect for this age, says Gallagher, who is an associate professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at New York University’s Child Study Center.

Pretend Play

Preschool-aged children naturally have great imaginations. Though they often start pretend play at younger ages, their imagination life really starts to take hold from age 3-5. They start to play cowboys, pretend they're superheroes or princesses, and start playing dress-up, Macias says.

Besides being fun, imaginative play lets kids experiment with role playing. “Much like reading, make-believe lets kids practice things they might not actually be able to experience in real life,” Gallagher says.

For instance, when your preschooler smashes one toy car into another and then sends their toy ambulance in to the rescue, or sends their helicopter to rescue their stuffed animal off the cliff that you call a kitchen countertop, they're absorbing and rehearsing crisis management in a very safe setting. 

Imaginative play also helps language skills, because it involves thinking about things in words and repeating what they hear.

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