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Health & Parenting

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Brain-Boosting Activities for Your Preschooler

How activities such as playing, reading, and learning languages stimulate your preschooler's mind.

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.

Having a Social Life

Learning the rules of play by spending time with friends helps improve social smarts. Practice with self-control, sharing, and negotiating all build the relationship skills kids will need in the future, Macias says.

“A child who doesn’t develop well socially could be the most brilliant person in the world in terms of IQ, but their poor social skills can make them less successful in terms of health, school outcomes, and even jobs,” Macias says.

Being social with other kids also helps preschoolers form handy stereotypes. They learn things like what younger or older kids are like, and that boys and girls act differently, Gallagher tells WebMD. “That helps them make a mental map for future reference,” he says.

Games and Puzzles

From Candy Land to “Duck, Duck, Goose”, games with rules help improve social intelligence. Kids practice patience in taking turns, and learn to accept the frustration of not winning. Remembering rules also gives those memory muscles a workout. Physical games help sharpen the brain’s motor coordination.

Stick to games with three or four simple rules, and shorter games that can be played again quickly.

Working puzzles promotes nonverbal reasoning and the ability to visualize. The brain’s fine motor coordination area gets a jolt as little fingers learn to fit the pieces. And puzzles can help more energetic kids spend some quiet time on their own while still stimulating their minds.

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