Sharpen your little one's curious mind with these age-appropriate activities

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"Play with different shapes, blocks, and simple 2–3 piece puzzles with your baby to practice problem-solving skills." Photo: Getty Images.
"Play with different shapes, blocks, and simple 2–3 piece puzzles with your baby to practice problem-solving skills." Photo: Getty Images.
Research on the educational benefits of play is nothing new; however, findings have been mainly focused on Early Childhood Development because of how important the early years are for a young developing brain.

"Children's free play contains the roots of mathematical learning 46% of the time," according to Kathy Hirsh-Pasek from the University of Delaware in the US.

Further stimulation through different activities can help with brain growth and network building capacity, which happens only once in a lifetime, during the early years of a child's life.

Parents and caregivers on the lookout for tools and activities that can help develop their children's young, curious minds can turn to the following suggestions from Mari Payne, Director of Education and Outreach for Sesame Workshop South Africa.

Keeping in mind that each child develops at their own pace, Payne provided her guidelines and tips according to different age groups.

Read our entire series on baby's brain: Your baby's brain explained | 'Three times more active than an adult's' brain: The preschool years

From birth to around 24 months

Payne says that as little ones follow objects with their eyes and cry when activities don't change quickly enough, they show signs of thinking and learning.

She says that babies may begin to create pictures and ideas in their minds and make decisions about those pictures. For example, they start to remember that unseen objects are still there, such as an object hidden under a blanket.

Recognising familiar faces and sounds is a sign of their working memory in action. Their brains become more and more able to hold on to information for extended periods, says Payne, suggesting the following age-appropriate activities for your baby or toddler.

She says that parents can play peek-a-boo with their toddlers to help develop skills to differentiate themselves from the world. This will teach them that they are separate beings and caregivers will come back even if they did not see them for a while.

You can use different shapes, blocks, and simple 2–3 piece puzzles with your baby to practice their problem-solving skills.

Also read: Here is how to ensure your baby grows up in a safe environment, according to two experts

From two-years-old 

According to Payne, children begin to hold information in their minds at 2 and may be able to follow two-step instructions such as "pick up the toy and put it in the box."

She notes that they are also getting better at self-control, like not touching a fragile object when told not to, and they are start to understand other people's plans or goals, for instance, bringing a nappy when they see a parent changing their sibling.

Parents and caregivers can practice persistence by building towers with blocks and, when they fall down, rebuilding them, according to Payne. They can also play games like "Simon Says" and other games where they need to follow the rules like "Dance and Freeze!"

Payne says that this will teach your child to practice controlling their movements and following directions.

Must read: Some children as young as 3 can have a clear sense of their gender identity, says psychologist

From three-years-old

When it comes to three years old, Payne says that figuring out how to open doors or play with objects on their own is a sign that children are beginning to solve simple problems independently.

She says that children may be able to remember directions with two or more steps at this point. For example: "Please wash your hands, then come and sit down at the table and eat supper with us". 

Suitable activities for children around this age may include playing matching games to help with memory and asking your child to find objects in books or around the house that are the same.

While asking them to do these activities, Payne encourages parents to help their children feel good about their efforts, not just the outcome. By saying things like: "I see that you are working so hard on that puzzle, really thinking through where each piece fits."

Must see: WATCH | This Tiktok recreation of 'Are you smarter than a preschooler?' is amazing

From four-years-old 

Payne says that children around this age can hold even more information in their minds as they show that they can remember directions with multiple steps and remember two rules simultaneously. For example, if you tell them: "wipe your shoes on the mat outside, and then take your shoes and socks off at the door."

Payne says that this age group may also start to think ahead.

As a parent, she says you might notice this as you read a book together when your child tells you what she thinks will happen next in the book.

Payne suggests that parents give out activities that will help them make predictions and think ahead when they read together by asking children what happened and what they think might happen next.

She says that parents can also play simple board or card games with their children to help develop their critical-thinking skills.

She finds it helpful for parents to ask their children to predict the next steps in their daily routines. For example: "First we scrape the plates, then put them in the soapy water. What do you think we do next?"

Also see: US parents under investigation after allowing their 6-year-old to run a 42km marathon

From five-years-old 

This age group can delay gratification for more extended periods. They can wait 15 minutes for an activity to start instead of becoming agitated.

They are also more likely to remember rules where one thing depends on the other: For example: "When we are dressed and ready, we'll go to play with our neighbours. If we take a little longer, we will go this afternoon instead."

With this age group, parents and caregivers can engage in activities that encourage trial and error, such as stacking and arranging objects, for example, during household chores or doing puzzles (with about six to ten pieces).

Payne also suggests playing games where rules switch such as "Follow the Leader" to help children learn to think flexibly.

While stimulating and developing your child's brain, it is essential to encourage children to ask questions, be curious and discover new ideas and ways of doing things in our everyday activities, says Payne.


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