While most will speak wonders of innovation, there is something to be said about common wisdom and tradition, particularly when it comes to fun games to play with your kids.
Yes, the games our parents played when they were kids and that we then learned when we were kids, are not only great ways to connect with your little ones, but also have value from a developmental standpoint. These games have also spanned generations and also cultures and languages – in a way, they connect the childhood memories and experiences of millions of children and grown-ups across the world.
Let’s take a look at an all-time classic for babies and younger children: Peekaboo. It is a game played all over the world, that crosses language and cultural barriers. But the reason it’s so universal is maybe that it’s such a powerful learning tool (1). We love this game because babies do not cease to laugh with every repetition, but there is more to it. The key concept here is Object Permanence, a fundamental principle of existence: that things stick around even when you can't see them (1). Jean Piaget suggested that babies spent the first two years of their lives working this out (1).
Consider for instance Hopscotch, which by the way, has over 25 different names in Spanish only (depending on the country – like “Golosa” in Colombia and “Peregrina” in Puerto Rico) and many more in all other languages, all over the world. Yes, very culturally widespread, but also good for your kid’s development. How? Well, setting aside the obvious learning of the numbers from 1 to 10, it turns out that, because each turn the game is changing, kids have to think about how they are going to play it each round... hop-hop-leap-jump-hop-stop, etc (2). So they learn to plan and strategize (life-long skills). The game then allows children to execute their plan physically (2). Hopscotch also promotes social development, through peer relationships, sportsmanship (taking turns) etc., and last, but not least, the development of motor skills - believe it or not, hopping on one foot is one of the most complex movements the human body can perform (3).
And how about Simon Says? (In Spanish “Simón Dice”). We all know it’s an excellent and fun way to learn the body parts, but in addition it demands a great deal of executive function. That means it challenges children’s ability to pay attention, encouraging them to remember rules and exhibit self-control — qualities that also predict academic success (4). According to the NY Times, one study of 814 children between ages 3 and 6 shows that children who do well in Simon Says-like games do better in math and reading (4).
So there you have it. Those of us who want to optimize our children’s brain development often focus on things like flashcards and early reading, but we should not forget that playing games is a proven way to improve our kids’ skills. Those games we played when we were little may still have a few good generations left in them!
(1)BBC.com, Tom Stafford, “Why all babies love peekaboo”: http://www.bbc.com/future/story/20140417-why-all-babies-love-peekaboo
(2) D.K.’s Learning Center, “Hopscotch – What is phenomenal about this game?”
(3)Gill Connell and Cheryl McCarthy ,“Why Hopscotch Matters”
(4) The New York Times.com, Tara Parker-Pope, “Simon Says Don’t Use Flashcards”