These strategic stacker brain games were created by our guest editor Carrie Anne Badov of EverythingMom.com.
We love visiting the Ontario Science Centre for their great hands-on exhibits. We even had the chance to sleepover in the building after everyone had left for the day. One exhibit we really enjoyed was all about the Brain, how it works and how we can continue to strengthen it with learning and trying new things.
Using a simple stacker toy, a staple in many family homes, we played around with a few brain game ideas that you can challenge your kids with at home.
1. Use Another Sense
At a young age a stacker toy offers a great challenge, even the task of grabbing and letting go can be monumental to accomplish, but as the basics are mastered perhaps it’s time to use a new sense to master an old skill. Kids tend to rely on their sight to complete a stacker in a perfect pyramid form but what if you took their sight away? What if they had to rely on a different sense to complete the task?
I started by spreading the stacker pieces randomly in front of my kids (their eyes closed of course). Using their sense of touch they determined the size of each piece and stacked them accordingly. It sounds easy and the kids could complete the task but it took longer to process the pieces and place in order compared to using their sight.
The square puzzle stack in the Melissa & Doug Geometric Stacker added an extra challenge as the kids had to build the blocks (finding its match) and then putting them in size order.
2. Use Your Memory
As I get older I appreciate much more the need to maintain a good working memory. A simple memory game is a great way to build this skill without it seeming like a test. We used the various stacker toy elements spread out on the table.
After giving the kids a minute to assess the items in front of them, they closed their eyes and I removed a number of random pieces. Once I was done they opened their eyes and wrote down on a piece of paper the items they thought were missing.
Instead of trying to memorize each individual piece we learned at the Brain exhibit a few strategies to help with memorization, such as creating stories or combining elements. In this case the kids looked for similarities and groupings (3 sets of orange, blue and green, etc.). This made it easier for them to notice items missing from the collection.
3. Use Your Less Dominant Hand
Most children have a hand they prefer for writing and lead tasks, their dominant hand. Tracing is a great activity to work on fine motor skills and dexterity but try doing the same task with the opposite hand.
We did a side-by-side sheet, having the kids trace some of the geometric shapes from the stacker, first with their dominant hand then with the opposite hand. The shapes were pretty similar when compared but what they did notice was the time they took to trace with the hand they don’t use so often, like they were learning to trace for the first time.
4. Use a Reflection
Similarly to the above tracing activity, tracing based on a reflection is another way to show how the brain works, how to challenge your brain. When drawing, our brain uses sensory information, such as what we see, to complete a task easily. When you change or alter that sensory information, like drawing a flipped image from a reflection, the task becomes more of a challenge.
This was another activity we loved when visiting the Ontario Science Centre and it’s easy to set-up at home. First we created a sheet of shapes to trace (the kids will try to draw between the two lines of the shape). You can even get the kids to help with this.
With the sheets ready we set-up the drawing station using simply a box and mirror. The paper sits in the box so the kids can’t see it though they are allowed to peek in order to put their pen in a starting position. The idea is to draw between the two lines on the page trying to recreate the shape but instead of watching their work directly they have to watch their work through the mirror. I tried this too and you can really feel your brain trying to comprehend the mixed messages, drawing the way you think you should be drawing but at the same time transcribing the reflected visual.
The task isn’t impossible and actually if you were to do this repetitively, like doing a puzzle over and over again, you would become better, showing that your brain can adapt to new information.
5. Use A Little Strategy
Of all the brain games we played around with I think this strategic stacker game was our favourite, also known as the Tower of Hanoi. The object is to move a pyramid of pieces from one side of the stacker to the other side in the least number of moves. The geometric stacker is perfect for this as it has three stacks to work with but you could easily do this by moving stacker pieces in three piles on the table.
There are only two rules for the game: you can only move one piece at a time and a larger piece cannot sit on top of a smaller piece. Moving the pyramid from one side of the table to the other isn’t a complicated task and can eventually be completed. The challenge is doing it in the least amount of moves. This is a great game to get the kids and pretty much the whole family thinking strategically.
With three pieces you should be able to move the pyramid in seven steps and with four pieces the move happens in fifteen steps. We put together a little video to show you how to complete both of these challenges within the allotted moves in case you wanted to test your answer:
These brain games are easy to create at home with a toy many of us already own but they help kids to explore and understand how their brain works and that it relies on other senses and past knowledge to complete tasks that seem easy. The games or anything that has us thinking a little differently also help to build pathways in the brain that may not be explored as often or sitting dormant. Of course my kids would say the best part about these games is that they are fun.
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