5 Gadget-Free Activities That Promote Fast, Flexible Thinking In Kids
Learn about these home activities or games that can help promote fast, flexible thinking, while encouraging bonding with a parent
Have you ever watched your child find new ways to play with their toys, or heard them come up with a funny take on everyday things? It’s amazing how their brain helps them make these new connections without your help.
The ability to think fast and in a flexible way also reflects their ability to adjust to whatever situation they’re in.
According to child psychotherapist Katie Hurley, flexible thinking skills can help your child thrive for years to come. This becomes especially important when approaching a problem—whether it’s dealing with kids, solving math problems, or handling their feelings when things don’t go as planned.
To help your preschooler develop this ability, you can try exposing them to a variety of activities at home. You can set aside gadgets for the meantime, and be as creative as you can with what you have on hand.
1. Go on a nature walk
Choose a nearby place you’ve never explored before. If you’re used to taking the same route going to the park, take a different path.
Being in the midst of nature can be both calming and stimulating. You never know what insects you’ll find crawling on leaves or what colorful plants you will chance upon, and who you are going to meet. It will not be the same experience each time.
Make it more interesting by copying how animals move, or by pretending to mix leaves to make a salad. This simple activity lets them know that it’s okay to do things in a different way.
2. Reuse familiar objects
Give your child a small basket and ask them to collect different things around the house. Let’s say your child ends up with a whisk, some cotton balls, and a hairbrush. Talk about what other uses each item can have.
You might hear ideas like using the whisk as a back scratcher or the hairbrush as a noodle scooper. Don’t discourage this—when possible, allow your child to test their ideas so they get more excited to look at everyday items in a new light, no matter how crazy they sound.
3. Change the rules to your favorite game
Does your child like experimenting with ordinary objects, and finding new uses for them? Join in the fun - find new connections between household items that would never have occurred to you (using a makeup sponge for an art project, for example.) Change the rules up, wherever you can safely do so. If you’re playing a board game like Snakes and Ladders, for instance, try climbing up the snakes and going down the ladders instead.
Use letter blocks to play a game of Scrabble, but minus the board. Lay the blocks on the table and let your child form words as they wish. This teaches them that while there are rules to every game, you can tweak them sometimes and have just as much fun playing.
4. Read a story differently
Shake things up during your storytelling session by reading the last page first, and work your way backwards. Another way to go about it is to take a pause after every page and talk about what other possibilities could happen.
What if the little blue engine in The Little Engine That Could also had a breakdown before getting to the other side of the hill? In Green Eggs and Ham, do you think the main character would eventually eat the eggs if they were color red instead?
There are many ways a story can possibly go, and this is an ideal activity to promote fast, flexible thinking in your child.
5. Have a snack party
Instead of ordering takeout, involve your child in preparing their snacks. If your child likes pizza, let them shape the dough differently and pile on the toppings as they wish. The vegetables can go first, and then your child can top it off with cheese and tomato sauce.
For dessert, have an ice cream sundae with several choices for toppings like candy sprinkles, crushed cookies, and syrup. Let your child decide if they want to put the sprinkles at the bottom of the glass, or layer the ice cream in between toppings. This is an enjoyable activity that enables your child to let go of old ways and explore new ways of doing things.
The ability to think on their feet, use different approaches, and navigate unexpected changes along the way helps your child look at challenges not as roadblocks but opportunities to think of other ways to accomplish a task. These are important skills your child will carry–and benefit from–beyond their preschool years as they continue to encounter new experiences and see things in new ways.
• Sesame Street in Communities, Flexible Thinking, 2021
• PBS for Parents, Flexible Thinking: How to Encourage Kids to Go With the Flow, 2021
About The Expert
Bubbles is a former magazine editor and writer for home and parenting titles. This fortysomething mom is happy to embrace new ways of telling stories online.
The views and opinions expressed by the writer are his/her own, and does not state or reflect those of Wyeth Nutrition and its principals.