Pi Day is March 14th. Pi Day celebrates mathematical constant 3.14 π. While we can all enjoy Pi Day by indulging in a slice of dessert or pizza pie and perhaps even playing a fraction game while you divvy up the pie. You can certainly go down a Pi Day rabbit hole with all the fun games created just for one day! But what about the other 364 days a year? Most kids look forward to Pi Day for the opportunity to engage in some fun learning; after all, kids learn best through play. No matter what skill or subject you are focused on, kids get excited when we make learning fun.
Some of the simplest, fastest, and easy brain-boosting games are commonly referred to as Brainteasers. Brainteasers can be simple or very complicated, but often fun! Brainteasers strengthen critical thinking and problem-solving skills, build lateral thinking and new perspectives, improve cognitive skills like memory and processing speed, and trigger teamwork and communication.
The most common brainteaser is a riddle. Riddles not only provoke thought, but it also takes creativity to solve. When children solve a puzzle, they feel good about themselves; the brain gets a big dopamine boost. That boost and positivity also help reduce stress and anxiety. The internet has some great resources for riddles with answers that you can tailor to your child's age. Here are a few to enjoy:
1) Billy's mother had five children. The first was named Lala, the second was named Lele, the third was named Lili, the fourth was named Lolo. What was the fifth child named?
2) It's as light as a feather, but the strongest person can't hold it for more than five minutes. What is it?
3) What gets more wet while it dries?
4)You can find it in Mercury, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Saturn, but not in Venus or Neptune. What is it?
3) A towel
4) The letter "R"
If you said Lulu was an answer to number one, you are not alone! The magic about brainteasers is it gets the brain exercising, working, thinking. It's not always about getting the correct answer, but the mental exercise it provides. Even when we receive the correct answer, we still have to process the riddle and think creatively about why that answer was correct. It's not always as black and white as 2+2=4. Using brainteasers before starting homework or a new learning task at home can break up some monotony and almost provide a reset. A little laughter can go a long way; it decreases stress and anxiety and flushes out the negative thoughts swirling about in our brain.
Doing brain teasers in the car can be a great way to learn on the go, serve as a boredom buster, and get kids off the screens. Print out a sheet of brainteasers and keep them in the glove box, or have the BrainQuest fan decks in the glove box also. BrainQuest reinforces all the core subjects as well as language association and categorization. Consider getting a shoe-box-sized storage bin for boredom busters in the car. Some toys like Rubik's Cubes, Color Shift Puzzle Balls, or Serpent Snake Puzzle can double as fidgets or brainteasers.
Picture Puzzlers are another great brainteaser. Again, sparking problem-solving and critical thinking. Give the light bulb puzzle a try:
There are three light switches outside of a room, labeled number one, number two, and number three. The door to the room is closed, and you can't see in. All three switches are off. You need to figure out which switch belongs to which bulb. You can use the switches however you want to but can only enter the room once. How do you do it?
Turn on the first switch and leave it on. Turn on the second switch for a few minutes, and then turn it off again. When you enter the room, one light bulb will be on. You'll know it goes with switch one because you turned it on. Another bulb will be hot. You'll know that goes with switch two because it was on for a little while. The bulb that's off and cold goes with switch three because you didn't touch it.
Another great brainteaser is the Stroop Test. Notice that the name of the color does not match below? Try to say the color of the word instead of reading the color. For example, if the printed word is red, but its color is blue, you say blue. Do this as fast as you can.
How did you do? It can be challenging to master at first because our mind has to process two conflicting pieces of information. This a fun game to experiment with at home. Print a copy of the Stroop test, or make your own and have each child run through the experiment three times and see if they notice an increase in speed. To make it harder or more fun, try these fun twists on the Stroop test:
- Turn the words upside down
- Use nonsense or made-up words
- Color only half of the word or only the first letter
Spotting differences in visual brainteasers activate the brain and can increase focus. Visual brainteasers also help with spatial reasoning. Thinking about objects in a 3 dimensional way and drawing conclusions about them with limited information. There are many varieties of books and puzzles that encourage children to find the difference. Two of our favorite games for finding differences in pairs are Not It! And Spot It! Consider getting your kids involved and making your own find the difference games. Have them draw or trace a picture of an animal or setting and make one slightly different from the other. Grab your cell phone and snap a selfie to print out, maybe part your hair a different way in one of the photos, change your shirt, or stand against a different background. How difficult you make them is up to you. We know nobody probably has an issue with a messy bedroom with their kids...but take a picture of a messy floor or bed scattered with toys or things and then take another photo with an object removed. Can they compare the two images to see what is missing? Maybe if they enjoy it enough, you might be able to keep playing until the entire room is clean!
Enjoy your Pi or pie, and don't forget that creative play opens a window to a world of learning for kids.