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We asked Dr. Rita Eichenstein, a neuropsychologist in Los Angeles who works with children and families to share her insight into why games are so helpful when it comes to learning.
Why word games?
There are many reasons to add word or learning games to your commute to school (or any other time of day) and one is to warm up kids' minds. Children may be sleepy in the morning and haven't yet focused on the day ahead, explains Eichenstein. "Thinking games may prime their brains and get them ready."
Another reason to play games, especially on the way to school, is the association that gets formed between learning and enjoyment. "Research has shown that children who associate learning challenges with positive emotions such as using their brains in games with their parents will have similar associations with learning in school," she says. So if you child thinks playing games in the car is fun, learning in school will be fun too, she explains.
Left brain training
"From a neuropsychological perspective, the brain's right hemisphere develops before the left hemisphere," notes Eichenstein. The left hemisphere includes tasks that are verbal, logical, linear and more academic and the site for language, reading and writing is primarily in the left hemisphere, she explains. "Playing word games with children primes their left hemisphere's learning base and gives them a moral boost of self-confidence in this area."
Games that use alphabet, sounds of words, rhyming, etc. are great for kids and an excellent ways to develop phonemic awareness, says Eichenstein, which she explains is an important underlying skill for reading. (The internet is a great place to find educational games to entertain kids; check out the Top 10 kid-friendly websites to find out what the best one for your little surfer.)
Family bonding through games
When you play with your child, it not only helps them learn, the time you spend together also increases the bonding that will help nurture your relationship. Eichenstein advises parents to spend time playing games rather than tuning your child out and listening to the radio or talking on your phone in the car, instead of watching TV, while you work in the kitchen, or in the evening after dinner. "At some point, your child will become a teen who will be much less willing to hang out or play games with you, but the memories of fun simple times of playing games will remain somewhere in his or her memory."
7 games to try with your kids
Not sure what to play once you get in the car or sit down at the dinner table? We've put together seven games to get you started.
1. The place game: Each person says a province, city, country, or continent and the next person has to name one that begins with the ending letter of the last one named. "This game offers good letter-sound recognition and a good geography lesson," says Eichenstein.
2. I spy with my little eye: This classic games fosters good attention to detail and mental alertness.
3. Packing a suitcase: One person starts by saying, "I'm packing a suitcase and I'm taking a toothbrush." The next person has to say "toothbrush" and add another item. The game goes back and forth until someone forgets. This helps boost memory skills. (Planning on packing a real suitcase soon? Find out How to pack a suitcase and 10 tips for packing for long trips. )
4. Math to music: Make up melodies that go with rote math problems, for example put the times tables to music. "Music helps enhance memory for facts and your child will learn the times tables much easier," says Eichenstein.
5. Alphabet game: "A" my name is Alice is a fun way to make a long car ride go faster. Each person takes turns putting names and places to the letters of the alphabet, for example, A my name is Alice and my husband's name is Andy and we're from Alabama and we sell Apples. "This teaches alphabet recognition, vocabulary building and rhythm," explains Eichenstein.
6. Collaborative storytelling: Start off with one line that will be the starting point of a story (have fun with it) and your child gives the next one and so on (this can be ongoing over a few rides to school), as a way to boost creativity.
7. Car bingo/scavenger hunt: Come up with a list of items you will likely see on the way to school and have your child call them out or cross them off a list during the ride as they find them. If you're driving more than one, this can be a friendly competition of who finds more items first.
If you're looking for more games, check out some Active family games as well as Backyard fun and games to keep the whole family entertained!