1. Making mobiles move: ages 3 months to 8 months - infants are learning all about how to make things happen in the world. At around three or four months you may notice you child will experiment with different kinds of crying to see how to get your attention. This is actually the beginning of problem solving. To encourage your child to experiment with making the world interesting, hang mobiles over the crib or stroller that will move if your baby bounces, waves her hands, or kicks with his feet. You don't need expensive toys, but do make sure nothing can break off and be swallowed. You can try hanging small paper airplanes made with different colors of construction paper, or small bells that make noise when they move. All of these kinds of objects will fascinate your baby and help her to learn that she can make the world more interesting all by herself, just by moving
2. Stacking and building games: ages 9 months to 3 years - Young children love to figure out how to build things. That is why blocks and stacking toys have been around for so many centuries. But, there are many things your child would love to experiment with: stacking plastic cups, empty food cans and jars, empty boxes -- the list is endless. Help your child discover how small boxes can fit into bigger ones, how pots and pans of various sizes can be nested, how empty vitamin jars can hold fun things like marbles and pennies. Letting your child stack and build from empty containers teaches flexibility, creativity and ingenuity. And it won't cost you a dime.
3. "How much is in here?" Ages 3 - 4 years - Remember how you once thought that a small glass that was full had more in it than a big glass half empty? A famous developmental expert Jean Piaget called that 'conservation' and it is a great game to play to build intelligence. Put a few drops of food coloring into a small glass of water. Then put out two or three clear glasses (so your child can see how full they are) that might be taller but thinner or shorter and wider. Let your child pour the colored water from glass to glass to see how the same amount seems different in each glass. You can do the same thing by coloring salt with the food coloring also and pouring it from cup to cup or glass to glass. Watch how your child experiments with pouring to try to figure out why the amount seems to change. Ask your child if he can think of an experiment to try on his own.
4. The sorting game: Ages 4-7 years - If you have toy box or a closet with lots of toys (blocks, cars, pull toys, dolls, puzzles, etc.) make a game out of sorting the toys. To build self confidence and problem-solving skills, let your child decide how he would like to sort the toys. (You might want to sort them by type - dolls in one pile, trucks in another). Your child might want to sort by color or size. That is just fine. If the toys are sorted one way today, see if your child can think of another way they could be sorted another day. Make a chart of the ways the toys have been sorted and ask your child (or your entire family) to vote on the way they liked best. Sorting things different ways builds flexibility of thinking.
5. Unstructured play with friends: Ages 8-12 - Try to make sure your school-age child has at least a day or two a week when they get to play with friends outside without an adult telling them what to do. (It can be inside of course if you keep TV and video games out of the mix.) You can suggest projects, like figuring out how to build an igloo after a winter snow storm or looking for interesting bugs in a grassy field. Experts on problem-solving skills like Adele Diamond emphasize that when children invent new games and create their own adventures without adult supervision they are building the kind of problem-solving skills that foster creativity and leadership.
Did you know that one of the most reliable measures of success in adult life is ability to solve new problems you have never faced before? That skill builds a late maturing part of the brain called the dorsolateral pre-frontal lobe and develops as children have problems to solve and use flexible thinking to come up with alternative solutions. When you play games with your child that emphasize change, flexibility and experimenting with how problems can be solved in different ways - you are teaching your child to be a creative problem solver. Those are the very skills that brain scientists attribute to adults who reach success in their careers.
STEP 10 – PLAY IT SMART with games that give your child an opportunity to solve problems themselves