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Brain-boosting activities for your child’s age + stage

What supports your toddler’s development? Nurturance, hugs, a quiet environment, and creative playtime. Easy as pie.

Brain-boosting activities for your child’s age + stage

As parents, we want our children to mature into happy, successful, thoughtful adults.


This may lead us to buy them baseball mitts when they’re 3 months old so they will grow up to play professional baseball or to enroll them in ballet at age 2 so they will become the next Nureyev.

We taxi our children from school to art lessons to math tutorials to soccer practice.

But what do children really need for full brain development? How can we raise them to be thoughtful and responsible? Research has shown that at every age, there are age-appropriate experiences that can enhance the brain’s natural maturation process.

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What experiences are best for ages 0 to 3?

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In the first three years of life, brain connections multiply exponentially—24 million new connections every minute. At the same time, children’s sensory areas and motor areas are maturing.

Children of this age live in a concrete world. They are completely absorbed in their experiences, figuring out what things are and how to function in this universe. They cannot think abstractly about what they are doing.

Children at this age learn by watching you. Their brains make good use of special cells called mirror neurons that let them copy what they see. Much of what they learn is by simply imitating the people around them. Your child copies how you respond to stress, deal with challenges, and react to new situations.

So, what best supports your child’s development at this age?

A nurturing caregiver who provides tons of hugs, a quiet environment, and abundant creative playtime. Research shows that this produces children who are happier and more successful as they grow to adulthood. They don’t need black-and-white mobiles or violin lessons; they need to be allowed to explore their world in safe, nourishing surroundings.

Looking for a fun, age-appropriate activity for you and your tot?

Begin practicing simple yoga postures with your little one.  They can watch you rolling on the floor and join in! To set the best example for your learning toddler, try practicing your yoga for at least a few minutes every day.

This is not the time to teach your little one how to meditate. They do not yet have the appropriate neural connections to “think about thinking.”

What experiences are best for ages 4 to 7?

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During this period, your child has the most connections between brain cells they will ever have. This vast network means that they can take in new information easily.

So, what best supports your child’s development at this age?

Exposure to and practice using language. Language provides verbal and written symbols for objects and allows children to think about their experiences.

Read books with your child, have conversations, ask questions—and then wait patiently for the response to work its way through the developing network of new brain connections.

Looking for a fun, age-appropriate activity for you and your tot?

Now your child can give different labels to the same object.  A simple cardboard box can be a space ship, a hamburger, or a dog house. This is the time of creative play—a child’s imagination can transform any object into ever-expanding possibilities.

What experiences are best for ages 7 to 10?

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This is the time when the fibers between the hemispheres of the brain gain a fatty coating called myelin that speeds up information flow. This improves the coordination between abstract thinking in the right hemisphere and concrete thinking in the left hemisphere.

Now your child can learn how to work in groups, take turns, and follow rules. They can see how their specific actions (left hemisphere) fit into the abstract concept (right hemisphere) of what’s right and wrong.

So, what best supports your child’s development at this age?

Practice with rule-governed experiences, such as organized sports, music lessons, and board games. Kids this age thrive on rules because rules give a framework to make sense of the world.  At this age, children can begin to control their specific reactions to fit within that abstract framework.

Looking for a fun, age-appropriate activity for you and your kid?

Now might be the perfect time to give meditation a try with your child. Their brain is mature enough so that they can follow meditation instructions and appreciate abstract inner experiences. Plus, meditation offers you and your child a wonderful opportunity to slow down and think mindfully together.

Meditation offers a few additional benefits for you and your growing child, too!

Each form of meditation has its own procedure, purpose, and benefits. Some involve focusing the mind, such as Zen or Vipassana. Practice focusing will help you control your mind during the day.

Others involve open monitoring of experience, such as mindfulness. Open monitoring of thoughts or emotions help you be more mindful during the day.

Others involve effortless transcending, such as Transcendental Meditation.  Transcending thoughts and feelings will add the experience of your silent, innermost self, which helps you organize the many demands made upon you.

For more helpful techniques on providing your growing child with age-appropriate activities, check out Dharma Parenting for strategies that will help you and your child unfold their inner brilliance.

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In This Article

    These challenges from Nike PLAYlist are exactly what my child needs to stay active

    Plus a fall family bucket list to keep everyone moving all season long.

    While it's hard to name anything that the pandemic hasn't affected, one thing that is constantly on my mind is how to keep my family active despite spending more time indoors. Normally, this time of year would be spent at dance and gymnastics lessons, meeting up with friends for games and field trips, and long afternoon playdates where we can all let off a little steam. Instead, we find ourselves inside more often than ever before—and facing down a long winter of a lot more of the same.

    I started to search for an outlet that would get my girls moving safely while we social distance, but at first I didn't find a lot of solutions. Online videos either weren't terribly engaging for my active kids, or the messaging wasn't as positive around the power of movement as I would like. Then I found the Nike PLAYlist.

    I always knew that Nike could get me moving, but I was so impressed to discover this simple resource for parents. PLAYlist is an episodic sports show on YouTube that's made for kids and designed to teach them the power of expressing themselves through movement. The enthusiastic kid hosts immediately captured my daughter's attention, and I love how the physical activity is organically incorporated in fun activities without ever being specifically called out as anything other than play. For example, this segment where the kids turn yoga into a game of Paper Scissors Rock? Totally genius. The challenges from #TheReplays even get my husband and me moving more when our daughter turns it into a friendly family competition. (Plus, I love the play-inspired sportswear made just for kids!)

    My daughter loves the simple Shake Ups at the beginning of the episode and is usually hopping off the couch to jump, dance and play within seconds. One of her favorites is this Sock Flinger Shake Up activity from the Nike PLAYlist that's easy for me to get in on too. Even after we've put away the tablet, the show inspires her to create her own challenges throughout the day.

    The best part? The episodes are all under 5 minutes, so they're easy to sprinkle throughout the day whenever we need to work out some wiggles (without adding a lot of screen time to our schedule).

    Whether you're looking for simple alternatives to P.E. and sports or simply need fun ways to help your child burn off energy after a day of socially distanced school, Nike's PLAYlist is a fun, kid-friendly way to get everyone moving.

    Need more movement inspiration for fall? Here are 5 ways my family is getting up and getting active this season:

    1. Go apple picking.

    Truly, it doesn't really feel like fall until we've picked our first apple. (Or had our first bite of apple cider donut!) Need to burn off that extra cinnamon-sugar energy? Declare a quick relay race up the orchard aisle—winner gets first to pick of apples at home.

    To wear: These Printed Training Tights are perfect for when even a casual walk turns into a race (and they help my daughter scurry up a branch for the big apples).

    2. Visit a pumpkin patch.

    We love to pick up a few locally grown pumpkins to decorate or cook with each year. Challenge your child to a "strongman" contest and see who can lift the heaviest pumpkin while you're there.

    To wear: Suit up your little one in comfort with this Baby Full Zip Coverall so you're ready for whatever adventures the day brings.

    3. Have a nature scavenger hunt.

    Scavenger hunts are one of my favorite ways to keep my daughter preoccupied all year long. We love to get outside and search for acorns, leaves and pinecones as part of our homeschool, but it's also just a great way to get her exercising those gross motor skills whenever the wiggles start to build up.

    To wear: It's not truly fall until you break out a hoodie. This cozy Therma Elite Kids Hoodie features a mesh overlay to release heat while your child plays.

    4. Have a touch-football game.

    Tip for parents with very little kids: It doesn't have to last as long as a real football game. 😂 In fact, staging our own mini-games is one of our favorite ways to get everyone up and moving in between quarters during Sunday football, and I promise we all sleep better that night.

    To wear: From impromptu games of tag to running through our favorite trails, these kids' Nike Air Zoom Speed running shoes are made to cover ground all season long.

    5. Create an indoor obstacle course.

    Pretending the floor is lava was just the beginning. See how elaborate your personal course can get, from jumping on the couch to rolling under the coffee table to hopping down the hallway on one foot.

    To wear: These ready-for-any-activity Dri-FIT Tempo Shorts are perfect for crawling, hopping and racing—and cuddling up when it's time to rest.

    This article was sponsored by Nike. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

    Our Partners

    This post is brought to you by Staples. While this was a sponsored opportunity, all content and opinions expressed here are my own.

    One of the biggest changes in my household once my daughter started homeschooling was that, suddenly, everything and everyone in our home had to start pulling double duty. While I was used to wearing a lot of hats (mom, wife and WFH employee, to name a few), suddenly our dining room was also pulling shifts as a classroom. My laptop was also a virtual teacher. Our living room hutch was also a school supply closet.

    If I didn't want my home to be overrun with an abundance of clutter, I had to find products that could multitask. Here are 10 products that are saving this WFH + homeschooling mama right now.

    Stylish storage cabinet

    Whether I need a place to keep the printer or just want to keep crayons and colored pencils organized, this pretty cabinet provides a mixture of exposed and hidden storage without clashing with my living room decor.

    White board calendar + bulletin board

    With so much on our plates these days, I need a visual reminder of our daily schedule or I'll forget everything. This dry erase version makes it easy to keep track of Zoom meetings and virtual classes—and I also love using the corkboard to display my daughter's latest work from art class.

    Natural Recycled 3-Ring Binder

    From tracking our curriculum progress to organizing my family's paperwork, I can never have enough binders. Even better, this neutral version is pretty enough that I can display them on the bookshelf.

    Bamboo storage drawers

    The instant you start homeschooling, it can feel like you're suddenly drowning in papers, craft supplies and more. Fortunately, these simple bamboo drawers can be tucked into the cabinet or even displayed on top (seriously, they're that cute!) to keep what we need organized and close at hand.

    Laminated world map

    I love this dry-erase map for our geography lessons, but the real secret? It also makes a cute piece of wall decor for my work space.

    Rolling 7-drawer cabinet

    When you're doing it all from home, you sometimes have to roll with the punches—I strongly recommend getting an organizational system that rolls with you. On days when both my husband and I are working from home and I need to move my daughter's classes to another room, this 7-drawer cabinet makes it easy to bring the classroom with us.

    Letterboard

    From our first day of school photo to displaying favorite quotes to keep myself motivated, this 12"x18" letterboard is my favorite thing to display in our home.

    Expandable tablet stand

    Word to the wise: Get a pretty tablet stand you won't mind seeing out every day. (Because between virtual playdates, my daughter's screen time and my own personal use, this thing never gets put away.)

    Neutral pocket chart

    Between organizing my daughter's chore chart, displaying our weekly sight words and providing a fits-anywhere place to keep supplies on hand, this handy little pocket chart is a must-have for homeschooling families.

    Totable fabric bins

    My ultimate hack for getting my family to clean up after themselves? These fabric bins. I can use them to organize my desk, store my oldest's books and even keep a bin of toys on hand for the baby to play with while we do school. And when playtime is over, it's easy for everyone to simply put everything back in the bin and pop it in the cabinet.

    Looking for study solutions for older children? Hop over to Grown & Flown for their top picks for Back to School.

    Work + Money

    Kate Hudson’s kids prove that siblings with a big age gap can still have a close bond

    These pics of a big brother and baby sister are too sweet.

    Ryder Robinson

    To be born close in age to your siblings is a special experience. You have a built-in playmate and BFF for life, but being born after an age gap certainly has its benefits, too.

    Parents who are expecting again when their older children are already into double digits may wonder what the sibling bond will look like when the kids have more than a decade between them. Well, look no further, because Kate Hudson's oldest son, 14-year-old Ryder Robinson took to Instagram to show the world that while he and baby Rani Rose may not be playmates they have an equally powerful sibling bond.

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