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Seek Brain Building Activities

Children’s brains develop rapidly during their early years. Every time we connect with them we’re helping build the foundation for all future learning. Learning happens anytime, anywhere. Whether it’s mealtime, bathtime or anytime in between. You don’t need expensive toys or equipment to build your child’s brain. It’s not complicated: Play games. Sing songs. Do puzzles. Tinker. Explore Charlotte. Here are some ideas to help you get started.

For Babies
  • Baby’s first Pandora station. Can’t remember the last time you sang The Wheels on the Bus? Get up to speed with a playlist from Spotify or Pandora. Samantha, one of our Read Charlotte team members, favors the Family Folk Songs Pandora station for her daughters.

  • Know how babies play. Looking around, playing pat-a-cake, and playing with (or chewing on) books are all the ways that babies play. Here’s more information about how babies play.

  • Plan sensory play. We love this idea for sensory play that you can do with sand or water, a cookie sheet, and toys you have at home. And, another favorite activity uses an old tissue box with toys, pompoms or other small items.

  • Turn trash into treasure. Save old paper towel tubes, fabric scraps, and bubble wrap to make sensory games and boards. We are inspired by these ideas.

For Toddlers
  • Fill the play area. Stock your child’s play space with take out menus, empty cracker boxes, and other leftover household items. You’ll encourage pretend play, and familiarize them with places they’ll find print.

  • Make songs tangible. By now, your child has a few favorite songs, so add props to your singing. Make or stock little frogs, ducks, farm animals, and other materials to turn songs into interactive performances.

  • Use everyday moments. Toddlers just want to be included. Turn everyday moments, like this father-son dance party, into brain building activities by explaining what you’re doing and encouraging your toddler.

  • Get creative with everyday objects: A Ziploc bag and paint, pipe cleaners and a strainer, or water with food coloring. Those are the ingredients for lots of toddler-sized fun. Check out those ideas and more on our Pinterest page.

For Preschoolers
  • Get active. Do you have a little reader who won’t sit still? Here are ideas to keep them busy while learning with activities that use Play-doh, Twister, and clothespins.
  • Retell stories. A puppet theatre and some paper bag or cloth puppets is the perfect way to get kids to make up or retell favorite stories.

  • Scavenger hunts. Use a printable like this one for a nature scavenger hunt or make a list of things to find in your neighborhood. Another version on a scavenger hunt: write lower case letters and have your preschooler find and match lower case to upper case letters (See the idea on Pinterest).

  • Get out and about. Preschoolers are all about exploring. Sign up with Charlotte on the Cheap to find out what free family-friendly events are happening around Charlotte-Mecklenburg.
For Kindergarteners
  • Use apps purposefully. Chances are, your child is familiar with at least one iPad, Chromebook, or computer. Ask your child’s teacher for the best apps or web sites for practice—screen time is best spent getting better at skills they already know, rather than trying to learn something new. Here’s a list of educational apps listed by skill. Ask your child’s teacher which skill your child should focus on.
  • Letter practice. Cut out letters or buy letter magnets for your child to name, play with, and rearrange into words. Either challenge them to spell words you give them, or have them create their own words for you to read.

  • Environmental print. If your child likes to take control of your phone camera (and whose doesn’t?) challenge them to take pictures of words you see while on errands around town. Later, they can “read” the pictures and words from street signs, banners, and storefronts.

  • Name nonsense. A kindergartener’s name is the perfect starting point for teaching letters and sounds. That and more tips from Reading Rockets.
For First Graders
  • Sight words at stop lights. Ask your child’s teacher for a list of sight words, then print that list and hang it on the back of the front seats of your car so your child can practice reading sight words while they’re en route to and from school. To make a game of it, see how many words they can read aloud to you when you’re stopped at red lights.
  • Explorer interviews. First graders are all about exploring. After a family day out to Freedom Park and the nature museum or Sea Life Aquarium, help your child debrief their activity by describing what they saw, heard, and learned. This can be done in a quick interview with your child, record it with your smartphone to create a mini-broadcast.
  • At home science. There are tons of science experiments that you can do with materials you have at home, like making plastic from milk. Involve your child in choosing which experiment to do and you’re reinforcing the scientific process from start to finish. Here’s a list of 50 science technology engineering and math (STEM) ideas to do with kids.
  • Charlotte stories. Have your child choose a person and place or event in Charlotte (some ideas: Imaginon, Hodge’s Farm, Sea Life Aquarium, the Thanksgiving Day parade in Uptown). Then, write a story about what happens to that person in that place. This story organizer can help your child plan their story.
For Second and Third Graders
  • Irregular spellings. Ask your child’s teacher for a list of irregularly spelled words that your child should know. (Irregularly spelled words like “would”, “two”, and “water” don’t follow the usual phonic or spelling rules. We just have to memorize them.) Then, decide how you want to practice them. Your child may want to use computer programs (Wordle, for example) to play with how the words look, or they may want to use flashcards to memorize them and see how fast they can read them.

  • Do a Research Project. Do a research project with your child. Come up with a research question that they want to answer (What happens to birds when they fly south? Why do we add baking soda to cookies?). Then, use a variety of sources—the internet, your neighborhood library, Discovery Place—to find the answer. (Here are some tips on how to do research with kids.)

  • At home science. There are tons of science experiments that you can do with materials you have at home. Check out this list of 50 science technology engineering and math (STEM) ideas to do with kids. Have your child ask a question, find an experiment, and conduct it from start to finish.

  • Charlotte stories. Have your child choose a person and place or event in Charlotte (some ideas: Imaginon, Hodge’s Farm, Sea Life Aquarium, the Thanksgiving Day parade in Uptown). Then, write a story about what happens to that person in that place. This story organizer can help your child plan their story.

  • Retell your day. Retelling is a skill that 2nd and 3rd graders focus on. Help your child practice retelling by having them retell situations that you get into during the week. Did the car need to get fixed? Or, did you have to find a lost shoe? Any situation with a problem, solution, and events will do. (Use this retelling chart to know what to include.)