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What educational games and activities will hold my bright little girl’s interest?
Q: I have a daughter who will be 4 in September. She is very bright. She knows her A,B,C's and can count to 10. She enjoys singing and dancing. She also is quite the little gardener. I was wondering if you had any suggestions for educational games we can play at home that might keep her interested for a while, because she is often bored.
A: Your daughter sounds not only very bright but also very delightful. The challenge with such a child is to stay just enough ahead of her to stimulate her interest without taking away her initiative and creativity. So encourage, and enjoy with her, all that singing and dancing. With respect to games, why don’t the two of you make a special trip to a toy store and wander through the game section? That way she could help pick out a game. There aren’t too many for children as young as she is (most are for beginning years of 5 or 7) because children younger than that have difficulty understanding the rules. Therefore, in order for a game session to be fun, you sometimes have to let them make up the rules as they go along and resist the temptation to protest, “But you’re not playing it the right way.” If she gets the idea that you’re trying to push her, she will resist and the game will lose its effectiveness.

After having offered the precaution that there aren’t too many games for children as young as your daughter, I will contradict myself and say that there are a few good ones out there to look for. When my daughter was the age of yours, her favourite game was Candyland, which is still on the market. In fact, she played with that game either with me or with other children until she was probably 10 years old, carefully protecting the board and all the pieces. I would also go for some of the classics that have been around for a long time, like dominoes and playing cards. I think I learned basic arithmetic playing dominoes with my dad, and I know that is how I learned to add numbers in my head. You can make up all sorts of modifications of “Go Fishing” that are simpler than the formal rules—e.g., “Have you got any red cards with a man’s face on it?” What will be important is that you are doing something with her instead of simply telling her, “Go play with your toys.” And, at her age, I would resist the video games.

Your comment that she is quite the little gardener also gives you an opening for ways to help use her talents and not get bored. Do you have a space where she can have her own little garden? If so, help her plant and tend and water it. Choose plants that grow rapidly, as young children can lose interest if they have to wait too long for things they have planted to come up. If you don’t have space for a “real” garden, a sweet potato held in a glass with toothpicks in a kitchen window produces visible changes almost daily. (An avocado seed does just about as well.) With something like that, she can see the roots as well as the shoots and the leaves. And be sure to make trips to the library to find books about plants that are appropriate for her developmental level.

Raising a bright child is always a challenge. But it is also a lot of fun.