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53 months Milestone

Tuning into others

Children’s thinking skills expand in special ways at age four as they develop “theory of mind”. This new insight enables human beings to understand that other people may not always share their thoughts, feelings and perspectives.

As a result, four-year-olds learn to look at other people differently as they begin to consider what other people may be thinking in various situations; what their intentions, emotions and perspectives may be. 

As children develop theory of mind, they pay closer attention to their own thoughts and begin to talk about their opinions. In other words, a four-year-old can learn how to explore their thoughts and actions from another perspective.

Encourage conversations about what your child is thinking and planning to do. Discuss how some things could possibly be done differently.

Board games 

One of the things that make games fun is that they challenge children to keep information in mind so that they can work with it.

Board games and educational games teach concentration skills. As we play these games, everyone is expected to focus their attention, wait their turn (even when they feel like doing other things) and follow a set of rules. When the rules change, they need to adapt accordingly. 

All of these things work together to strengthen neural networks in the “control centres” of the child’s developing brain. This strengthens something that developmental psychologists refer to as “executive functioning”.

Executive functioning skills are wired into the developing brain over time. 

This process starts at birth, spikes during the four- to six-year period, then continues throughout a child’s adolescent years and into early adulthood. In fact, researchers believe it only fully matures after a person’s 24th birthday.

Educational toys and board games are slow paced and interactive. As a result, they work to build the three major areas of executive functioning: working memory, inhibitory control and flexible thinking.

  1. Working memory 

An example of your child’s working memory is the ability to recite three given numbers backwards. Board games require your child to keep information active in their mind for long enough to be able to work with it. You can also ask your child to spot small differences between two images that are almost identical. You will see your child form a mental picture of the first image, then look at the second image to compare them.

Children who don’t have a well-developed working memory find it difficult to concentrate in a classroom because they cannot remember what the teacher said a few minutes ago. They also struggle to read with understanding because, by the time they reach the end of a paragraph, they have forgotten what was said at the start.

  1. Inhibitory control 

This is a child’s ability to hold back impulsive behaviours and impulses. Board games allow children to practice their inhibitory control, which is the key to being able to stay on task because it makes them: sit and listen when someone is talking; keep their hands to themselves when they feel like grabbing something desirable from someone; use their “inside voice” when appropriate; and finish a task when they no longer feel like it. 

  1. Flexible thinking

This refers to being able to shift mental gears, a useful skill for board games. People who haven’t developed flexible thinking cannot think on their feet and quickly change direction when a situation demands them to do so. They easily get stuck in doing things in a particular way and follow certain thought patterns.

In conclusion, one of the beautiful things about educational games and board games is that they are games. 

Children don’t even realise that they are developing important learning skills while having fun with the family. 

Tip: Boosting concentration through books

When we read to our children, the closeness that we share with them motivates them to pay attention. As they listen to the story and focus on the illustrations, they’re swept away on an exciting, but relatively slow journey that unfolds as the pages are turned. 

Eventually, the culmination of many story book experiences reward children for their mental engagement by strengthening the neural networks in many important areas of their developing brains.

Reading to your child will help them to: develop executive functioning skills; boost their vocabulary; enhance their visualisation skills as they learn to give life to static illustrations; think creatively; and organise thoughts and ideas. 

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