10 of the Best Brain Games for Kids

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As parents, we all know the challenges of balancing our children's screen time with other activities that promote learning and mental development. While I am the first to say technology certainly has its benefits, it's important to encourage our kids to engage in activities that exercise their brains and improve their cognitive abilities.

In-person brain games are a fantastic supplement to screen time that can offer a fun and engaging way for kids to learn and develop critical thinking skills. From classic board games to interactive puzzles and challenges, we've got you covered with a range of options that will appeal to children of different ages and skill levels—read on for some great ideas and inspiration!

1. Drawing in the Dark 

To play, pair off players and give each pair a pen and piece of paper. One player will look down and close their eyes and use the pen and paper while the other must instruct that player on how to draw a complex abstract object.

The instructing player may not physically interact with their partner, instead only offering verbal advice. After a few minutes, have the players all compare drawings to the example and then have the partners switch off with a new drawing.

Everyone is a winner! Be creative, laugh, have fun!

2. Everything Leads Back to 4

Pay attention closely—this game can get away from you if you aren't focused!

Essentially the name says it all...everything leads back to 4. To play, take any number 1 - 100, such as 44, and spell out that number in your head: f-o-r-t-y-f-o-u-r. That's 9 letters, now 44 turns into 9, spell it out: n-i-n-e. Now 9 is 4. Ah!

To take it further, say... Let's see 44 is 9 and 9 is 4. It's that easy! Let's Try 10, T-e-n is 3, T-h-r-e-e is 5, F-i-v-e is 4.

Catching on yet?

3. Quick Picks

This is a simple competitive activity that will really get kids thinking. Players stand in a circle facing inward, with one player being "It" in the center.

"It" is given a category from the facilitator and then must come up with as many items that fit that category as possible. While the one who is "It" is listing items, the group passes a soft sphere around the circle as quickly as possible.

Once the soft sphere has completed one revolution, "It" must stop and the score is tallied. The category is changed and a new "It" is chosen until everyone has had a chance—who can score the highest?

An official counter should be assigned to keep track of the score. 

Take it further by trying different size/shape props to pass around.

4. Team Blind Draw

Similar to Drawing in the Dark, teammates try to recreate a drawing on a paper with one teammate unable to see the drawing and the other dictating instructions on how to recreate it.

Here are some supplies you'll want to grab:

  • Pens/Pencils - one per person
  • Clipboard/Hard Surface - one per group of two
  • Blank white paper - one per person
  • Game Paper - one per person

The organizer must draw on a sheet of paper various shapes and designs; not too complex but not too simple either. The sheet should have 5-10 various objects drawn on different points on the page. It's best if they are abstract: circles, squares, zig-zags, etc. This should be done twice—two different sheet designs, one for each person on the team.

Once the drawings are made, the organizer must make enough photocopies of each page for the group.

Next, arrange the group into pairs of two with teammates sitting back to back. One teammate looks at the paper with various drawings, shapes, and designs on it, then dictates drawing instructions to the other teammate who has a blank page and pencil. The teammates work together to try and replicate the drawing as best they can only using verbal instructions.

Once the pair is done, they then switch roles and use the second drawing to replicate the game.

5. Telephone Pictionary

Yes—just like the game Telephone, but with words and drawings! Can be made as easy or hard depending on the age group.

To play, kids should sit in a circle; each student has a pad of paper and a writing utensil.

Either in advance or on the spot, the facilitator comes up with a word/phrase/object for each student to write down on their piece paper. After they write the word/phrase/object they flip to the next page and draw that word/phrase/object.

When completed, they pass it to the next person. That person looks at their drawing, flips the page and writes down what they think they see.

When completed, they pass it to the next person, who reads the word/phrase/object, flips the page, then draws what they read.

This continues going back and forth between words/drawings until each player has their original tablet back. 

Share the results! (It's usually hilarious!)

6. The Numbers Game

The idea here is to have kids count off as high as they can starting from 1. The only catch is, there is no designated order and if two students say a number at the same time, you must start over! 

A relatively easy setup, all you need is to have your group huddle up so that they are within hearing distance of one another. 

A popular variation is to time the students to see if they can finish in under 1 minute, 30 seconds, etc. Another is to take away all forms of communication (shut their eyes, talking, hand gestures). 

7. The Rune Game

How about a tricky puzzle game? Stick with me.

In this one, the facilitator reveals that they know an ancient runic number system that they will show to a group of kids. They then arrange some props into any configuration they want: simple, complicated; anything they wish. To goal is to misdirect and draw attention to the props.

Once done, the facilitator declares they are finished, and that they have made a number from one to ten.

As you might have guessed, the prop arrangement means nothing. Instead, what is important is the number of fingers the facilitator is discreetly holding up, either against the table or their legs. They can even cross their arms with a finger or two sticking out. Be creative, mess with their minds!

Speaking of—it is fun to guide kids down certain paths at the start then to pull a 180. For example, use 3 sticks to make a 3, 4 to make a 4, then 8 to make a 1. They will freak out!

8. Tic-Tac-Toe Relay

Tic-Tac-Toe has never been so energetic! Kids race to the finish as they and their teammates try to win the board during this relay-style challenge! 

To play, create a Tic-Tac-Toe board—you can use a pad of paper or hula hoops, or you can draw one with chalk outside. Put the board at one end of the playing field, and have the two teams stand on the other end. Of course, one team is Xs and the other is Os.

Each team needs a "marker" (which can be a marker or a flag, etc.). Team members have to run to the board and place their marker in a spot before running back to tag their next teammate in line. After all three of a team's items have been placed, the next team member has to move one item to an open spot to try and get three in a row. The first team with Tic-Tac-Toe wins! 

9. Tower Builder

Picture this: kids have 20 minutes to build a tower using only 20 spaghetti sticks, a yard of masking tape, a yard of string, and one marshmallow to be placed on the top.

After 20 minutes, all team members must step away from their creations. A facilitator goes around to measure each tower. In terms of rules, towers must be freestanding in order to be measured (meaning they may not use walls/trees etc. for support).

Also, the tower is measured from the top of the marshmallow (ie. marshmallows don't have to be at the top, but it will be measured from the marshmallow). 

10. Traffic Jam

This tricky puzzler can get anyone a little frustrated! Split the group into two equal teams and have them stand on spaces (e.g. paper plates) in a single line with one empty space in between them. One team should be facing the other.

The goal of the game is for the two teams to completely switch places. The challenge is, only one player can move at a time! Players are allowed to jump one other player (as long as there is an empty space) but no one is allowed to move backwards.

Once the teams become locked, start this puzzle over again from the beginning.

Hint: did I say it was tricky?

A photo of Ryan

Ryan has been in EdTech and with iD Tech for 13 years—building experience, expertise, and knowledge in all things coding, game development, college prep, STEM, and more. He earned his MBA from Santa Clara University after obtaining his Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State. Connect on LinkedIn

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