Thinking Skills

Hands-on Learning Games: Improve Your Preschooler’s Thinking Skills

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You can improve your preschooler's ability to think creatively by playing "Secret Square." You can also make this game at home  inexpensively with just a few materials.

One of the best ways to help your child learn to exercise his thinking skills, is to give him open-ended problems that require him to consider possible solutions. While some children find it easy to free associate, often coming up with their own unique solutions, others have a hard time when the answer isn't fed to them or is not immediately obvious.

This game, although based on a traditional 20 questions format, is helpful for children like this since it uses a picture that serves as a visual clue, and helps them to stay on the right track.


You will need pictures of items in common categories: food, transportation, clothing, tools, animals, toys, and furniture are basic categories you can use for a beginner. You will need about five pictures for each category.

Glue each picture to a piece of heavy cardboard or plastic.

You will also need a coin or colored disc.

How to Play:

Variation One:

    1. Mix up the cards.
    2. Lay the cards face-up.
    3. Have the child close their eyes, and place the coin or counter directly under the card that you choose.
    4. Your child needs to guess where the secret counter is. For example, if you placed the counter under an ice-cream cone, your child will need to guess where you hid it, but he is only allowed to ask indirect questions.  For example, he can ask: "Is it something you wear?"
    5. If the answer is no, then he needs to turn over all the things you wear. This part of the game is nice since it sneaks in a little categorization as well.
    6. If the answer is yes, then he turns over all the things that you don't wear. He must then ask more specific questions, like "is it something you wear in the winter?" Th eony restriction is that the child may not ask directly, "Is it a chair?"
    7. When the child locates the secret counter, then he is the winner, and he gets to place the counter under one of the cards, while you guess.

Variation Two:
In this variation, you turn the cards face-down. You still place the counter under one of the cards, but this gives an added dimension involving memory: your child will now have to remember what types of things he saw, as you will not take away any cards until he hits a "yes."

He will have to remember which cards he chose and asked about, in order to find the secret counter.

Tip:You could make this game even more challenging by using less common categories. For example, you could choose to feature different types of vehicle parts: i.e. a boat engine, truck engine, motorcycle engine,etc. Your child would then have to identify the item as an engine, and would also need to know what it does.

You might call this a Gold Challenger round, and involve the whole family.


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  • Rachel Oct 11,2011 at 9:48 am

    It is a fun game. I’ll be making my own version soon for my list, I think.

  • Laughwithusblog Oct 11,2011 at 2:39 am

    What a fun game! I hadn’t heard of this one.

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