The idea of IQ-boosting, brain training exercises for kids instinctively makes me cringe.
But a new study in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences shows that there are certain exercises that not only improve a child’s memory, but also give children a leg up in more complex thinking — in fact raising their performance on intelligence tests.
We’re not talking gimmicky Einstein videos and flash cards — here’s the classic test that psychologists use regularly and has been shown to boost one of the most important brain skills a child has:
Researchers from the University of Michigan trained elementary school kids in a form of the “n back” test (this is a standard neuropsychological assessment test). In this version of the test, according to the LA Times, the kids had to follow and remember a sequence of positions on a grid and, after seeing the pattern, they answered questions about it.
The test requires kids to hold onto a cluster of information in their heads for a short period of time and then use that information later. This engages a child’s “working memory” — a brain activity that taps the prefrontal cortex and requires short term memory and abstract thinking.
When kids were trained in this test for a month, the ones who improved the most performed better than the control group on a separate test of intelligence. And the effect held up when they were tested three months later.
There’s no doubt that engaging working memory and executive function is one of the best, most useful challenge for little kids. And I don’t doubt that specific exercises like these can make a difference (sorry to my son in advance, because I’ll probably come up with a few of my own n back challenges over dinner tonight).
But remember the other way to engage executive function? Play! Read more about the kinds of play that work executive function in preschoolers in my Science of Kids column.