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Expert Shopper Baby & Kids

Best puzzles, games and more to nurture a healthy mind, per BestReviews baby and child expert

Expertly reviewed by Aimee Ketchum

Most parents understand the importance of caring for a child’s well-being by offering a balanced meal and keeping them active. While those are essential to helping children flourish, nourishing a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body. From reading to your child to putting together puzzles, there are many ways to encourage a child’s health and wellness.

For more information, we asked BestReviews' baby and child expert Dr. Aimee Ketchum to explain how parents can nurture a healthy mind through experiences, games, puzzles and more.

In this article: ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run Brain Game, Melissa & Doug Vehicles Sound Puzzle and Jurassic World Matching Game by Wonder Forge.

The importance of nurturing a child’s mind

Before you think about giving your child vegetables at dinner and long before they can run outside, the first way to encourage health and wellness is by nurturing your baby's mind. According to Ketchum, the mind starts developing at birth and continues throughout adolescence. 

"Babies are born with most of the brain cells (neurons) in place at birth, but very few connections between those neurons," she said. "When babies are adequately stimulated, their brains get so many new connections from new learning that their brains double in weight by their first birthday and triple in weight by the time they are 3."

Prime time for learning and developing the mind is between birth and age 5, Ketchum said, when it is more "plastic and adaptable to new learning."

Effects of a healthy mind on children

"Children with a healthy mind are well-adjusted, more confident, have better social-emotional skills, higher vocabulary and are usually more articulate," Ketchum said. "They also usually score higher in math and other STEM areas of academics.” 

If you’ve ever played a fun matching game with your child, you’re already encouraging their mind to develop executive function, a set of mental skills that includes self-control, memory and flexible thinking. These skills help us manage our daily lives and learn to complete tasks. Working on activities, games or puzzles with others also teaches social skills, patience and sportsmanship.

Ways to nurture a child’s healthy mind

There are so many ways to nurture a child’s healthy mind, and there’s a good chance you’re already doing it. For a baby, it’s vital to provide experiences, since babies learn through their senses.

This means incorporating things such as these into their activities:

  • Providing exciting things to look at for visual stimulation.
  • Exercising and developing their hearing abilities through talking, reading, singing and playing music.
  • Incorporating other sensory aspects into play, such as taste, smell, touch, sensation and movement.

As kids get older, Ketchum recommends taking them "to interesting places, such as parks, playgrounds, children's museums, zoos and places where they will experience new and interesting things. Avoid screen time; encourage play dates. Take advantage of community resources, such as story time at the library and activities for children at recreation centers."

Ketchum is also a big proponent of puzzles, board games and books for nurturing a healthy mind. Puzzles teach early math skills, such as size, shapes, object manipulation, spatial skills, problem-solving and persistence. By offering experiences, puzzles and games to your baby and child, they’ll learn a balanced set of physical and mental skills that help them navigate their daily lives and nurture a healthy mind.

Best puzzles, games and more to nurture a healthy mind

ThinkFun Gravity Maze Marble Run Brain Game

With challenges that build spatial reasoning and planning skills, this game is ideal for nurturing healthy minds and giving children the ability to manage their daily lives. It's a STEM toy that combines logic and marbles kids use to build a path through the towers and get the marble to the final target.

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Melissa & Doug Vehicles Sound Puzzle

Brain development starts at birth, so it's essential to encourage a healthy mind when kids are still young. From visual stimulation to sounds to touch, this puzzle is perfect for a developing baby or toddler. It has eight puzzle pieces with a peg that's easy for small hands to grasp and plays the correct vehicle sound when they make a match.

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"Jurassic World" Matching Game by Wonder Forge

Ketchum recommends matching games to nurture a healthy mind in children. Kids who love dinosaurs and animals will have fun developing their focus and critical thinking while trying to find a color match. Play it solo, with a sibling or bring it on a road trip to pass the time.

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Coogam Wooden Blocks Puzzle Brain Teasers

Children can develop focus, critical thinking and shape recognition to solve this brain teaser that fits together like a jigsaw puzzle. They also can use the colorful, unique-shaped pieces to create anything their minds imagine. It encourages focus, creativity and artistic abilities.

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Skillmatics Guess in 10 Animal Planet

Great things can come in tiny packages, like this exciting animal trivia guessing game. It contains 50 cards, each with an animal, and gives clues to help children guess the correct animal using their critical thinking skills. Or you can break into teams and have a family-friendly game night.

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The Original 3 by 3 Cube Rubik's Cube

With a combination of math, art and science, the original Rubik's cube is still a fun, efficient way to nurture a healthy mind. While it teaches strategy and critical thinking, it's also an excellent fidget tool to encourage focus and calm down during stressful moments.

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Bre Richey writes for BestReviews. BestReviews has helped millions of consumers simplify their purchasing decisions, saving them time and money.

BestReviews spends thousands of hours researching, analyzing, and testing products to recommend the best picks for most consumers.

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