Got 1 Minute? 3 art games to boost your child’s strategic thinking, problem solving, and visual recall

Staff Writer
Baystateparent Magazine

You have 1 minute to engage your kid. It’s a Monday, you have to get him to school, and you’re only on your first cup of coffee. What can you do that will help him think better?

 Do an art activity.  What, you ask, is an “art activity”? It’s something that exposes kids to art. Why should you do it? According to the National Endowment for the Arts, children with more art experiences had higher GPAs than those who lacked those experiences. How do you start? Pour that second cup of coffee, set the timer for 1 minute, and do one of the following: 

Game 1: (The timer is set, right? Did you pour that second cup of coffee?) Ask Junior, “How many things can be done with spoons?”

Now, wait. If Junior hasn’t had breakfast, he might say, “I don’t know.” But, if Junior just had a bowl of sugary goodness, the answer may be, “You can eat with spoons, dig with spoons… uhhhhh…” Then Junior may fall silent. This is where you say, “Keep going…”  Junior may come up with one more answer, something involving, “You can fling a spoon.” The minute will pass.

 What’s the answer? An unknown number of things can be done with spoons. Think outside the box, or in this case, the silverware drawer.  This idea of thinking beyond what is obvious frees your child’s mind to use his imagination. Imagination leads to solutions.

  Let’s get back to the spoons.  If you weld spoons together, you could build a wall, and then you could make a house of spoons. (No, it’s not cheating, I never said, “a spoon,” or that the spoons had to remain in their original form.) The question leads your child, and you, to think strategically to solve a puzzle. This method of thinking creatively frees up your mind to design, imagine, and build ideas that don’t exist. That’s how art starts. You’ve spent a minute and engaged in strategic thinking.

Game 2: Grab a pencil and a piece of paper. Ask Junior to draw a bicycle with circles and lines. Did you set the timer for 1 minute? If your coffee has kicked in, you can try it, too. What does this game do for Junior? It makes kids think about design principles, how shapes fit together for practical use. If you want a hint, a very basic bike can be drawn using 5 circles and 11 lines. Wait a minute. “How is this art?” you ask? It is art because it involves organizing shapes and lines and creating a design. So you’ve just covered design, which fits under problem solving.

Game 3: Open the cupboard and let Junior look at it for 8 seconds. This is not the time to obsess over the fact that there is high fructose corn syrup in half of the breakfast cereals. Close the cupboard. Ask Junior, “How many colors can be made from the colors on the boxes inside the cupboard?” You’ll probably get, “I don’t know.” Who thinks about cereal boxes and art?

  Ask Junior to open the cupboard and see if there is red, yellow, and blue inside. If so, you have the three primary colors. All colors can be made from the three primary colors. Play a color addition game. (Go on, the first part wasn’t even 20 seconds.) What is red + yellow? Orange. Was there a yellow box on your shelf? A blue one? Sure there was, everyone has that blue box of pasta on the second shelf, so now you have yellow + blue. You get the picture. Now you’ve covered visual recall.

  Wow, look at you, covering strategic thinking, problem solving, and visual recall all before your third cup of coffee! Junior used art, or thinking about art, to fire up those synapses before class. Thinking about art will carry over into other areas of study, such as math, language, and science. Ultimately, art allows individuals to create something from nothing by strategically analyzing a problem and solving them.

  If you have 5 minutes, tour the world’s greatest museums online. This may lead to conversations about the historical context in which that art was created, or the purpose of art. If you ask Junior what he thinks about a painting he’s looking at, he may say, “I don’t know.” That’s OK. School doesn’t train our kids to think of possibilities, it teaches kids to have answers. Get Junior thinking and he will come up with solutions to all kinds of life situations.