(No, this is not the same as studying or reading.)

I recently mentioned that we should play with our children to help them along with their maths (this is based on a recent piece of research that there is no such thing as an inane maths brain – everybody can be good at maths).  Actually, it came from a comment that my 16-year-old daughter made, about all maths functions are simply extensions of addition.  This elicited many queries which snarled up my Inbox and I have written an article about it for Times Education Supplement under the Subject Genius section (yet to be published).

Maths learning cannot take place in isolation.  It has to be part of what you do in the home, and with that, I mean having fun exercising young brains.  For me, in keeping with our family ethos, we furthered our children’s cognitive skills through good, old-fashioned play.

We value play in our family.  We still keep all our old board games to be revived whenever we are together. This is our old tabletop air-hockey set. When we play it, we calculate each goal as 1.75 or 2.46 or any random number, which compelled the children to do more complex additions.

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My 16-year-old who loves board games and who often beats her older siblings in Risk.  If you have been following my blog and my writing elsewhere, you would know that this unusual teen has a quick-silver fast brain that embraces complexity and challenges gleefully, fearlessly. She recently debated very effectively on Nuclear Disarmament in Poland, and I am convinced she hones her thinking skills from Risk, amongst the other games that we play.

Here are three ideas of what to play with younger children to exercise their brains:

Cockney alphabet

Even before she could read, she knew the Cockney alphabet (her father is Cockney).  I believe that this helped her tremendously because apart from learning what alphabet sounds like before being stressed about about making and writing words, we laughed so much. Today, she is a first-class mimic and speaks almost flawless Spanish (despite being schooled in Asia).

A for ‘orses (hay for horses)
B for mutton (beef or mutton)
C for ‘th highlanders (Seaforth Highlanders)
D for ‘ential (deferential)
E for Adam (Eve or Adam)
F for ‘vescence (effervescence)
G for police (chief of police)
H for respect (age for respect)
I for Novello (Ivor Novello)
J for oranges (Jaffa oranges)
K for ‘ancis, (Kay Francis), or K for undressing
L for leather (Hell for leather)
M for ‘sis (emphasis)
N for ‘adig (in for a dig, or infra dig.)
O for the garden wall (over the garden wall)
P for a penny (pee for a penny)
Q for a song (cue for a song), or Q for billiards (cue for billiards)
R for mo’ (half a mo’)
S for you (it’s for you)
T for two (tea for two)
U for films (UFA films)
V for La France (vive la France)
W for a bob (double you for a bob)
X for breakfast (eggs for breakfast)
Y for Gawd’s sake (why, for God’s sake)
Z for breezes (zephyr breezes, see West wind)


Simply swap the first syllables of two words to come up with a new language! It was started by the Reverend Archibald Spooner who was prone to making mistakes, and we have so much fun with it now. We still do. We could go on for hours speaking Spoonerism.

DNA codes

This is a game I recently invented to keep the grey cells active and agile.  In the DNA, the four amino acids : the bases in the double helix always pair up with only one partner – adenine (A) with thymine (T) and guanine (G) with cytosine (C) – and this feature confers upon the DNA its information-storing capacity, not only for living cells but also nano-computers. WITHOUT using pen and paper, Player #1 calls out A and Player #2 should respond T, or “C” for “G”, and the game goes on.  It’s good for a while until you figure out a very easy way – big wink.

The thing with these games is, it is not merely about developing brains but more importantly, you grow closer with your child by building dialogues with each other and having fun together. That’s where the best learning happens.

Note: Your kids might not like our games and I am sorry to say this, but parents themselves have to play in order to come up with ones that are best for their children. The best ones are those that are based on your environment and family quirks.