As the third school term winds down in just a few days’ time, take your child’s brain to thinking gym this holiday by encouraging the use of Smart Games - the key to boosting cognitive development.

According to parenting expert, Nikki Bush, global research indicates that the brain functions “way better” when exposed to activities like brain teasers, brain games and even logic puzzles.

“These kinds of games are vital for cognitive development, they stimulate the brain in many ways. But it’s important to provide children with a variety of gaming opportunities to stretch the brain, stimulate logical thinking and give the mind a proper work-out. And the good news is - the whole family can join the fun,” Bush says.

In this article Bush explores the benefits of Smart Games, why parents should encourage them and shares her personal picks.

The benefits

  • Improves concentration
  • Enhances memory and processing speed
  • Encourages systematic thinking
  • Formalises step-by-step thinking

“There is nothing like a real game with problems to solve to get the brain working, as well as to switch track and switch off from normal, mundane and everyday things,” Bush says.

Be on the look-out for 

But choosing a Smart Game is not that simple, instead, Bush says there are several important elements parents need to look-out for when choosing a game, she suggests the following:

  • The game’s tasks should be graded from easy to expert
  • The theme or topic should be of interest to your child
  • The instruction booklet or problem cards should be fitted with solutions for your child to verify

Game types

  • Chess
  • Crossword puzzles
  • Sudoku
  • Logic puzzles

“These are just a few noteworthy gaming options that does exactly what we need them to.   And the added bonus is - they’re entertaining and engaging and boost social and interactive skills as well,” she says.

What you didn’t know

Bush says Smart Games “lay the groundwork for computational thinking” and parents should consider this as an option before enrolling kids into robotic courses to develop kids’ tech skills to help nurture future techies.   

“Games of logic provide the foundation for coding, which in actual fact is step-by-step problem solving,” Bush says.

Points to ponder:

“Solving a brain game is such a satisfying ‘I can’ experience for any age group. Put that problem solver’s hat on and get thinking. It’s guaranteed to benefit everyone for a long time to come,” Bush says.

This school holiday, the Child Development Team at Toy Kingdom will encourage the use of Smart Games with gaming days in-store. Parents are encouraged to bring their kids to a Toy Kingdom store between 29 September and 7 October to experience some of these amazing Smart Games in action. Kids will have an opportunity to square up against each other with Color Code - a fun colour stacking challenge; Quadrillion, the ultimate solitaire game; and Parking Puzzler, a unique deduction game to stimulate your detective skills – to name just a few.

“Smart Games help families collaborate, and teaches them to really enjoy problem solving. And no smart game is too difficult for children, there are ways around it,” Bush says.

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Albert Einstein said, “Learning is an experience. Everything else is just information,” and that is why it’s so important to create as much opportunity as possible for children to experience the world through touch; a fun and engaging way to play and learn with endless developmental benefits

In a fast-moving digital world – where children are glued to the couch, handheld device in hand – give them an opportunity to experience the world through touch – a fun and engaging way to play and learn with endless developmental benefits.

Sensopathic play uses the sense of touch to help children better understand the world around them

Parenting expert Nikki Bush says sensopathic play uses the sense of touch, the biggest sensory system in the body, to help children better understand the world around them.

“Sensopathic play is a very real, concrete and experiential way to learn through personal experience. And as Albert Einstein said: ‘Learning is experience. Everything else is just information’,” Bush says.

Yet, in the modern world fewer children engage in sensopathic play, and instead spend more time in front of a laptop computer or playing video games. Bush says the digital world has evolved so much that these days real toys and games have even been replaced with similar screen-based games.

Screens don’t provide three-dimensional learning

“Screens don’t provide three-dimensional learning. And these days a four-year old can play a shape matching game on a tablet, but can’t do it in the real world. Similarly, a five-year old can build a 64-piece puzzle on a computer game, but struggles to build a puzzle in class,” she says.

Parents are advised to encourage this type of play, and Bush says the options are endless. Drawing on a child’s back with bubble bath during bath time; allowing him/her to draw pictures on the patio door and window with shaving cream, and crafting little figures from play dough are just a few examples that guarantee fun, interactive multisensory experiences. There are many developmental benefits attached to each, including fine motor coordination, patience, cooperation and emotional safety and security.

Balance children’s time on screens with even more time doing real activities in real time with real objects and real people and you’ll be surprised by the results

“Balance children’s time on screens with even more time doing real activities in real time with real objects and real people and you’ll be surprised by the results,” she says.

Toys that encourage sensopathic play

There are dozens of toys on the market that encourage sensopathic play and the Child Development Team at Toy Kingdom has carefully selected and curated a range of toys that encourage this form of play, including finger paints and play dough, as well as dolls and plush toys.

“Every child needs an opportunity to experience the world in a very real sense and through the sense of touch. By ignoring sensopathic play, your child will not learn as effectively as when they are fully, physically engaged in their own learning creating meaningful experiences,” Bush says.

To highlight the importance of sensopathic play, Nikki Bush will host a special workshop at the Toy Kingdom Canal Walk store on 29 August 2016. For more information visit the Toy Kingdom website.

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Children are born to move and as convenient as screen-based play has become, parents of children from birth to 12 years of age need to make a conscious effort to encourage movement as much as possible.

It is movement and appropriate stimulation that actually grows the physical size of the brain. The brain is like a muscle, it must be stimulated and exercised in order to work optimally and to lay strong foundations for later academic learning. This starts first through movement of the body.

Gross motor control

Parents must give their children opportunities the opportunity to master their bodies. Gross motor control is about learning how to co-ordinate the large muscles of the body:

  • Head
  • Neck
  • Back
  • Buttocks
  • Arms
  • Legs

Children also need to learn how to use both sides of their bodies in an integrated, co-ordinated way.

Movement of both sides of the body is important

Bilateral integration is the ability to use both sides of the body together in a co-ordinated way. This occurs when doing activities such as running, riding a bike or swimming. It’s the beginning of the conscious development of the right and left concept known as laterality

Children who do not develop laterality have a disadvantage in school because various subjects, including reading, writing and physical education, involve left and right concepts.

Toys that encourage movement, particularly on both sides of the body at the same time):

  • Tricycles
  • Bicycles
  • Scooters
  • Skateboards
  • Rollerskates/blades

Additional areas of learning with bikes, scooters and skateboards

  • Eye-foot co-ordination (when a child is learning to cycle or skate, initially they will look at their feet until eventually they know where they are in space and there is no need to do so any more)
  • Balance (How do I hold my body and move at the same time to keep my balance?)
  • Core strength (this is useful when trying to balance and is an excellent skill that children engage when using a toy on wheels)
  • Planning of movements (motor planning)
  • Proprioception (How hard do I need to push on this pedal? How much should I bend my knees and throw my weight around to balance and get my skateboard moving? How quickly do I need to pedal to go faster?)
  • Directionality (Am I going forwards, backwards, sideways?)
  • Judgement of speed, space and distance
  • Stimulation of focal depth (As I move, things get closer or further away exercising my visual system)
  • Problem solving
  • When handle bars are turned extreme left or right, the midline of the body is crossed integrating both sides of the brain

Keeping safe on wheels

Clearly speed raises the level of danger. When a child comes off a wheelie toy at speed they are more likely to hurt themselves. Falling is part of the learning process. Just make sure that they are protected from serious harm should it happen. This is why the following common sense guidelines apply:

  • When children first start using any toy on wheels, parents need to be present to assist if necessary.
  • Parents also need to establish their child’s level of competence and just how much help and support they are likely to need.
  • With two-wheeler bikes, you will most likely start your child off with training/fairy wheels while they find their feet, so to speak.
  • You may need to be there to give them the odd push or to encourage them up a hill so that they don’t give up
  • Try riding bikes or scooters together to create family fun time.
  • Ensure that the relevant safety equipment is worn from helmets to knee guards etc. to protect your child in the event of falling, as they most certainly will, whether off a bike or a skateboard.
  • Wound and graze powder, plasters and antiseptic lotion are a must in every household with active children.

Keep encouraging your child to move as much as possible and remember that toys on wheels have so much educational value. Make the time to get your kids outdoors on their wheels.

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We are always complaining that children spend too much time on screens and should be playing more. The fidget spinner has taken the world by storm and it is THE toy that is distracting children from screens and giving them a very different brain-body play experience. Fidget spinners provide an active play experience and they are intriguing gadgets that beg to be mastered.

The fidget spinner has broad appeal to both old and young, across race and gender. It is a fascination toy that has captured the imagination en masse. It is great for stimulating the tips of the fingers which few toys do. It requires concentration and fine motor co-ordination. You can sit and play with it or get really athletic as can be seen in some of the Youtube tips and tricks videos. I have posted a video at the end of this blog.

The fact some of these videos are attracting over 7.9-million viewers, just goes to show that this craze is huge and manufacturers and retailers are jumping on the bandwagon as they did with crazes like loombands and yoyos before them. And with prices varying from entry level at around R75 up into the hundreds for fancy fidget spinners, it is a toy that is accessible to all. Everyone can play. And boy, don’t we all need to play more today!

What is a fidget spinner?

It’s generally a three pronged device no bigger than the palm of one’s hand that has some form of ball bearing in the middle allowing it to spin. You hold onto it in the middle with thumb and forefinger, and spin it with the other fingers on the outside.

The objective is to get it to spin fast and for as long as possible and, everyday, kids are finding new ways to play with them.  They can be made out of metal or plastic and some can look like waste that has been put to good use, while others are very stylishly designed with LED lights and sounds too.

While the fidget spinners have huge play value, there have been reports of them being banned from schools – read on for my take on this, and there have been reports of children choking on the ball bearings. Fidget spinners are not to be put in the mouth or used by very young children!

Fidget spinners as toys for fun

You just have to watch kids playing with fidget spinners, or hop on to Youtube, to see why they are such fun. Here are some of the benefits:

  • Challenging
  • Creative
  • Can learn new things all the time – passing it from hand to hand, around the body, throwing it in the air and catching it, etc
  • Can try and outdo others in terms of how long you can keep it spinning or not drop it
  • Can be played with alone or in a group eg. passing it around like pass the parcel, only this parcel is spinning
  • Low price point to entry making it accessible to many
  • Collectible – there is a wide variety to choose from
  • Low tech fun
  • Off-screen fun
  • Physical
  • Wakes up the brain
  • Releases endorphins (happiness hormones) when achieving a movement
  • Kids keep on trying which encourages perseverance

Fidget spinners as learning tools

Fidget spinners are being marketed for their therapeutic value for ADD, anxiety and autism, but can also be seen from an educational and developmental point of view as good for:

  • Fine motor control
  • Eye-hand co-ordination
  • Manual dexterity
  • Isolation of finger movements
  • Strengthening the pencil grip
  • Motor planning
  • Muscle development in hand and fingers

Fidget spinners for therapy

They have been touted as having therapeutic benefits for the following although there seems to be no scientific evidence:

  • Anxiety – it can distract children from their anxiety helping them to concentrate on the task at hand
  • ADD/ADHD – it helps them to focus as above
  • Sensory seeking individuals – they get sensory input from the fidget spinner
  • For children who need movement and input in order to concentrate better

Fidget spinners are a fabulous addition to the tools used in the therapy rooms for children.  Occupational therapists love them for all the developmental, learning and therapeutic benefits they provide. The fact that they fascinate a child is an added bonus when you need to help a child to rewire their brain through the body by doing not hundreds, but thousands of repetitions of a movement to get it right and improve the quality of that movement, and therefore the wiring in the brain.

Controversy in the classroom

Fidget spinners are not only being used by children as assistive tools in the learning environment to help them to concentrate, but are now being played with en masse, and I can imagine that this could be incredibly distracting to a teacher who is faced with 25 – 35 children all spinning their fidget spinners at the same time. It must feel a little like you are being tuned out, especially if they are the noise-making variety of spinners, which many are.

The children who really need fidget spinners are the same ones who would need to sit on balls and wedges or squeeze stress balls in their hands in class, to help them to be less anxious and to concentrate better. They are in the minority. But a classroom of kids playing with them all a the same time would be completely distracting not only to the teacher but to everyone. And this is why they are being banned from schools and classrooms.

Commonsense needs to prevail. Some guidelines:

  • In the classroom:
    • A whole classroom full of children spinning gadgets is unlikely to be a productive one, so let’s leave them for playground use.
    • If they are being used as dangerous missiles – this is not their intended use – then this also means that children will lose the privilege of using them at school.
    • Teachers could jump on the bandwagon of fun, and do one-minute wake up the brain sessions with fidget spinners at the beginning of a class or in the middle of a double period, as long as their learners respect that fidget spinners are off limits for the rest of the time.
  • At home:
    • Fidget spinners would not be allowed at my dinner table
    • In certain environments, such as restaurants or place of worship, they would not be allowed due to the possibility of distracting other people

Whether fidget spinners are a quick in and out craze, or whether they will stay around for some time, is anyone’s guess. Just keep perspective. There is play value, educational value and therapeutic value to fidget spinners. But, if the very tools that are supposedly meant to help children to focus, become a distraction in the learning environment, then we need to bring in some boundaries and commonsense, that goes like this:  “There is a time and a place for using fidget spinners. Respect that, and you can play to your heart’s content.”

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Too many South African children are couch potatoes and not engaged in enough physical activity - the only way to combat this is by encouraging a culture of play with toys that stimulate movement.

According to the 2016 Healthy Active Kids South Africa (Haksa) report, South African children scored a D in overall physical activity. The report highlights the current state of South African children’s health, with a particular focus on physical activity, healthy eating and maintaining healthy weight. The report describes the lack of physical inactivity as a “global pandemic” and indicates that half of South African children are not active enough. South Africa is one of 39 countries that participated in the study.

“These statistics are shocking and also worrying. Parents need to do their bit to ensure kids get off the couch, outside and playing with toys that encourage a level of physical activity,” says parenting expert Nikki Bush.

Bush says physical and mental stimulation is crucial and one way of ensuring kids ranging from birth to 12-years old remain fit is to encourage “movement as much as possible”.

“Movement and the right stimulation during play grow the physical side of the brain. The brain is like a muscle, it needs stimulation and exercise to work optimally,” she says.

And movement should not be limited to just one side, Bush says parents should encourage that children make use of toys that stimulates both sides of the body at all times. 

“Bilateral integration is important and refers to the ability to use both sides of the body in a coordinated way. This occurs when engaging in activities like running, riding a bicycle or swimming. It’s the beginning of the conscious development of the right and left concept known as laterality,” she says.

There are dozens of toys on the market that equally stimulates both sides of the body and quite often, they’re toys with wheels. The Toy Kingdom Child Development team has carefully selected and curated a range of toys with wheels to serve this exact purpose.

“Scooters, skateboards, bicycles and even rollerblades are just a few toys with huge benefits and need to be at the top of parents’ list to buy. These toys are guaranteed to take kids off the couch, away from the laptop and outside for some physical fun,” Bush says.

Its benefits are not limited only to physical activity, instead also assists with eye-foot coordination, balance and core strength, judgement of speed, as well as direction. But Bush says parents should ensure kids are safe at all times when “wheeling-around”.

“There is a safety element attached to these toys as well and parents should ensure that children are protected at all times. But the advantages are endless and parents need to keep that in mind when shopping for toys for their kids,” she says.



Toy Kingdom is Africa’s most loved toy store with 16 retail stores in South Africa, offering the latest and most recognised toy brands to families. Toy Kingdom brings together unrivalled quality toys, beautifully designed stores and friendly and knowledgeable staff who encourage children and parents to interact and play with the toys. Each store is designed not as a retail space but rather around the concept of play, creating a unique in-store experience of toadally charming fun.

What started as a single store with 8 employees in 2007 has grown into a multi-national operation with multiple stores and more than 250 employees. For more information, visit www.toykingdom.co.za 

Toy Kingdom stores across South Africa:

  • V&A Waterfront, Cape Town
  • Canal Walk Shopping Centre, Cape Town
  • Tyger Valley Shopping Centre, Cape Town
  • Cavendish Square Shopping Centre, Cape Town
  • Blue Route Mall, Cape Town
  • Gateway Theatre of Shopping, North of Durban
  • Sandton City Shopping Centre, Johannesburg
  • Cresta Shopping Centre, Johannesburg
  • East Rand Mall, Johannesburg
  • Clearwater Mall, Johannesburg
  • Forest Hill City, Pretoria
  • Menlyn Park Shopping Centre, Pretoria
  • Centurion Mall, Pretoria
  • Woodlands Boulevard, Pretoria
  • Mountain Mill, Worcester
  • Ballito Junction, Durban

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