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Stimulating Movement

Preschoolers are physical marvels. They can fold up like pretzels and roll down hills. They can dive onto beds from halfway across the room. At the playground, they can shimmy through tunnels and slither down poles. And aside from building muscle, all this activity stimulates intelligence.

Quenching your child's thirst for movement may positively influence creativity and problem-solving skills, says Carla Hannaford, Ph.D., author of Smart Moves: Why Learning Is Not All in Your Head. Experts speculate that activity is closely linked to learning, especially during the preschool years, when the brain, nervous system, and muscles are still growing rapidly. But beyond just letting kids romp and roughhouse, show them a few structured activities that will help strengthen brain "muscle."

Tape a large piece of paper on the wall at your child's eye level. Give her two crayons and encourage her to draw with both hands at once. For a challenge, ask her to draw the same shape with each hand, such as two circles, simultaneously. "Using both hands stimulates both sides of the brain and reinforces the connections between the two hemispheres, which can help children think faster," Hannaford says.

Give your child two scarves or crepe-paper streamers, one for each hand. Put on some lively music and ask him to sway, swing, and leap along to the beat, making the fabric soar. The movement stimulates imagination as he pictures himself as a bird, plane, or butterfly, and helps develop his large motor skills.

Have your child lie on her back with her eyes closed. Gently move her limbs into different positions and ask her to hold the shape for a few seconds. Try it again with the child standing with her eyes open. Holding positions develops balance, which helps the brain better interpret input from the senses.

Challenge your child to wave hello with different parts of his body. Have him use his hands, arms, elbows, knees, or legs, both on the right side and the left. Ask him to wave with his head. Then try combinations, such as the right elbow and left foot. "As children move parts of the body they usually don't think about, their brain circuits blossom," Hannaford says.