Brain Games

In recent decades many school based programs have focused not only on academic outcomes but on an inter-related set of skills that generally fall under the headings of social and emotional learning (SEL), character, conflict resolution, life skills, and/or approaches to learning. Among the approaches designed to target these skills, those focused on SEL appear to have the largest and most rigorously evaluated evidence base. Yet, despite the promise of comprehensive programming in SEL and related fields, there remain a number of barriers that undermine efforts to effectively go to scale including implementation challenges; lack of financial, personnel and structural resources (e.g., time); and poor integration into standard practices. To address these barriers, schools need a continuum of approaches that includes not only comprehensive, universal SEL curricula, but also routines and structures school staff and students use daily (Jones & Bouffard, 2012). There is now a pressing need to develop, test, and scale less intensive strategies that are easy to implement outside the context of a comprehensive program while still achieving meaningful outcomes for children.

In effort to address this need, Dr. Jones and staff developed Brain Games, a stand-alone intervention designed to build and practice children’s executive function and self-regulation. Drawn from SECURe, a comprehensive school-based intervention in social-emotional learning, Brain Games is comprised of 31 games that can be easily integrated into daily routines and transitions. The games are split into three “Brain Power” skills (e.g., working memory, attention, and mental flexibility) and help children learn how to listen carefully, use self-control, think flexibly, and remember and follow directions. After playing the games, teachers and students enage in discussions to build meta-cognition and shared vocabulary around the skills. Teachers and students also think together about how to use these skills in other times of the day – connecting “Brain Powers” to work ethic in the classroom, teamwork and building relationships with others, and successful behavior in school and beyond.

For more about Jones and team’s “kernels” approach to promoting SEL, see the Usable Knowledge piece below. If you are interested in partnering with our team to test new SEL strategies, contact Project Coordinator Jenny Kahn.

Our research team is currently designing a study of Brain Games in elementary and K-8 settings. If you are interested in participating in the study and trying out Brain Games in your school or other organization, contact Study Coordinator Sophie Barnes.

Note: Brain Games were initially developed as part of the SECURe intervention that was co-created by the following people and organizations:

Research Collaborators

Stephanie M. Jones, Harvard Graduate School of Education

Robin Jacob, University of Michigan

Fred Morrison, University of Michigan

Nancy Madden, Johns Hopkins University and The Success for All (SFA) Foundation

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