Twelve Days of Christmas How an Old Game Improves Brain Function
Nov 28, 2022

Twelve Days of Christmas: How an Old Game Improves Brain Function

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It is that time of the year when you have most likely heard Christmas songs played everywhere. Since we are focusing on counting this December, with the release of the updated I Can Sing from 1 to 10, there is one Christmas song in particular that I have been thinking about: “The 12 Days of Christmas.” This song has its roots in a simple childhood game that has the power to significantly improve brain function! Let's take a look at how memory games impact the brain.


What are the 12 Days of Christmas

The history of this song can be traced back to the early 17th century, where French children sang a version called, “In Those Twelve Days.” It made its way to England where the earliest printed version can be found in a book titled Mirth Without Mischief, printed in 1790. According to Jack Wheeler, “It is called a ‘memory and forfeits’ game played by children in the form of a song, where the leader recites a verse, each player in turn repeats it, and the leader keeps adding verses until a player’s memory fails him/her and has to forfeit a piece of candy.” 

This game of memory and forfeits reminds me of a game I used to play when I was a child. It could be played with two or more people. One person would start with, “I am going to the store, and I am going to get…” The first person would choose an item that began with the letter A, such as apples. The next person would continue, “I am going to the store, and I am going to get…” They would say what was previously listed and add an item that begins with the next letter of the alphabet, such as a boat for the letter B. This example would look like this:

Person 1: “I am going to the store, and I am going to get apples.”

Person 2: “I am going to the store, and I am going to get apples and a boat.”

The game would continue in alphabetical order until someone missed or forgets an item. That person is out, and the others continue. That was one of my favorite games as a child. Another favorite game that my children and I loved to play was Memory. We could play for hours at a time. These memories of childhood games made me think about the importance and benefits of playing games that require concentration and focused attention.


The Benefits of Memory Games

It turns out that a simple childhood game could be the key to unlocking significant benefits for the brain. There has been much study around the role that games play in brain health, as memory issues have been making their way to the forefront of conversations. Ben Thomas states, “…a simple memory game---not unlike the icebreaker games kids play to learn each others’ names on the first day of camp---can significantly change memory’s performance and the physical structure of the brain itself.” Much like exercise is vital for your muscles, keeping your brain fit is equally important. This is true for all ages, but this blog is going to focus on the importance of memory games for kids.

According to Curious World, memory games benefit the brain in the following ways:

  • Improve brain function, such as attention, concentration, focus, and attention to detail
  • Improve visual recognition and visual discrimination
  • Improve both short-term and long-term memory
  • Improve their ability to think ahead and plan their next move


Memory Games

Now that you know the importance of memory games, gather together for some fun! Here are some ideas:

  • Use SnapWords® Cards for a traditional game of Memory!
    • Use two sets of printed cards, shuffled and laid out face down on the table.
    • Children will take turns turning over two cards to see if they can make a match. If they can, they keep the cards. For extra fun, have the child read the word!
    • For younger children, lay the cards face up and have them find the match.
  • Use SnapWords® Cards and play a variation of “It’s a Windy Day!
    • Create phrases with the SnapWords®, with one phrase in each row of the pocket chart.
    • Read the phrases together.
    • Have the children close their eyes and remove a card or two.
    • Tell the children that the wind blew so hard, it blew away some cards!
    • Read the phrases together, challenging the children to remember which word(s) is missing.
    • Have them close their eyes and repeat as many times as they like.
  • Use your SnapWords® Cards to work on visual imprinting.
    • Take one card at a time and talk about all of the details in the picture. After you have discussed it, have the child close their eyes and see the picture in their mind. Have them describe it to you. After they have finished describing it, have them open their eyes and draw what they see in their memory. Once they finish, bring out the SnapWords® card and have them compare the two pictures. Repeat with as many cards as you like.
  • Play the memory game mentioned above. You could have the children go to the store like the example, or you could have them go on vacation, go to the zoo, or do anything else you can imagine!
  • For more memory game ideas, check out Funderstanding’s memory games page.



Though the Twelve Days of Christmas are traditionally celebrated from December 26th through January 6th, we are going to count down the twelve days leading up to Christmas with giveaways each day! Check our social media pages for more details!

As always, we are here for you! If you have any questions, please do not hesitate to contact us!



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