Category Archives: Games and the Brain

Athletes need strong bodies and strong BRAINS!

Our friends at Marbles the Brain Store shared this recent photo of Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall arriving at training camp, and it made my day!

brandonmarshall 261x300 Athletes need strong bodies and strong BRAINS!

Is that a football in his hand?  Nope, it’s ThinkFun’s 36 Cube, otherwise known as The World’s Most Challenging Puzzle!

Athletes like Marshall recognize that keeping their brains fit is just as important as physical conditioning.  Want to improve your athletic performance?  Follow his lead and “get your head in the game” ….literally!

Reversing Effects of Brain Damage through Game Play

A truly unbelievable email arrived in the ThinkFun inbox the other day. Liane suffered extensive brain damage, was even declared dead at one point, and had to relearn to speak and walk. Here she shares how a simple game played a vital role in her incredible recovery – grab a Kleenex before you dive into this one!

 

To Whom It May Concern:

I was misdiagnosed by a doctor as having Dystonia in 2005. This is similar to Parkinson’s. I was put on Parkinson’s meds when I was not even ill. As a result the meds killed me. I was dead long enough to be declared dead. I sustained extensive Brain Damage because I was gone too long. I eventually woke up, but I had terrible Brain Damage.

I had to relearn my vocabulary by reading the Dictionary and Thesaurus. I had to go to Physical Therapy to learn how to walk again. I had to learn how to speak again. My hand strength was low and I had to only interact with things I could easily grip with a loose hand grip and not drop as my hand strength was weak.

I read on the Internet that if you stimulate the brain, it will grow new Neural Paths and Dendrites around the dread brain cells. You can never grow or create new brain cells. You can never repair dead or damaged brain cells. BUT you can stimulate the brain AND the brain will respond by reaching out to grow around the dead around those dead areas and make those connections again. It took me two years of brain stimulation for my brain tests at UCLA to register as 0% Brain Damage. It does work.

Shape 5941 HiResSpill 300x300 Reversing Effects of Brain Damage through Game Play
I used your product Shape by Shape as part of my daily regimen I had in place to help me recover. I did the puzzles every day to stimulate my brain and bring it back. I did other things too, but the puzzle was a part of my daily routine to help me recover.

I showed the puzzle to my doctors to UCLA. They were surprised that I thought to use it for recovery, but they said it makes sense that it helped me. I recommend it to people who have had a stroke, neurological damage or some sort of brain damage. My brain damage was due to oxygen deprivation as my heart and lungs stopped and I was declared dead.

I wanted to let you know about the expanded use of your product so you can promote them to doctors, hospitals, clinics, charities, support groups, etc. that are involved with stroke victims, neurological illnesses, oxygen deprivation brain damage (swimming pool accidents, drowning accidents, accidental drug overdose, etc.).

Your puzzles also have value to fight off Alzheimer’s Disease. It is vital we do new things, learn new tasks, keep our brain engages, keep our brain learning, exercise our brain throughout our life in order to keep back the tide of Alzheimer’s Disease.

The large pieces make it easy to pick up and hold them when you have weak hand strength and lack dexterity as an elderly person, a stroke victim or a brain damage patient in recovery. The large 3D pieces help with the work on hand eye coordination that must be done in recovery. This is an advantage over a video game. A video game does not challenge me for hand eye coordination, hand strength or dexterity the way an actual puzzle does. The physical puzzle has more value.

I just wanted to let you know there are more uses for your products than you ever suspected. Please expand your marketing to included patients. Other people can benefit past me. I just happened to see your puzzle in Barnes and Noble. I picked it up out of desperation to find a way to heal my brain. I didn’t know if it would work, but it did work.

The doctors told me, “You will walk with a cane the rest of your life.” I do not walk with a cane anymore, and I don’t fall over anymore. I was told, “You will never have clear speech.” Today, I speak just fine. I can speak and my voice is clear. My words are not garbled. I am understood. My memory is improved. Everything is improved.

My brain testing at UCLA Hospital two years later revealed 0% brain damage. Everything was gone. The doctors were impressed!!!!

Please consider expanding your marketing and sales to the medical field. People can benefit from your products. Thanks so much for making such fabulous products. You really helped me a great deal.

Liane T.

Westminster, California

 

Read another amazing story from a woman in Alaska who used ThinkFun games to recover from traumatic brain injury – a 2nd box of Kleenex may be necessary!

ThinkFun & Learning: A S’Match Made in Heaven!

The following post is shared by Tracy E., a homeschooling mother of 4 and former classroom teacher. For years Tracy has used ThinkFun games both in the classroom and with her own children, and here she shares her favorites – and the benefits she’s observed!

 

I discovered ThinkFun games years ago when I first became a classroom teacher. I used the strategy and logic games to help improve the deductive reasoning and logic skills in my students.  Now, I am a mother of four. We are a happy home schooling family ranging from preschool to 8th grade. My children have grown up playing ThinkFun games. They LOVE them.

We have game time scheduled into our day.  They can play any game, as long as it is a “thinker”.

My 5 yr old son is crazy about Solitaire Chess. It has made him a pretty tough chess opponent.  My 13 yr old daughter’s favorite is still Rush Hour. She also likes the Safari Rush because the jeep can move in different directions.

My 4 yr old daughter is really having fun with S’Match. The fact that each turn requires you think about what you have to match (color, quantity, or category) makes it tougher than regular Memory…and more fun. I have seen that ThinkFun has changed the “category” selection to “shapes”. I really like this new change.  I think my daughter would grasp the matching of shapes easier than the matching of categories. It is a great game with a super improvement!

SMatc 7911 LoResSpill ThinkFun & Learning: A SMatch Made in Heaven!

2011 S'Match (first generation)

New and Improved….

SMatc 7912 LoResSpill ThinkFun & Learning: A SMatch Made in Heaven!

2012 S'Match, Now Featuring Shapes!

My 2 yr old son even gets involved, playing with pieces and trying to match the cards. He likes to work on placing the pieces onto the game boards to match the cards.  He isn’t ready to play by the rules, yet.

As a parent, I can only praise ThinkFun for the thought and effort put into all of their games. They really do make “thinking fun”. The games are good quality, durable, and most of them have easy drawstring bags, making them great for travel and taking along with you wherever you go.

As an educator, ThinkFun’s games have helped improve my student’s logic and reasoning skills. They even helped improved their standardize test scores. ThinkFun helps teach children “how” to think, not “what” to think.

My own children show fantastic scores in math on standardized tests. My  son scored in the 99% percentile in math (kindergarten). My daughter scored in the 96% percentile for the math total, 98% percentile in math problem solving section (7th grade).

We will always be a ThinkFun family!

Tracy E, Charleston, SC

ASTRA Attendees – Come Play with the Inventor!

ThinkFun will be attending the American Specialty Toy Retailing Association (ASTRA) Marketplace and Academy this week in Baltimore, MD!

ASTRA logo ASTRA Attendees   Come Play with the Inventor!

This event, which runs from June 10-13, is intended for Retailers and Sales Representatives in the Specialty Toy Industry – if this is you, we can’t wait to see (and play with!) you at our Booth (#735)!

ASTRA 2012 OfferInventor Sheet page 001 1 791x1024 ASTRA Attendees   Come Play with the Inventor!

Play with the Inventor!

On Monday and Tuesday, we’re thrilled to welcome Patrick Matthews, inventor of our newest card game Distraction!  Patrick will be in our booth from 2-4pm Monday and 9-11 am Tuesday answering questions and taking on challengers – test your memory in this fantastic game of hilarious diversions!

Never played before? This quick video will show you the ropes and prepare you to take on Patrick!

 

 

 

Solitaire Chess keeps retirees sharp… and inspires friendly competition!

There’s nothing better than receiving notes and emails from happy customers – whether they come in the mail addressed in crayon or via Twitter, we love hearing directly from the people whose lives our games touch.  I had to share this lovely exchange with a couple in Montana who wrote to share their experience with Solitaire Chess!

January 20, 2012

I have never had so much fun in my life! When I figure out one of the Solitaire Chess games, I am happier than if I were to win the lottery. My husband does them and then I do, and there will be a snowball in you-know-where before I will let him show me how to do it! But, when I solve it, I am the happiest person in the world. We’re up to #32 – he did the first 15 or so and then gave me one to do and Bingo, there it was!

This is the best thing since sliced bread!

Ms. Shad B.

Solitaire Chess Shad Bailey 225x300 Solitaire Chess keeps retirees sharp... and inspires friendly competition!

Shad's husband stays playful in his retirement with Solitaire Chess!

 

One month later… “Something Terrible to Report”

February 10, 2012

Dear Charlotte,

Snowy and cold today. Oh well. It’s Montana and we desperately need the snow. We’re up to Game 59 of 60 and have really enjoyed it.

I have something terrible to report. My husband was playing and he dropped a bishop. The little top knot broke off and we looked on hands and knees to find it so we could put it back on. I cannot imagine where it went. We looked and looked. Do you ever in your wildest dreams ever sell individual pieces?

Thank you for this game. It makes me think differently about playing regular chess, and that may have been a goal of the creator. We are going to get a set for our son, too.  We are still having fun with it.

Shad B.

 

I had a free replacement piece sent to Shad and her husband immediately, and she happily reported back that “the new Bishop was welcomed with open arms! We do love the game. I do hope you will know we do appreciate all you do.  Thank you.”

Solitaire Chess bishop 300x224 Solitaire Chess keeps retirees sharp... and inspires friendly competition!

Hey guys, I'm HOME!

Stories like this make my day and re-inspire me to do the work I do.  Shad and her husband are proof positive that play is good for you at any age, and their playful competition pushed them both to think harder and stretch further!  With challenge #60 under their belts, it may be time to break out the real Chess board and let the battle of the brains continue!

The Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck

The following guest post is shared by Jennifer Cook O’Toole, Author of Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome (Jessica Kingsley Publishers, 2012).  I met Jennifer a few months ago when she reached out to ThinkFun to share her experiences with our game and her interest in sharing our games with her readers.  She is an amazing resource and I am so grateful for the opportunity to learn about the AsperKids community through her expertise!  We were particularly honored when she recently awarded ThinkFun the prestigious AsperKids Seal of Awesomeness!  Learn more about Jennifer and her incredible work with AsperKids on her website, FacebookPinterest, and Twitter!

Asperkids fmaily The Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck

Jennifer and her playful family!

The Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck

This weekend (like most of us mommies and daddies during most of our weekends), my kiddos and I attended a child’s birthday party.  Well, actually we attended three, but maybe that’s part of what contributed to the (ahem) somewhat frazzled state in which I found myself driving my minivan from one end of the county to the other.  Yes, there was the usual chaos of simply maneuvering three kids from place to place (to place) without losing a gift, a shoe, a child or my mind.

Now, let me offer the perspective that all three of my children and I have Asperger Syndrome.  Essentially, that means that we prefer routine and concrete, fact-based hobbies, are gifted at seeing patterns, connections, and logic, have minds that can absorb factual information on a vast scale — and are not so hot at picking up on social cues or being able to step outside our own minds to anticipate or understand another person’s perspective. So sometimes, what seems like a perfectly lovely atmosphere to the rest of the world (hello? birthday party?!) is laced with stress, confusion and nerves for us.

Which is why, back at the party, my middle child (who is almost six) was having a rough time.  Social misreadings were abounding.  He couldn’t negotiate the ebbing and flowing of the groups of kids who ran from one bounce house to the next, and he was quickly looking more and more like a baby sea turtle being tossed about in waves of busy kindergarteners.

But the biggest problem lay ahead.  Note: the birthday boy at this particular shindig was his best friend from the neighborhood, the only peer he regularly sees outside of school.  Adults know, of course, that the host never gets to spend much time with party guests.  And true to that playbook, the newly-minted six-year-old was very busy trying to have fun with lots of kids.  Try though I might to explain to my own son that he wasn’t being ignored, he felt suddenly unimportant to the boy he loves like a brother — so he spoke up, lip trembling, and said, “I just want to play with you. You’re my best friend.”  Now I know for a fact that this other guy loves my Asperkid.  But in an attempt to be diplomatic amidst the other children, the little host said, “You’re not my best friend. I have lots of best friends.”

My son fell to the ground in a small ball, and began to sob.  It hadn’t been meant as rejection, but it sure felt that way on the receiving end.

As I wrote in Asperkids: An Insider’s Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome, “Play is a child’s first experience of work, learning, and emotional response…(But) group play requires significant cooperative skills, real-time flexible thinking, and otherwise sticky interpersonal play that can feel awkward, uncomfortable, or truly scary.”  It’s for those reasons — among many more I explore at length in the book — that Asperkids “crave clarity and predictability. When most of our day is spent negotiating a world that doesn’t match our neurological hardwiring, it’s no wonder that we find calm in objects and activities that simplify things as much as possible” (68).

So we who love and teach these brilliant children must find methods of play that innately match their natural preferences, giving “them early experiences of success, confidence and road signs toward fulfilling, productive careers” (72).

What does that have to do with the breakdown amidst the bounce houses? Everything.  You see, in order for me to be able to help my Asperkid understand what was actually happening in the immediate social situation — rather than what HE thought was happening — he would have to be able to see the encounter from his friend’s perspective rather than his own.  That’s called “theory of mind” among psychologists — it’s called standing in someone else’s shoes by the rest of the world.  And we Aspies can’t — not won’t, can’t — do it naturally.  We aren’t self-centered or self-important.  We literally cannot intuit another’s feelings without having to think through — to intellectualize — them.  Compassion we have in utter droves.  Natural empathy, however, eludes us.

Asperkids Sean 249x300 The Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck

Jennifer's son Sean, age 5 3/4, focuses on a Rush Hour Jr. challenge

So once I got my son to take some deep breaths and snuggle into a deep hug, I began talking with him. “Hey, Little Man,” I began, “I know you’re feeling pretty small and hurt right now.  But I was wondering if we could talk about Rush Hour?” He looked up at that, one eyebrow cocked.  Mom wanted to talk about a board game? Now?

Yup. Sure did. Just the other day, we had been playing Rush Hour Jr. together.  First, I will freely admit (to any adult but not to my kids! Shhh!) that not only is this game one of my favorites because of its logic and systems of patterns (there’s my Aspie noggin again), but because it’s a fantastic tool for pushing my children’s visual tracking and processing skills.  While their vision is absolutely perfect, the two eldest (9,6) have struggled with their eyes teaming or tracking smoothly — a problem common among many kids with ADD.  It can make tasks such as handwriting, drawing, coloring and reading physically and mentally exhausting, even for folks like these two, who both sport Mensa-level IQ’s.

In our last game, I encouraged my son to touch each of the grid squares as he laid out the vehicles to match the puzzle card.  Does the ice cream truck touch the top corner or bottom corner of the green car? I had him trace his finger left-to-right across each line of the set-up card and then do the same on the board he was building (that’s training his eyes to travel smoothly and his mind to correctly spatially interpret what his eyes take in).

And all the while, my gently repeated mantra was, “Think before you do.” Stop and plan before you act.  All-in-all, a good lesson for everyone.  But it’s especially so for kids with ADHD (a commonality among nearly every Asperkid), for whom impulsivity gets them in frequent trouble.  They speak out without thinking of the effect.  They interrupt.  They leave without their lunch. They turn in their homework too soon without checking their answers.  In “Rush Hour,” you can get yourself completely locked in on all sides, unable to escape the jam you’ve created simply by doing without pausing to think first.  The same, I would argue, will be true for the game-playing children as they grow — in life, love, and friendship.

So when my son has his board set up, we repeat together that mantra, “Think before you do.” And then we add the only strategy we really need — a three-parter.RushHJr 5040 HiResSpill 300x300 The Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck

  1. Who or what is in my way?
  2. Who or what is in his way?
  3. How much room does he need to move?

Yes, of course I am talking about plastic police cars and fire trucks.  I’m also talking about a lot more.

What is in your way of feeling content? important? loved? included? Is it a thing — like a seating assignment or confusing class project that can be adjusted? Or is it a person?  And if so (here’s the BIG MOMENT — the theory of mind-taking, perspective-seeing challenge!), what people, problems, ideas, or feelings might be keeping him or her stuck there?  Maybe it’s something small, and a few words will make the difference (like just moving an obstacle one position), or maybe, like the school bus, it’s a bigger dilemma that requires a lot of problem-solving “space” (time, emotional room, privacy, etc.) to change.

Which is why I sat there with my crying six-year-old and talked about Rush Hour.  What was getting in his way of feeling happy right then and there? His friend had said something that had hurt him, and was off playing with lots of other people. OK, so what was getting in his (the birthday boy’s) way of being the steady playmate my Asperkid knew and loved? That’s where my son was utterly stumped.  He had no idea.  None.  Other than that his friend “doesn’t love me anymore.”

And that’s where these children internalize the misinterpreted situations, and turn them into feelings of isolation, worthlessness or doubt.  So that’s where we — as parents and teachers — can make a difference.

We talked about other possibilities: a host’s responsibilities, about how the birthday boy needed to make all his guests feel equally important (and probably hadn’t wanted the other kids to feel hurt by hearing that they weren’t the “best friends”).  It was, he came to agree, an attempt at diplomacy — at trying not to show favorites, not to reject the BFF everyone knew he loved.

What’s in my way? What is in his way? How much room does he need to move? Because we had prepared with “Rush Hour” — with concrete, seeable, touchable play (and yes, it absolutely was preparation as much as it had been play) — I could use those questions to help build a case for perspective, and for reconciliation.  Ten minutes later, the boys were sitting side-by-side, eating their cake with arms around one another.

The power of play is limitless, and so are the children who are guided by it — both to success and to defeat.  No matter what kind of child is playing, he or she is developing perspective on much more than logic, spatial-relations, visual tracking or problem solving — although each of those are worthwhile.  With guidance and love, these kids are learning that their ideas matter. Their voices matter.  That they matter.  And that there is an awful lot you can learn about the world from a plastic ice cream truck.

Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

I’ve just returned from an incredible week at the TEDActive Conference in Palm Springs, CA… an idea-packed week that I spent learning, listening, exploring, and of course – playing!  This year’s talks were as mind blowing as ever, and I’ll look forward to sharing my favorites as they are posted.  In the meantime, I’m super excited to share the fun way one of our games joined in on the fun and provided a brain workout to some of tomorrow’s greatest thinkers!

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TED 2012: Full Spectrum

You may remember photos from last years TEDActive where I hosted a late-night game party for attendees.  This year we upped our game (sorry, couldn’t resist!) and brought the fun to Palm Springs in a big new way!

The incredible company Event Artistry took ThinkFun’s transparent card game Swish and supersized it, creating a 9 foot tall wall with humongous cards each 2 feet tall!  Unlike the regular game which is played with a 4×4 array, this board was designed for a special type of new Swish challenge involving only 12 cards.

DSCN3256 300x225 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

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A little perspective... these cards are HUGE!

We wanted to challenge players not only to find Swishes of 2-5 cards, but also to find multiple Swishes in order to completely clear the board!  In case you’ve never played before, here’s a quick intro to the game play with an example of a 3-card Swish:swish howtoPlay Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

To create this new challenge, we went straight to the game’s inventors, a brilliant pair of teachers in Israel (read more about Zvi and Gali here!).  They developed a program to generate a selection of 12 cards that contain a specified number of 2, 3, 4, and 5 card Swishes!  Once the cards are laid out, players are challenged to “Swish” all the cards until none remain.   This new Swish Generator program is incredibly cool – and opens up a whole new world of possible ways to play this game as a solo challenge.  I played so much Swish leading up to the conference I may need to add it to my resume!  Click here for more photos of the giant game!

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The Giant Swish was installed in a poolside cabana – and attendees stopped in to play and stretch their brains in between the incredible talks all week!

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TEDActive iPhone photos 055 224x300 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

A 3-Card Swish emerges!

Think you’re up for the challenge?  Here’s one for YOU to try!  The 12 cards below are numbered in the corners.

Smartplay Blog Challenge 300x224 Big Thinkers Need Big Games… Giant Swish is a Hit at TEDActive!

Take on the Swish Challenge!

In case it’s difficult to read, the numbers are:

9    13   18   11

22   21   23   14

5     17    4     1

 

Can you figure out how to group all 12 cards into Swishes of either 2, 3, 4, or 5 cards in such a way that none are left over?  Please share your number groups in the comments please and I’ll reveal the solution shortly!

15 Puzzle Aids in Stroke Recovery

An incredible email we recently received from a stroke survivor – We are thrilled to hear our game is helping in his recovery and has earned a place in his family’s Earthquake Kit!

Dear ThinkFun,

Thank you for inventing the “Fifteen Puzzle” game.

As a 5-yr stroke survivor I find this, aided by other physiotherapy, continues to help.  It is a game that I enjoy because it is quiet and does not disturb or distract others; and does not require batteries.

I had a similar game when I was younger, about 60 years ago.  I have been looking for a similar one to my childhood one – lost long ago.  Your Fifteen Puzzle is the closest.

15 puzzle original 300x297 15 Puzzle Aids in Stroke Recovery

Planning for a recently completed, lengthy airliner trip and boat cruise prompted my efforts to again locate such a toy game that would keep me 1) amused, 2) my mind active.

I don’t where we ‘found’ and bought your puzzle game, but have had it for more than a few years now.  I do enjoy playing it and when its not out being used I keep it as part of our family earthquake kit along with a deck of playing cards.

Keep up the good work with your other toy distribution!

Using Games to Treat Traumatic Brain Injury

An incredible letter recently made its way to my desk.  A woman in Alaska wrote to share a remarkable story, one that reaffirms the brain building (and in some ways even life-saving!) power of play and reminds us that the games we create can do powerful things.

Her letter gave me chills!rush hour brain injury Page 1 791x1024 Using Games to Treat Traumatic Brain Injuryrush hour brain injury Page 2 791x1024 Using Games to Treat Traumatic Brain InjuryThis isn’t the first we’ve heard about our games, particularly Rush Hour, being used to treat patients with brain injuries.  Over the years we have heard from many therapists who use our games to help patients rebuild cognitive and fine motor skills, and Rush Hour was recently featured in an NBC Nightly News segment on treating returning veterans with brain injuries.  We are eager to explore how we can continue to create games that support the incredible work these doctors are doing!

(Check out Rush Hour’s cameo at 00:38)

Are you a therapist or patient who has used games as part of your treatment?  Please share your story!

Toys Are Tools: Exercise & Improve Memory with Cartoon It!

The following post is by Jenn Choi, whose incredible Toys are Tools blog sorts toys and games by the skills they support, providing invaluable insight and tips on ways to use fun products to draw out meaningful learning!  Jenn recently shared a fantastic evaluation of ThinkFun’s Cartoon It!, focusing on ways game play supports working memory (view original post).

Carto 8201 HiResSpill 300x300 Toys Are Tools: Exercise & Improve Memory with Cartoon It!Brain Sharpening Games: Part 1

WHAT: ThinkFun’s Cartoon It!
DOES: allows you to work on your “working memory” the memory that you use to complete tasks and more, exercise your drawing abilities
INVEST: $19.99 ($17.50 on Amazon today)
TOOLS: Remember to Learn (if your memory is so-so); Social Scene Helper (if you’re shy but can draw a little and you have an awesome memory)

cartoon it 300x277 Toys Are Tools: Exercise & Improve Memory with Cartoon It!

Being a kid growing up in New York City, I was exposed to children from many different places.  So many of these kids would often talk about school experiences in their former countries and even show how they learned things differently.

For example, I learned the times table in Queens, New York by folding some paper into columns and writing out each table like this:
2 X 3 = 6
2 X 4 =8
2 X 5 =10
over and over etc..

But once I met another kid from Korea who recited the times table to me this way:
2,3,6
2,4,8
2,5,10
2,6,12

He stood with his body tilting and swaying a little bit and he recited the times tables with almost no tone, almost like he was meditating.  He also sounded like he could go on reciting all the tables forever.  I was in awe.

Committing things to memory is challenging.  We all have tricks here and there but at least we only need to memorize things for tests, right?  For the rest of the day, we can just turn on our green light and go.

But what if we can’t? What if we can’t remember things not just for tests but just to function at home and at school? Here is an example of memory failure in daily living, ever say something like this? “I specifically told you to bring this here and then go start your bath but you went straight to the bath! Why?”

Psychologists will likely tell you that this is what is known as a working memory issue and some people are born with better working memory than others.

By the way, I don’t think that working memory has anything to do with intelligence because I’m pretty sure that Number 1 is an amazing thinker but his working memory is really in need of a makeover.  I can easily relate to him on this as well.  I go into rooms ten times a day wondering why I went there.  I will even stop what I’m doing on a computer, open a new window in my browser, type in a web address, and by the time the home page appears, I do not know why I’m there.

This has got to stop!  But can it be stopped?  Can I help my son (and maybe me) with his working memory?

“Yes,” says Anil Chacko, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Queens College in New York City.  Dr. Chacko is also working on a treatment development grant from the NIH*, known as RAMP (Refining Attention Memory and Parenting) Study which is examining whether a computerized working memory training program in combination with a parenting program will improve the social, emotional, and academic functioning of children with ADHD*.

“Working memory is not fixed.” Dr. Chacko added that studies have found that working memory can actually improve, even in a matter of one year, particularly for younger children.

Can you hear the birds singing?  I can.

Even before talking with Dr. Chacko, I was hoping this could be true.  You hear enough about it, know that there are tons of theories out there but how much about improving memory in children do we really know?  In fact, after reading this story, I invite you to google “memory” and “training” or “games” and you will see a flood of choices asking you to try these games with prices ranging from free to the thousands of dollars.  There is a penny to be made here.  Maybe a whole lotta pennies.  Why?

Well, take Number 1.  He knows his memory is not great.  It frustrates him a lot and I can understand that.  Memory is very personal.  So of course I go online and see what I can buy to fix this.

Okay, I know that I can not buy anything to “fix” it but maybe there are tools to help me try.  It didn’t take me long to find  Cartoon It!, a game made by ThinkFun.

This company has a special place in my heart because of their game Rush Hour Traffic Jam. When Number 1 was little, he mastered the Junior version of this game so quickly.  I was so proud of him and this is really significant because I think he was around 5 years old and he was really driving me crazy.   But that puzzle was so much fun, it just drew him in.  It gave him a lot of confidence and I was so proud of him.  So, of course, when I am looking for fun things for Number 1, I frequently go to this site to check out what is new.

And there it was. When I think memory games, I think about preschool matching cards.  This game is not  like that at all. But, are there pictures? Yes. Is there card flipping? Yes.  But YOU must match it yourself by drawing it out.  And if you do it the fastest, you get an extra point. How awesome is that?

I love this two-step process.  You basically look at the card with a cartoon face and then when the timer is up, you flip the card back over and then draw.  To me, writing it out or saying it out loud commits things to memory.  And don’t worry if you are not an artist, they give hints on a board like a multiple choice question and the choices are not that similar so that it looks like a trick question.  Lastly, there is a self-grading part.  That is cool.  I love that.  The directions also give suggestions of what to do if there is a disagreement.

cartoon it self grading 300x231 Toys Are Tools: Exercise & Improve Memory with Cartoon It!

You can grade yourself! You can even practice by yourself!

But the game is still hard for my Number 1.  After a couple of rounds, he flipped over the game board, barked some angry talk, and stomped away.

What’s a mother to think?  For me, I thought, “Jackpot!” I know it is a little evil of me but hey, we hit a soft spot!   If this taxed him, then the enemy has identified itself and I can use this game to help him not just with his memory skills but also teach him how to cope with feeling crappy when he has a memory mishap.

And of course, games are supposed to be pleasurable but the added dimension to why he’s upset is that he does like the game.  He also gets to play with his family! It’s understandable that he wants to be successful around us.   He also likes to draw and through this, I noticed something else.  He draws really small!  Wow!  I don’t know why but it’s not necessarily a bad thing.  It’s kind of cute.  I just have to encourage him to make a big enough face to fit the features.  It’s a planning skill that also needs work here.

Lastly, did you see this video above?  It is awesome.  I still haven’t read the instructions and I’ve had this game for almost three months.  I HATE READING INSTRUCTIONS! Who wants to read instructions in front of two impatient kids!  This is what is good about today’s world.  Video instructions make it easier for a parent to explain a game. For some kids, it even does an excellent job of getting them started.

Later, we played the game again with Number 1 and he did better.  I also found it to be a natural time to have an open discussion talking about memory strategies like the fact there are such things as memory strategies and that people do in fact use them to succeed.  And this is not limited to spelling tests!   For example, Number 3 told Number 1 that every time she saw a face, she called it a name like “grumpy” or “excited” and that helped her remember the features. She won the game.

At another game night, my husband also told my son to look at the columns and remember the sequence of numbers as you go down the board. see photo above. (Face is in 1st column, eyes 3rd column, ears 5th column, nose 2nd column thus 1,3,5,2…)  I have a feeling that this is more compensatory than Number 3’s idea but I like that Number 1 can start learning how to compensate.  We are all different and once we know ourselves, we can work concurrently on strengthening a weakness but at the same time learn to cope so we can function right now and in this case, play a game and have fun with friends.

But even if I liked memory games and had a great one like Cartoon It!, how do I know how much I should play to make a difference in his life?  Dr. Chacko said we just don’t know the answer to this question but he gave me a very good common sense analogy that we can apply to this equation.

Think of memory games like trying to lose weight, he said.  Can you make an impact with doing just a few minutes of exercise per month?  Obviously not.  But maybe if we increase the “dose” we can increase the impact.    So how are we supposed to figure out how much is good enough?  And is working memory really a big deal beyond just getting in trouble by Mom?  What about school? Is working memory helping you for spelling tests and memory games or is it more than that?

All I can say is that there is a lot more to say and you’ll see it here tomorrow when we discuss a remake of an immensely popular memory game that came to the market this year.

For now, know that as a parent, I adore this game.  For the conversations that sparked from it alone, I am grateful.  I also don’t think anyone should be upset when playing this game.  In fact, I think we can modify it so that it can serve lots of families.  We have even figured out a way to play it alone and with Number 2 who is still just four.  Believe it or not, even though he is just four, when helped, he can be pretty damn good at this game.  I wouldn’t be surprised if we keep playing and the kids beat the adults.  This also tells me that if your child’s memory is good, use this as a social scene helper if he needs it or at home just as a confidence boost!  Not everything has to be aimed at improving your skills. After all, it’s a game and it’s supposed to be fun and having fun with your family is an aim for any game.

Come back tomorrow when you’ll read more of Dr. Chacko’s very wise perspective on working memory.

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.