Category Archives: Games at Home

Introducing Maker Studio Construction Sets

Maker Studio Construction Sets: Igniting Budding Engineers

Maker Studio Gears Set

We’ve got some great new ThinkFun products and programs arriving this Spring 2015. I’m proud of them and I want to take the opportunity to describe them to you. The first one I’ll describe is our new Maker Studio Construction Sets.

Our Goals Going In

We usually seek out products that build on our mission to ignite minds and give kids an early advantage. In this case, we wanted to do several things.

  1. Stimulate interest in engineering and creativity
  2. Make a product that was open-ended—not just one-and-done building
  3. Add challenges on top of the builds—ask kids to make their contraption actually accomplish a task

For the Maker Studio sets, we teamed up with two awesome inventors, David Yakos and Parker Thomas; both of them are active in the Maker movement. In fact, on our YouTube Channel, we feature David’s “Pitch Video” to us because the vision was so clear and aligned.

What Is Maker Studio?

Each Maker Studio set consists of a set of parts and instructions for how to build machines using discarded household items like food boxes and plastic bottles. The parts are magical—they are a collection of wheels, gears, axles, connectors, rubber band motor and instructions that show players how to build four machines.. Step 1 is to make household items into moving contraptions. But there’s much more to it. You can create many things with the parts in each set by using different containers and different decorations. The real beauty of Maker Studio is the fact that it has challenges to make your project do something. Push an apple across a table. Lift a soup can from the floor. That’s why we all it Open-Ended.

Made by Bella - Maker Studio Gears Set - Cable Car Challenge

Made by Bella – Maker Studio Gears Set – Cable Car Challenge

It Would Have Flopped!

It’s funny… just a few years ago these products would certainly have flopped. How do you explain something that is “open-ended” on a store shelf?

But in a world of YouTube channels and social media, we have a whole new opportunity to present the Maker Studio imagination by showcasing the cool stuff that kids are already making, then inviting our audience to join in themselves and share their own designs and builds.

And to prove our point, we’d like to introduce Bella Yakos and her YouTube Channel, Made By Bella. Bella is the 7yo daughter of one of the inventors. Take a look at some of Bella’s videos, and you’ll see why we think Maker Studio sets are going to set brains on fire!

This is new territory for us, we’re excited! We are seeing great interest from the Maker movement, STEM and STEAM advocates, and Girls in Engineering programs. It’s the beginning of a whole new category of products for us, products that let the players tell the story.

Here’s hoping that it works! I’ll keep you updated along the way.

The stars and their mommies!

Meet the stars of the new Hello Sunshine video!

I am so excited to share the world premiere of our newest video for Hello Sunshine, starring some incredibly cute little toddlers and their mommies!

As you can imagine, we have an absolute blast filming this video with these playful kiddos – and I am thrilled with the final product – enjoy!

Many thanks to Jack, Charlotte, EJ, Penny and their playful mommies for making this fantastic new learning game come to life!

Childhood unplugged! Celebrate Screen-Free Week

While I spent many pre-adolescent hours claiming otherwise, I now feel incredibly lucky to have grown up in an almost entirely screen-free home.  As I shared in this post on Mr. Rogers, I enjoyed a magical 30-minutes-a-day of PBS during my preschool years, but after that, our little black box stayed off through high school.

The lack of screens in my childhood is a bit ironic when you figure my father was one of the very first Computer Science PhDs – but fun computer time in the 80’s meant either a game of Pong or learning to program the Logo turtle to walk in a line – both thrilling, but certainly nowhere near the all-consuming appeal of today’s computer offerings for kids.

While there is certainly loads of fantastic digital content available to kids today and quality educational brain snacks served up on a screen, I strongly believe that time spent away from the glass is critical for healthy development.  I’ve blogged before about the beauty of allowing – and encouraging kids to be BORED – and the amazing things that can emerge when left to their own devices to create, innovate, and stretch to find new ways to entertain themselves.

I’m so thrilled to celebrate Screen-Free Week this week.  This annual national celebration encourages children, families, schools, and communities to turn off TV, video games, computers, and hand-held devices – and turn on life. Instead of relying on screens for entertainment, they play, read, daydream, explore nature, and enjoy spending time with family and friends.

Check out this Pinterest board for loads of fun ideas for games and crafts you and your family can create together – and learn while you’re laughing!

Source: Childhood Beckons

Whether playing outdoors, writing the next great novel, or planning a family game night, there are loads of creative ways to make screen-free time enriching and fun for the whole family!  I would love to hear your creative ideas… Want to get involved? For a listing of Screen-Free Week activities in your community, click here!

I’d love to hear your ideas – how will your family celebrate?! (please post – then kiss your screen goodnight and go play!)

 

Pass the Rush Hour, Grandpa!

Just had to share this lovely note that came to our customer support team today from the UK! It’s always wonderful to hear about games supporting inter-generational play – and I’ve shared before how important games are in my family, especially with my Scrabble-master grandma!  I just love the image of grandfather and grandson exercising their brains side by side! 

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Hello Folks,

I have only very recently come across your brilliant game Rush Hour & felt I had to write & compliment you all on such an excellent game for all ages.

My 8 year old grandson & my 66 year old self enjoy it equally!! I especially appreciate the “mind stretching” logic of it, a bit like chess for one! In addition, the simplicity & portability of it make it especially suitable for car journeys etc.

All in all a triumph.

Cheers, R G Bingham

 

Using Bingo as an Educational Game

The origins of our beloved Zingo’s name are not difficult to trace – climb one branch up on the family tree, and you’ll find the classic game of Bingo! While Zingo is designed to support early reading and language skills, I was thrilled to know its educational roots run deep – did you know the age-old game of Bingo was originally created to teach children math?! Read on to learn more – and get tips on hosting your own learning-packed bingo experience!

How to Use Bingo as an Educational Game

After it first originated in the 1500s in Italy, bingo spread through Western Europe. When it finally reached Germany it was adopted by the nation for the purpose educating young children about how to learn mathematics. This proved to be very helpful to the children, who went on to grasp all of the basics with relative ease.

Well, this lesson is just as applicable today as it was back then. You can use bingo as an educational game to help your children learn more for school. The reason why it will succeed is because you get to repackage learning within a fun trivia game that will also come with prizes. Below we will go through all of the basics on how to arrange such an event.

What You Need to Do

  1. Decide on the subject that you would like to cover: Pick perhaps a difficult area of education or something that would help your child’s friends.
  2. Start choosing the questions: Go through your chosen subject – it could be History, Math, or anything else – and select 25 questions for the kids to answer. The reason why you select 25 is because they will be playing on a 5 x 5 grid.
  3. Design your printable bingo cards: Use your computer to draw up a 5 x 5 grid numbered between 1 and 25 – these will be the bingo cards used for the game.
  4. Assign questions to the numbers: Each of the numbers on the bingo cards should correspond directly to one of your 25 trivia questions. Be sure to make a list of the questions and their assigned numbers – 25 is too many to remember.
  5. Get the balls ready: Go to the store and pick up at least 25 ping pong balls (extras can be used as spares). A good idea is to buy them in different colors to resemble the traditional balls. Now that you have your bingo balls you have to number them between and 1 and 25. All you need to do is draw on the numbers with a black permanent marker.
  6. Find a large container: This will be used to house all of the balls for the game. The way it will work is that you pick out a ball at random and then ask the corresponding questions until the game is finished. The winner will be the kid with most correct answers.
  7. Send out the invites: With all of the hard work out of the way you just need to send out the invites.

The Final Touches

Before we leave you, we are first going to impart some advice on creating a perfect bingo night. Make sure in advance that you have plenty of seats and chairs ready, not to mention daubers to mark off the answered questions. Also, your players will be very grateful for refreshments, so make sure you have plenty of juice boxes ready and healthy snacks for when they take a break. Lastly, make sure everyone has plenty of prizes to win because that will make the whole event more rewarding.

Follow these steps and to a fruitful and rewarding educational experience is guaranteed. Enjoy!

Getting Crafty: DIY Zingo!

Zingo-7700-LoResSpill

Zingo!

What can you teach with 72 plastic tiles?

As I’ve shared in past posts, it turns out a creative brain can tweak these tiles to teach just about anything – from genetics to family member names!

This latest post, shared by Tammy G. of the Fumbling Thru Autism blog, shares some fantastic ideas (and a great how-to description for all you crafty folks!) for modifying the classic Zingo! game to expand game play and support learning!

Expanding ZingoPosted: March, 2, 2013

In my last post, I wrote about how to make easy turn-taking games easier. Now Beth and I play turn-taking games for hours every day.  It is so wonderful to work on interaction and language development and have fun at the same time.

When given a choice of games, Beth always chooses Zingo.  There is something uniquely fun about sliding that dispenser to eject the game pieces, matching the pictures, and then throwing up our hands and yelling (well, quietly yelling) “Zingo!” when we are done filling our cards.  During the game Beth readily talks.  I ask, “What did you get?” and she almost always answers.

Farm & Vehicles Zingo!

Lately I don’t even need to ask, she is commenting on her pieces without prompting.  I also expand her language based on the game pieces. “What does the dog say?”, “Where does the bird fly?”, and “Where do you put a hat?” are just a few examples of ways we expand language during play.  After running out of ideas to expand Beth’s language using the Zingo game pieces, I realized it was time to expand Zingo itself.

Below are two ways I have expanded Zingo by making custom made Zingo game pieces.  I wanted to keep our original Zingo game intact so that we could still play the game, so I bought a second Zingo game (Zingo 1-2-3 numbers version, which we will use later when she is counting) to attach pictures to the game pieces.

Clip Art on Zingo Game Pieces

I bought JPEG clip art files from an artist on Etsy.  Using Power Point, I sized the clip art appropriately and added text under each picture, then I printed out game boards and smaller images for the Zingo game pieces.  Next, I cut out and covered the game boards with clear Con-tact paper and cut out the smaller images and attached them to the Zingo game pieces (I used clear Con-tact paper to attach the paper to the game pieces, but Scotch tape should also work).

Here are two sets of games I made with links to the JPEG files and my Power Point Templates:

Summer & Brown Bear, Brown Bear Story

Easter

Below you can find Power Point Templates to create your own boards and Zingo game pieces:

Another method is to buy stickers and put them on the Zingo game pieces, which is a great option for adding your child’s favorite characters to the Zingo game.

Dora and Pooh

Here is a game set using Dora and Pooh stickers

If you want to reuse your tiles, be aware that some self-adhesive stickers adhere strongly, so it will be a lot of work to remove the stickers. Also, it was difficult to find stickers that were the right size to cover the whole original image on the Zingo game pieces. Therefore, for most stickers sets, I cut out each sticker to the appropriate size and stuck it on white paper, then attached the mounted sticker to a Zingo game piece with clear Con-tact paper (alternatively you could use Scotch tape).

Another option is to print the images on self-adhesive computer labels and attach them to the Zingo game pieces, but they might be difficult to remove at a later time.

Want to DIY?! Tammy has generously shared JPEG files for the 4 game boards and game pieces with instructions in this post, get crafting!

 

Solitaire Chess: Brainiac Edition

This email absolutely made my day!  Shad, a retiree from Montana who shared in this post how she and her husband play (and fiercely compete in) Solitaire Chess, wrote to let me know the game has now spread to her son and daughter in-law!   The mental image of this brainy family at play made me smile!

Shad's husband practices to maintain his competitive edge!

Dear Charlotte,

The funniest thing just happened.  Our son and his wife are here and we showed them the Solitare Chess.  Jessica is an electrical engineer and Todd is a PhD dissertation writer in Political Science.  They were stuck on #41.  Todd finally figured it out the way we do by thinking of how things can move and in what sequence makes things possible.  Jessica got out her little laptop and wrote some code to figure it out.  They came to their answers about the same time.

We really have had fun with that game!   What a funny evening.  We really enjoyed seeing how the two of them would manage.

Thank you

Shad

Zingo by candlelight…

I hope you and your family are safe and sound in the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy. We were very fortunate not to bear the worst of it in the DC area, and I’m thinking dry thoughts for friends in areas harder hit.

At our house, Sandy meant an epic foosball tournament.  In between rounds (or for me, losses),  I saw a wonderful trend emerging in my Twitter feed… seems when the lights go out, people get a lot more resourceful – and playful!

Some highlights:

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For one dad in NY, 20+ rounds of Zingo! just about did him in!

And finally, a silver lining to all that time spent playing… a dad reports a MAJOR victory!

  • @double21d: The streak is over!!! I finally beat my son at Zingo…

Our Facebook friends played their way through Hurricane Sandy too!

Do you play games when the lights go out? Which are your family’s favorites?!

Summer Learning Abounds at Auntie Camp!

I had such fun writing this Aunt Camp article for Savvy Auntie the other month and hoped it served to inspire other aunts to think about fun learning experiences they could create over the summer months.  I was thrilled when I received the following email and photos from Jennifer, a very savvy auntie who has been running Auntie Camps and Retreats for her lucky nieces for years!  Here she shares her story… where can I register!?

I wanted to respond to an article from Savvy Auntie that you posted a while back.  I was just delighted to see you promoting Aunt Camps (or as my nieces and I call it “Auntie Camp”.  I have been doing Auntie Camps and now Auntie retreats for the past 3 years and before that sporadically and we are all huge fans!


It started when I was living/teaching overseas and I was looking for a way to spend some quality time with my nieces when I was home during the summer.  So I sent my sister and her husband away for two nights and moved in to take care of my two nieces then about six and seven years old.  I did simple things but made a big deal about it. 

Going to the park, baking a cake, a simple craft and a simple science experiment (I am a high school science teacher so that one came naturally. ;) ) My nieces LOVED it.  Since then they’ve been begging to send their parents away every summer so we can have Auntie Camp.

I now live near Washington D.C. and they came to my place for a few days.  They are 10 and 12 now and it just keeps getting better.  I try to tailor activities to their interests or educate them about it so they are interested!  This past year we went to the Kennedy Center and the zoo, painted pottery, did cake decorating, saw free concerts on the Capitol steps, traveled the world through Thai food, and other exciting things.  The best part is my relationship with them is deepening and as they head into the teen years – I’m so thankful I can be a positive voice in their lives.

I realize it’s not possible for everyone, but even starting with an overnighter is a blast, minimal planning and tons of fun.   It’s also a HUGE blessing to my sister and her husband who are thankful for a break and at peace that their kids are well cared for and not homesick.

I’ve attached a couple of pictures from over the years and my niece’s edition of her biweekly newspaper that she writes. This one was about Auntie Camp.

Extra Extra, Read all about it! Auntie Camp featured in the Duvallville Herald!

I have tons of ideas including easy science experiments, craft ideas, even how to schedule things.  It does take some effort but it is definitely worth it.
~Jennifer F. aka Auntie Jenn

Create your Own Family Zingo!

I love hearing from creative fans who take a game and make it their own!  The photo below comes from the Subity family, who, after hours of fun playing Zingo!, decided to personalize the game and create a family version called… SUBINGO!  Here Caleb’s dad Sam describes their creation…

 

I’m attaching a picture of my son, Caleb, with the “Subingo!” game, which is our twist on Zingo.  After we’d played Zingo for hours, I realized that we could use the same format to teach our kids new words and concepts.  So we came up with Subingo to help them learn the names of everyone in our large family.  

Caleb shows off his "Subingo" board!

 I just put a family member’s photo in each square and then printed and laminated the playing cards, then we printed sheets of everyone’s photos to use as the tiles.  Since we can’t use the launcher with the paper tiles, we just put all the tiles in a pile upside down and then do a speed version where we all start flipping over tiles and try to fill up our cards first!

 

Have you ever customized a favorite game?  I’d love to hear about it!