Category Archives: Games at Home

Build Early Reading Skills through Play!

The following post is shared by Malia, a former teacher and founder of the early literacy company Playdough to Plato!  Malia reached out to ThinkFun after finding our games to be fantastic language tools, and she was eager to share them with her readers!  In this post she shares her experience with Zingo! and What’s GNU?

Chameleon Logo

Several weeks ago, my boys and I had a play date with one of my supermom friends and her children. I casually mentioned how excited I was to start playing games together when the children were a little bit older. Sportsmanship, perseverance, teamwork… There were so many healthy life skills that games help develop.

 

As soon as the words “kid-friendly games” left my mouth, my friend jumped up and walked over to a large shelf filled with activities for her children. She took down a medium-sized royal blue box and asked, “Have you played Zingo!?”

“No,” I said. I’d never even heard of it before. Hmm…  My curiosity was piqued.

 

Just as my friend placed the box on the table, her four year old son noticed the flash of blue out of the corner of his eye.  “Zingo!” he shouted as he ran over to join us.

 

My friend opened the box and pulled out a bright red thingy-majig and a set of game boards filled with pictures and matching labels.

 

“The rules are simple,” she explained. “It’s just like Bingo but with a twist.  It motivates children to practice reading. I promise it’s addictively fun.”  It sounded like a dream come true. But I was still skeptical. Could it really live up to her rave reviews? 

We invited her 2.5 year old daughter and my 2.5 year old son to join us. This would be a great test. Could young children actually play the game on their own? To my surprise, her daughter jumped right in.  “I LOVE Zingo!” she said. I mentally added another tally to the list of Zingo Fan Club members.

 

My friend invited my son to slide the red tile dispenser forward and back, revealing two bright yellow tiles: an owl and a bat. She asked him to “read” the words on the tiles. “Owl and bat,” he said. Then she asked him to look at his game card and check for matches. He had an owl. “Owl!” he shouted.

 

“I have an owl too,” the little girl said. My friend explained that the first player to say the name of their match could take it. She invited my son to grab the tile and add it to his board. Then he slid the dispenser again dropping two new tiles.

 

The game continued for several minutes until my friend’s four year old son filled his board first. He was crowned as the official winner, creating a perfect opportunity for us to model how to be good losers and offer a heartfelt “congratulations”.

 

Without a second thought, the three children jumped right into playing round two.  As parents of 2.5 year olds understand, there are few things that occupy my son’s attention for more than a minute and a half. I was blown away!!

 

The moment my boys fell asleep that night I hopped onto the computer and ordered our own Zingo set.  We could finally enjoy a family game night!

 

In addition to Zingo, ThinkFun also offers another early literacy game called “What’s Gnu” that I couldn’t resist adding to our Amazon cart.  To play, you spread out cards showing two letters and a blank.  One player slides the tile dispenser to drop two tiles.

Players must race to use the letters that are revealed to make a word on one of the cards.

The player who has made the most  words when the tiles run out wins the game.  I can’t wait to try this with my oldest son in a year or two. It’s a motivating, entertaining way to practice sounding out words and is PERFECT for beginning readers.

Roll & Recover!

When a member of the ThinkFun family went in for a recent surgery, our design team put their creative brains to work.  While chicken soup and flowers make perfectly lovely get-well gifts, we got a bit carried away and created an entirely new game to aid in his recovery!

Following on the heels of our tremendously successful Roll & Play, Your Child’s First Game…. Meet Roll & Recover, Your First Get-Well Game!

While Roll & Play uses color-coded cards for different themed activities (i.e. orange = numbers, blue = colors…), Roll & Recover follows in the same tradition.

Roll & Recover cards face-down

Roll Orange, and you may pick up a card suggesting you “Take TWO asprin!”  A Blue card may direct you to “Have one RED apple a day!”

Roll & Recover challenges

While we’ve yet to have a doctor confirm the healing power of our new Roll & Recover, initial tests show that if laughter is indeed the best medicine, this game will certainly cure what ails you!

Avoid the Dreaded B-Word: 10 Ideas to Fight Tween Boredom

I was recently invited to share a post with the Savvy Auntie community with ideas for summer fun, and I thought I’d repost here in hopes you’ll be inspired to make the most of these last few weeks of summer!  Here’s a link to my original article, which I’ve re-posted here:

Keeping kids entertained as the lazy days of summer drag on can be a challenge – and tweens can be a particularly tough crowd.  There are few phrases as cringe-inducing for an auntie as a whiny, “I’m booooooored!”  While sidewalk chalk and a garden sprinkler could be all it takes to remedy this for a younger audience, finding creative ways to entertain tweens takes a bit more ingenuity.

While it is important to encourage overscheduled kids to work through boredom on their own from time to time, a Savvy Auntie armed with fun ideas can be a hero when the B-Word looms large!  Here are some creative ideas to keep in your back pocket:

Cross Train Your Brain

Get in the Olympic spirit with a Brain Decathlon.  Gather a collection of 10 logic and reasoning puzzles and set up a rotation for an afternoon of brain fitness. Tweens build confidence, creativity, and problem solving skills… but they’ll think it’s all fun and games!

Become a YouTube Sensation

As the countless videos of cats playing piano illustrate, anyone with a smartphone or flip cam can create and share video with the world.  Film your niece’s rendition of Call Me Maybe using sock puppets or your nephew wowing the world with magic tricks… you never know what will go viral!

Play With Your Food

Tie on your aprons and have fun with food!  Challenge tweens to an Iron Chef-style competition, with a secret ingredient each must incorporate into three dishes.  Cheese, bananas, sprinkles… you choose the twist and provide cookbooks or food magazines for inspiration. Let tweens plan menus, make a grocery run, and get cooking!  Invite friends over and present your creations to a Judge’s Table.

Get PINspired!

Pinterest is a goldmine for creative craft ideas!  Check out some great DIY boards from Makedo, ThinkFun, and Babble and choose your next crafting adventure together.

Stalk the Wild Cupcake

Put your sweet tooth to the test and track down the best cupcake in town.  Conduct site visits and taste tests, taking notes and narrowing down the finalists.  Surprise the winning shopkeeper with a special award you design and present!

Super-Size Me

Even the typical toothbrush is riveting when its 6 feet long!  Stock up on supplies like recycled bottles, wire hangers, newspaper, and paint, and create a large-scale version of an everyday small object.  Get messy with paper mache, and add buttons, cotton balls, yarn and other found objects as decorations.  Turn your living room into a gallery and invite neighbors over for the grand opening.

Mini Golf Masters

With a little creativity, mini golf becomes much more than swiping a ball into a clown’s mouth. Scout out local courses (or pools, arcades, whatever destination most excites you) and spend the week visiting several, clipboard in hand.  Set criteria for evaluating – quality of hot dogs at the snack bar, ball color options, etc. – and create an insider guide to the best of the best!

Opposite Day

Ridiculousness knows no bounds when you commit to a day where nothing works as it should.  Start your day with a spaghetti dinner, read a magazine back to front, only respond to your name when said backwards… let tweens see how far they can take the theme!

Move Over Frommer’s

Create your own guidebook to your town.  This fun activity will help visiting nieces and nephews explore your city or get to know their own hometown better.  Take walks to find little-known landmarks – or invent your own!  Use an online photo service to create a hardcover guidebook filled with your pictures, captions, and funny anecdotes.

Old Movie Night

Let your tween pick the film – the catch is it has to be from the 1970s or earlier. Have fun in the kitchen preparing retro snacks like pineapple upside-down cake for the ‘50s or fondue for the ‘60s and enjoy some wholesome (and tasty!) family fun.

 

What activities do your tweens love?  Please share your ideas here and help build the Tween Toolkit!

A Love of Game Play Runs in the Family…

I had a very informative email exchange with a customer recently who shared great insight on what he looks for in a game and the ways he sees his daughter’s thinking skills improving through play.  It’s clear Marcel has passed on a love of brain games to his little girl, and I’m pleased to share this post in hopes it inspires others to be more mindful about the games and toys we provide our little learners!

 

Hi Charlotte,

I often check your blog, and I really enjoy what you describe there. My 5 year old daughter likes to play several of the ThinkFun games!

The big secret for us is variety. We have several ThinkFun games (for both my daughter and myself, as I like logic games a lot), but also lots of games from other companies Also, we have different tangram games (we have Shape by Shape and the egg-shape tangram from ThinkFun), and my daughter likes to play that as well.

Another thing that I personally find important is to only buy good games and toys for her. In Seattle, we have a store called Math-n-Stuff that sells lots of educational toys. When we need a new toy, I’d rather spend a little bit more money to get a toy that helps my daughter instead of some toy that she gets bored with after a day. Also, I spend quite a lot of time reading various blogs (including yours) to find out about good educational games.

What I really like about most of these games is how they start simple and slowly add more complexity. Initially, my daughter gets very excited when she can easily do it and gains confidence. But slowly things get harder, and she needs to start thinking how to solve the problems. Slowly, with some help from us, she is making progress with most of the games. However, after she has played the game for a while, she starts to really understand how it works, and is than able to finish the hardest levels in most of the games.

It normally takes her about 3-4 months to get there, but when she gets it, we can take out the game at any time, pick any level, and she is able to do it without any help from us. This is the part I really like about these games – that they gradually help the kids in doing more and more difficult problems, and when they get it, they can actually do most of the puzzles.

Chocolate Fix for iPad

Another thing I just noticed is that you released Chocolate Fix for the iPad. Chocolate Fix is too hard for my daughter (5 years is a little bit young for that), but I enjoy the game myself. It is a great game to play.

One thing I like about the ThinkFun iPad games is that they allow you to undo your steps. For instance, I was playing Solitaire Chess (I have both the iPad and the board game), and I like the iPad version as it allows me to undo the last few steps. With the board version, it is much harder to remember what the last steps were, and often I have to start from the beginning as I forgot what my last few steps were. So definitely keep doing the iPad games!

Last but not least, please keep writing your blog. I think it is very informative, and I always get a big smile on my face when I read how the ThinkFun games make kids excited about logic and math concepts. When these concepts are presented in the normal way (i.e. drilling), kids tend to get bored very quickly, but when you add the game concept to it, they suddenly get super-excited and are learning lots of skills without even realizing it.

Take care, Marcel

 

What qualities do YOU look for when choosing games for your kids – or for yourself?!

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!

2011 S'Match (first generation)

New and Improved….

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

Calling all Savvy Aunties…

As a proud auntie myself, I was honored to share this recent “Aunt Camp” article on playful summer learning with the Savvy Auntie community!

If you’re new to Savvy Auntie, this site is the first and only community for Aunts – a group that includes Aunties by Relation (ABR), Aunties by Choice (ABC), Great-Aunts, Godmothers, and all women who love kids!  This site is designed to empower Aunts to exchange ideas, get advice, find gifts and connect with other Savvy Aunties!

Growing up, summers always included a fun-filled week with my own amazing aunt, and I hope this piece encourages other fun-loving aunties to engage their families in some brain-building summer fun!  Enjoy!

My sweet nephew Hunter, enrolling in Aunt Camp Summer 2014!

Also, mark your calendars for July 22nd for the 4th annual celebration of Auntie’s Day!

 

Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure

Several weeks ago, I featured a fabulous post by Jennifer Cook O’Toole, author of Asperkids: An Insiders’s Guide to Loving, Understanding and Teaching Children with Asperger Syndrome,  in which she shared her use of our Rush Hour Jr. game with her own family!  It’s always gratifying when readers particularly connect with certain articles , so I was thrilled to see this post tweeted by Rebecca Mitchell, a psychotherapist in the UK who was so inspired by Jennifer’s post she purchased the game for her own son and shared her experience on her Loving Martians blog!

Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure

Posted on  by Rebecca Mitchell

Yesterday, the doorbell rang and Mr Postman delivered ‘Rush Hour - Traffic Jam Game’, Junior Edition by Thinkfun TM.  I had read a recommendation by Jennifer O’Toole ofAsperkids and decided to try it.  L has become incredibly wary of games and generally now refuses to play them.  I think that he sometimes struggles to comprehend the rules but the bigger issue is the stress caused by adversarial games where social niceties such as turn-taking are essential; patience and a non-agressive response to being beaten are required; and competitive big sister M cannot be persuaded not to gloat when winning and wail when losing.  In fact, I don’t think I’ve encouraged L to play a game for quite some time.  Recently, however, when M and I set up a Lego game, I noticed that despite claiming not to want to play it when invited, L sidled furtively up to see what we were doing and then joined in (albeit in a slightly scary fashion which involved him building all the Lego hens, throwing the die wildly at the wall when it was his (my) turn, and cheating slightly and us not daring to challenge him for fear of precipitating meltdown).

Anyway – I threw caution to the wind and decided to order Rush Hour.  When it first arrived, L was angrily suspicious and wanted nothing to do with the package.  After I unpacked it and he saw all the little cars he did this…

.

Yep – he lined them up.  After lining them up, he became very territorial about the cars for a day and wouldn’t let anyone touch them.  He loves the cars, especially the Police cars.  The next day, when asked if he wanted to play, he refused.

I decided to see if M wanted a game as she had been the model of self-restraint for the last day but clearly wanted a go.  The initial possessiveness had diminished a little and L ’allowed’  M to play.  We set up the game on my bed and instantly, L appeared and virtually within seconds was smitten.  After ten minutes more, M and I no longer got a look-in.  If you’ve never heard of Rush Hour – it is genius in its simplicity; fiendish in its difficulty; and totally, totally addictive and the best thing (for L) is that you can play it on your own.  The junior addition has a grid and then 40 cards that each have a pattern of trucks laid out which you have to copy onto the grid.  Each card gets progressively more difficult.  The idea is that you push the vehicles backwards and forwards (you can’t lift them) until the ice-cream van is free to move along, unhindered, to the exit. In simple terms, the ice-cream van is blocked in by a traffic jam and the player has to move the traffic to free the van.

The game has so many elements that L loves.  I’ve already mentioned the little cars and in particular the police cars.  Then there is the Lego-like element.  L is very good at Lego.  On his birthday I was amazed to watch him building his Lego Batman Cave by just glancing at the page and seeming to have an almost photographic memory of the layout of the bricks.  M and I, faced with the same page, would have been using our finger to count how many spaces to leave before adding a piece.  So, he LOVED following the cards to build up the traffic jam.   Very quickly it became clear that L was really very good at this game.  He was somehow able to see the bigger picture whilst M and I were bogged down with trying to move one vehicle.  After taking it in turns well at first, L became increasingly frustrated with our ineptitude and was obviously itching to step in and rescue us as we made our jams worse.  The excitement levels mounted as L saw the way out time and time again.

Eventually, L became rather hyper, flushed with success as he was, and jumped madly around the bed shouting, ‘I’m an Aspergerkid and we are superheroes’ (something he’s brilliantly picked up from the Asperkids sites).  I was touched.  His self-esteem which has been struggling recently, was soaring through the roof.  He was also identifying himself proudly with Asperger Syndrome and seeing that he could do some things well and that maybe autism could give him some kind of advantage.  Even M became drawn into the general atmosphere of excited abandon and was generous in her praise of her little brother, forgetting her usual desire to be best at everything.  She so clearly loves him and was delighting in his success.  We were all swept up in a tide of goodwill.

The downside of all this was that it was getting late, the routine was shot to pieces, there was no way that L was going to go to bed without doing another ten cards and the turn-taking had totally broken down as L found it so hard to spectate from the sidelines.  I suggested that he take five cards into his bedroom.  He took them in and told us that we weren’t allowed to disturb him or say anything but that he would shout ‘banana’ every time he completed a card.  Five bananas later and L got into bed,  tired but satisfied.  The game was a resounding success.  Unfortunately, L now rather sees it as his game.  So M had to wait until he was busy pursuing his MI9 special interest on the computer this morning to sneak the game into the kitchen and have a go, and when L realised what she was doing she had to agree not to go any further than the cards that he had completed.

So we settled down this morning, still giddy with success, to a celebratory breakfast of pancakes (I had batter left over from the weekend), except that I didn’t have enough batter left for L’s second one and he wasn’t having any of it when I said that the spoke effect looked like a cool spaceship.  ‘I’m not having that’, he cried in disgust.  I offered to make him a pitta bread with honey instead (one of his favourites).  He looked even more disgusted when I passed him the pitta bread.  ‘Mummy, you KNOW I don’t like ROUND pitta bread’, he yelled.  I had tried an organic brand of mini wholemeal pitta breads and it was indeed smaller and rounder and browner than his usual white, oval shaped pittas.  Life’s never easy in our neurodiverse household but it’s never boring and at least we now have a game we all love.

 

Wake Up Your Brain with Swish!

Another lovely message from the ThinkFun Mailbag!  This mom in Michigan shares how her family uses our Swish game as a daily brain warm-up!

 

Hi there,

I just wanted to send a quick “thank you” for the hours of entertainment your games and puzzles have provided our family — kids and adults alike!

Your company is so aptly named — it’s great to be able to show kids that you can have a blast and give your brain a workout at the same time! Any frustration from not solving a puzzle right away quickly shifts to determination, because the fun is in the figuring!

We love the fact that so many of your games can be played in different ways. I’m attaching a photo of my 6 year old daughter, Anna, and the activity we came up with after we played a couple of rounds of Swish using the traditional rules.

Swishes of up to 10 cards! Anna, we're impressed!

 

We decided to spread all of the cards out, cooperate, and see if we could create Swishes with increasing numbers of cards. We had a blast — what a fun way to get our brains working for the day :)

So again, thank you for your clever and well-made games and puzzles! We are huge fans, and our big bin of your games will certainly be handed down to our children’s children, because this type of fun never gets old!

Sincerely,

Louise

Canton, MI

Drop Everything and PLAY!

The following post is shared by David Burk, a friend from TED and wonderful supporter of ThinkFun games who has clearly passed on his passion to his two children!  David and his family have created a “drop everything and play” tradition that I’m pleased to share here – hopefully it will inspire you to find new ways to fit playtime with your loved ones into your busy lives!

 

Ever since we discovered Rush Hour, ThinkFun games have had a place in our home.  When we got the whole complement of the games, we started a group tradition with them.  These days, the games live in our entry hall, under the “telephone table.”  Several days a week, when I come home from work, my kids (Ezra, 11yo, and Emmet, 9yo) will run to greet me, followed by my incredible wife.  We’ll usually throw down a few games and lie on the carpet right in front of the door, sometimes playing in parallel, sometimes working together.

           

Chocolate Fix has been the family favorite for a long time now.  Ezra is by far the best at these games, so he’ll do a few rounds and then start showing us all what we should be doing.  The play only lasts about 15-20 minutes, and it’s really fun!  Only when I step back and think about it do I realize that it is also a great way to focus, relax, and stretch the brain— all while spending family time together.  In summary, I get to turn off the work part of my brain and start being with my family, and my family gets to turn on their brains and have some fun together.  It’s lovely—and good for us.  Can’t beat that!

 

Does your family have a unique or special way you like to play together?  Is there a particular time in your day or week that you carve out just for play? Please share!

Sneaking in the Good Stuff with Games that Teach!

The following guest post is shared by Kimberlee Jost, mom of 2 game-loving girls and a fantastic advocate for the power of playful learning! Kimberlee’s blog shares her family’s adventures as they navigate their way down The Driveway of Life!

When I was a little girl, I fondly remember playing games. Game time often occurred after dinner. There were card games with dad and grandpa. Word games were played with grandma. I became a game kind of girl. I loved the challenge of trying to beat them, but even more I enjoyed having their undivided attention during those games!

 

At our house, game time tends to be earlier in the day. I have two daughters, Ella, age 7 and Talia, age 3. The first time we ever played Zingo 1-2-3 it was at 8:30 in the morning, Ella had already gone to school. I recognized that Talia needed a little one on one time—she was grumpy, demanding, and overall not well behaved.  This was a red flag to me that her love tank was a little low. Within five minutes of starting the game, her attitude changed. She became cheerful, thoughtful, and easy going. Her love tank was getting full!

Talia and her cousin Owen loved playing Zingo 1-2-3 together at Christmas. Learning to lose graciously is also an important life skill...we're still working on that.

The best part for this Mom is knowing that Talia was also learning. Before the end of the game, she could read the number five and understand its value. Now that’s sneaky! I had set out to spend time with her, but I had no idea I could sneak a little education in there as well. I live for that!

There are hours of Zingo 1-2-3 in our future. Talia and Ella both enjoy it, and I love knowing that we are being intentional with our time. We aren’t just playing a game, I am investing in them and they are begging for more!

Thank you, ThinkFun, for making a game that sneaks the good stuff in there. Now if only you could do something about getting my girls to eat their veggies at dinner!