Category Archives: Homeschool

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?

Small Logo Banner Build Early Reading Skills through Play!

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!?”

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“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? Zingo Collage1 Build Early Reading Skills through Play!

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.

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

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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.

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

A Homeschooling Mama on a Mission!

I am thrilled to feature the following guest post written by Amy, a missionary and homeschooling mom of 3 who uses games to enhance her curriculum.  Amy is the fantastic mom behind the Missional Mama blog which I encourage you to check out – and you can follow her tweets here!

Here Amy shares the many benefits of game play:

It all started with Rush Hour Junior!

Another family, who was years ahead of us in the homeschooling endeavor, mentioned that Rush Hour was their family favorite.  We were convinced to give it a try.

My oldest was around six at that time and he would spend hours setting up the cars just so and working his way toward the conclusion of the puzzle.  It was mind work and he enjoyed every minute of it. Once the levels were completed, he moved on to Rush Hour leaving Junior behind for the siblings.

After this experience, we found ourselves drawn to the ThinkFun displays at educational stores to see what else could help us along in our learning. ThinkFun games are highly motivational and enjoyable for our multi-aged homeschooling classroom not to mention useful towards our educational goals.  Here are a few reasons we like ThinkFun…

  • Critical Thinking Skills – Forget the workbooks, my children enjoy the hands on mental and visual skills required by ThinkFun. It does not even feel like learning!
  • Competition with Yourself – Because most of the games we have are one player, they can work towards harder cards and skills trying to exceed themselves.
  • Math – Many of these games sneak in Mathematical Skills. Try the Math Dice game which promotes mental math, for example.
  • Creative Thinking Skills – We found that ThinkFun can be enjoyed “outside the box” for those children who are wired that way. My oldest likes creating new patterns and sometimes new games with ThinkFun products.
  • Working Together – The older kids enjoy sitting with the younger ones occasionally and showing them how a game works.  They become the teachers and learners.
  • Playing Together – It is just fun!

We keep our ThinkFun games in our homeschooling basket to be pulled out during learning time, down time, or when we need a break. It also has been used as part of the curriculum when we are working on a skill such as mental math. So whether you use the games for homeschooling, quiet time, or family game night, you cannot help but have fun while learning along the way.

Our favorites are Zingo and Rush Hour, what are you family favorites?

Looking for a GNU Way to Play an Old Favorite?!

In a recent post on her family’s love of games, a mom of twins and former teacher shares the powerful ways games have integrated into her family’s lives.  From brain games that give mom and dad a mental workout when the kids go to bed to the apps that allow them to take their favorites with them on the go, this is a family who knows the value of play – and play they do!

Whats 7760 HiResSpill 300x300 Looking for a GNU Way to Play an Old Favorite?!As a former teacher, I most appreciated the ideas she shared with ways to modify the ThinkFun game What’s GNU? to make game play a truly intensive lesson in early word-building.  These little tweaks she added were all done organically to preserve the fun of play, and her daughter loved every minute!  As a parent and educator, she delighted in the fact that, due to the game setting and fun of play, her daughter “has no clue that she is practicing reading/spelling skills!”

Here is an excerpt from her post with some fantastic ideas to try at home:

Then I played their online version of What’s Gnu, which teaches reading/spelling skills and added that to the shopping list.  We don’t play it right now as they list in the rules.  Here’s how we use it:

  • Find the 14 word-ending cards.  If you’ve ever taught phonics, these are the word family cards (ig, an, at, ow, etc).
  • Sit across from one another and spread out your 7 cards in front of you.
  • Click the machine to spit out two letters.  The one closest to you is “your” letter.
  • Use it to form a word… if you can.  For the first round or two, you can usually use any letter.  But it gets harder once you have fewer cards.  For instance, let’s say that you’re down to “an” and “at” and the letter you get is “J” — that can’t be used to form a common word.  So you lose that turn.
  • Whoever fills all 7 cards first wins.
  • I have lost consistently every single time we’ve played.

Looking for more ideas for ways to use What’s GNU? to build your child’s skills?  Check out this fantastic post on ways a creative homeschooling mom uses What’s GNU as a fun learning tool!

Have you taken a game and changed the rules to build more fun and/or learning into your play?  Please share your ideas!

Knutson son

The Importance of Play in the Homeschool Curriculum

The following guest post is by Angie Knutson, whose My Four Monkeys blog reviews products through her unique lens as both mom and homeschool educator.  Angie believes in the power of learning through play and has integrated games into her teaching!  Check out her post on using What’s GNU to build language skills!  Here she shares her thoughts on the importance of incorporating free play into her kids’ lives.

If you’re a fan of ThinkFun, you know that they create their fantastic games with the belief that children learn best while at play.  As a mom and a homeschooler, I completely agree, and I have seen the proof with my own eyes. I’m a mom of four children, ranging in age from 2 to 9 years of age. We just started our sixth year of homeschooling, and like every other year, unstructured playtime plays an important role in our weekly school schedule.

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One of Angie's "4 Monkeys" playing What's Gnu?

So many moms and dads try to have every minute scheduled, especially homeschooling parents. Many times even their free time is scheduled with what activity they are going to do and how long they’re going to do it. I think many parents suffer from the same fears that I have from time to time – the fear that if we don’t do things perfectly, our children will end up ignorant and uneducated. While there definitely needs to be a core curriculum, we often forget the values of recess or free time. Parents sometimes go overboard with scheduled activities, leaving very little free time for their children.

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The Knutson kids enjoy a game of Zingo! to Go!

We take a full hour, sometimes more, every school day at lunch time for free time. We also only do school four days a week, and we spend our extra day playing games, jumping on the trampoline, or creating with arts and crafts supplies. Free time really means free time at our house! I don’t usually plan an activity or decide how long we will spend doing it, and I often let the kids figure this out on their own without any help from me. This is an important part of the learning!

Our kids learn by using their creativity to come up with their own activities, and we have plenty of games, arts and crafts supplies, books, etc. all very easily accessible to them. They don’t always enjoy cleaning up the mess after they’ve decided to spend an hour creating a construction paper jungle in their bedroom, but they had fun doing it and it was their creation. We have even been known to have a movie marathon complete with soda and popcorn on a rainy day! {gasp}.

Over time, I have realized that the more stressed I am about making sure we fit everything into the schedule, the more stressed the kids are. I try to stay calm and laid-back, while still doing my job as their teacher and mom. Plus, when they’re elementary aged and younger, they always learn best when playing. Whether its educational games like the ones created by ThinkFun, coloring, or just listening to music and dancing, they retain the information much longer when they learn it while they’re having fun.

It’s not all about education, though. Games are a great way of spending time together as a family, a perfect way to unwind and create memories. Family Game Night isn’t just a good idea – it’s a must for families. For us, it’s our way of reconnecting and bonding, an opportunity to teach or just plain laugh!

Games bring GNU learning opportunities to homeschoolers!

I’ve recently had the pleasure of working with Angie Knutson, whose My Four Monkeys blog reviews products through her unique lens as both mom and homeschool educator.  Angie’s support of ThinkFun games as teaching tools and eagerness to explore  new education initiatives led to her oldest daughter participating in a test of our yet-unreleased Brain Lab program! Caitlyn proved a fierce competitor, beating over 400 entries to win the Rush Hour Tournament 2 weeks in a row!  Below, Angie shares the creative ways she’s used the updated What’s GNU? game in her homeschool curriculum to build language skills. ENJOY!

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Learning with What’s Gnu? from ThinkFun

Homeschooling and educational games go hand in hand. It can be quite the challenge to make learning fun when the teacher is also the mom. To be honest, the kids get tired of listening to you day after day, all day long. So to make our school time less monotonous, we interject educational games and field trips to do the trick. Since we can’t afford to go on field trips everyday or even every week, educational games have become a very important resource in my bag of tricks.

Probably our favorite site for educational games, ThinkFun has become a household name here and we have such favorites as Rush Hour, Zingo! 1-2-3, and Clever Castle. We recently received a copy of What’s Gnu? to review, and I discovered just how helpful this game is for kindergarten aged children. What’s Gnu? is played similar to the Zingo line of games, and consists of 36 Word Starter Cards, 72 Letter Tiles (vowels are colored red), and a Letter Getter. The game is geared toward ages 5 and up, and you can play with as many people as you’d like. What’s Gnu? was created to develop skills including spelling patterns, reading, word recognition, focus, and concentration. The game was recently redesigned to better meet the needs of the parents and educators using it, and they did a fabulous job! The game now includes two sided cards that allow for two difficulty levels, and the three letter words are perfect for beginning readers.

Over the course of the last several weeks, I have played this game with my Kindergartner and my First Grader several times and have created several different ways to use What’s Gnu? as a learning tool. Playing by the rules is great of you have two children to play, but what if it’s just you and your child? Here’s some ideas for how to use What’s Gnu? in a fun and new way: Games bring GNU learning opportunities to homeschoolers!

Rhyme Time: Lay out all the letter tiles in front of the child. Pick one card at a time and see how many rhyming words they can create with that one card using the different letter tiles. When they run out of ideas, move onto another card. The green side of the Word Starter Cards(with one missing letter) works great for my 5 year old, and the Orange side (missing two letters) works perfectly for my 7 year old. Word Starter Cards without a missing first letter don’t work well with this exercise of course.

Hurry and Spell: My kindergartner loves to play this version of What’s Gnu?! I stack the cards in a pile and then lay all the letter tiles out on the floor. I give him a certain amount of time and he sees how many words he can create in that amount of time. How much time you give them should depend on their ability, but 2 to 3 minutes usually works well for us. When we’re finished, he often wants to play again and see if he can break his record!

Read To Me: Spelling is fun, but reading the words is important too. Sometimes we just sit down with the game and do some reading practice. The Word Starter Cards are great for creating multiple words to have your child read. Kind of like flashcards, but a little more fun. Just use the Letter Tiles and the Word Starter Cards to create a word and see if your child can sound it out. If they do, reward them with a small treat. We use fruit snacks for this exercise and it’s like a snack and lesson all in one!

Casual Learning Time: It doesn’t always have to be about a game. My kids can often be caught just playing around with the Word Starter Cards and Letter Tiles creating words and trying to read them. Sometimes they will create words that aren’t real words and try to figure out how to pronounce them. This process is educational for them and relaxing. There is no pressure to perform, and they can go at their own pace. Don’t forget that a game doesn’t have to be played at a table or desk to be educational. We often play the games on the floor. The kids are more relaxed and comfortable, it seems more like playtime rather than school time, and it allows me to give some attention to my energetic toddler at the same time.

Want more?  Angie has also reviewed Zingo 1-2-3, Clever Castle, and Rush Hour!

How have YOU used games to enrich your homeschool instruction?  Please share your ideas!

Revisiting the Classics…

Need inspiration to start your spring cleaning?  Here’s a great reason to dust off that old collection of classic board games!

A recent article from KnoxNews takes a look at how classic games like Monopoly and Scrabble can serve as powerful learning aids!  In the hands of a creative teacher (or parent for that matter), a game like Candy Land is transformed into a tool to reinforce number sense, early math, and critical thinking skills!

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This teacher uses Monopoly to teach money management skills like budgeting and making informed spending decisions.

This article shares results from a 2007 study by Carnegie Mellon University, in which disadvantaged preschoolers played a simple numeric board game four times for 15-20 minutes at a time over a two-week period.  At the end of the two weeks, researchers found students’ knowledge of math greatly increased in four different areas of number sense!

School Counselor Vicki Hill uses games not only for academic support, but also to build social skills. “I use Candy Land for a self-esteem building activity,” Vicky describes, “If the student gets a double color card, he must tell something good about himself. ”  Similarly, with the game Sorry, “if the student has to send someone back to start, he must say something positive to the player that gets sent back.”

Have ideas for ways to revive an old classic as a learning tool for your children?  Please share!

Have your fun… and eat it too!

A coworker recently passed me a link to the “100 Games Cupcake Game” (Cupcakes + Games = my two favorite words!) and, in the sugary fun spirit of Valentine’s Day, I had to share!

Each of the 100 Cupcakes is inspired by a particular game…

A few of my favorites…

Candyland Have your fun... and eat it too!Scrabble Have your fun... and eat it too!HungryHippo Have your fun... and eat it too!RockPaperScissors Have your fun... and eat it too!

There were some surprises in here for me… How many can you guess?!

Looking for ways to extend a baking project into a fun learning opportunity?

  • Shop for Ingredients! Check out this post from Pioneer Woman for a super creative way to incorporate math learning into your cooking project!   Setting up an at-home grocery store offers a HUGE range of learning opportunities – reading recipes, making ingredient lists, pricing household ingredients, adding up the cost of items, etc.
  • Build Math into Baking! Measuring ingredients and exploring equivalents (how many tablespoons in a cup?  Ounces in a pound?) is a natural way to bring learning into the kitchen!  Here are some tips to build math into your fun baking activity!
  • Read Quirky Momma’s thoughts on the rich learning opportunities that cooking offers toddlers and preschoolers!
  • Math Mom shares a cheat sheet to help with proportions and recipe conversions!

Extreme Makeover… ThinkFun Edition!

Two ThinkFun Favorites Get “Gnu” Updates Based on Player Feedback!

Over the years we’ve gotten LOADS of fabulous suggestions from parents, teachers, and kids for ways to improve our Zingo! and What’s GNU? games, and we’ve listened! Last year, we went through massive amounts of player feedback, including online reviews, customer emails, and letters from kids, and we found several recurring themes! To share a few:

“Make Zingo! tiles double-sided!”

“Loading the tiles back into the Zinger is a pain”

“What’s GNU? is too tough for the youngest players”
“There is often no way to make a word in What’s GNU?”
“What’s GNU? Cards scattered everywhere make it way too overwhelming for my 5 year old!”

Using these suggestions and more for guidance, the product development team explored all possible updates, and, having tested countless prototypes and ideas firsthand, I can confidently say that the refreshed versions of these two games are greatly improved as a result!

Updates include:
Zingo!

  • Double-sided tiles!
  • Zingo! Zinger now features easy reload slots that let players pop tiles back in as they play! No more tiles littering the floor means fewer missing pieces… and makes clean up a snap!
  • New tile and image distribution means a winner every time!
  • Instructions feature new options for game play!
  • 2-sided cards offer 2 distinct levels of play. For beginners, the green side is less competitive. If all tiles are used, every player will fill his/her board. The image distribution on the red cards brings a much more competitive element to game play, and players must be quick to call for tiles to have a shot at victory!

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What’s GNU?

  • Now features 2 levels of play! For beginning readers, green cards feature 2 printed letters, meaning they must only fill one missing sound to complete a word. Advanced players can flip to the red side and play with 1 printed letter.
  • New letter distribution on the Word Cards and tiles for maximum word building opportunities!
  • New rules for younger players make the game less overwhelming, and instructions offer loads of play variations!
  • Red vowels highlight spelling patterns and help young readers learn word-building conventions
  • More word learning opportunities than ever with a new online 3-Letter dictionary (see the link below)!

*See some of these “GNU” updates for yourself in our online What’s GNU? game!*

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"Gnu" word cards and red vowels help early readers build words and learn spelling patterns

For these and all products, making sure we get things exactly right before launching them is about the truth of the game play itself. Obviously packaging, graphics, color scheme, etc. are vital to a product’s success, but the most stunning box in the world means nothing if the game inside doesn’t inspire players to stretch their thinking and grow as they play! It is this commitment to ensuring every game is not only as fun as possible, but also genuinely fosters the development of critical thinking and social skills, that drives our rigorous testing process conducted “in the field” (aka classroom!) by yours truly!

What makes me so proud of the games we produce is the incredible amount of research and testing that go into each product, particularly games targeted at the very youngest players. As you can see, feedback from our teacher partners and their students drives the development (and re-development) of everything we do, so your ideas and comments are ALWAYS welcome – please feel free to email me anytime!

And finally… a HUGE thank you to the many teachers and parents who tested these new games!