Tag Archives: early learning

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!

Games Teach Life Skills During Play Time!

I recently had the pleasure of being introduced to Michele Wong, coFounder of HATCH, the company behind My Plate-Mate. This guard attaches to any standard plate to prevent messy spills at mealtime and promote independent self-feeding… if that isn’t real-life problem solving I don’t know what is, it’s no wonder her family is drawn to ThinkFun games!

Michele and her family are long-time ThinkFun fans, and I’m thrilled to have her as a guest blogger sharing her story!

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Michele Wong 300x200 Games Teach Life Skills During Play Time!

The Wong Family at Play!

Like most families, we seem to always be on the run from one activity to the next.  Our house is filled with constant chatter and movement.  Well, what can you expect in a home with 3 busy kids?  We do have moments of quiet down time.   This is the perfect chance to open up our arsenal of Think Fun Games instead of turning on the TV or Xbox.  Sure, I’m all for relaxing and having fun.  But while my kids are enjoying their game time, I am content knowing that the benefits of Think Fun games reach far beyond just having a good time.

I believe that learning is not merely about memorizing charts and tables in school.  It is also about creative problem solving – applying and modifying what you know to new and changing situations, looking for solutions from different angles.  All Think Fun games stimulate creative problem solving.  In the process they can also strengthen wonderful characteristics such as patience, flexibility, and self-confidence.  These are skills that will not only benefit my children in school today, but they are important life skills that I hope they will embody and carry with them through the years.

Now back to the fun.  As a Mom (family maid, referee, taxi driver, etc) I must comment on the other appreciated perks of Think Fun Games.  I LOVE that each game is housed in its own draw string pouch.  Finish the game, pile in the pieces, cinch up the bag and Voila!  Done!  These pouches also make games easy to pack and travel.  Our games have accompanied us (and saved my sanity) on an 18 hr road trip, camping trips, long airplane rides and even longer hours stranded at the airport.  The games work well played alone, collaboratively with a partner or in team competition form.

Our Family Favorites-

Rush Hour Jr. – A super fun and mentally challenging game that promotes strategy development.   It’s addictive to both children and adults alike.   And let’s face it, everyone wants to help rescue the Ice Cream Man.

Square by Square- A great game to build spatial relationships and pattern matching skills.  This is another hit for players of all ages.  Our family likes to play timed rounds in teams- kids vs. the adults.  It’s funny to watch the parents break out in a sweat as the kids “school” us in this game.

Block by Block- Another great game that promotes spatial awareness in a 3D puzzle format.  This is always popular with children who enjoy building activities.

River Crossing Jr. and Tip Over- Both excellent games that promote visual and spatial awareness as well as strategic planning.

Zingo- This is a favorite game for youngsters that involves matching as well as shape and pattern recognition.  Also promotes identification of site words and letters.   Just the sight of the “Stinky Feet” is enough to crack my kids up.

Keep up the great work Think Fun!  Our family can’t wait to enjoy and be challenged by what you come up with next.

The Wong Family

Happy Math Day!

This morning I had the pleasure of joining McKinley Elementary students in Arlington, VA for their annual Math Day!

McKinley 2010 021 300x201 Happy Math Day!

Playing Rush Hour makes everyone smile!

Math Day is a fabulous school-wide celebration of mathematical thinking, during which students literally wear their love of numbers on their sleeves (and often their faces!), decking themselves out in number-themed clothing and painting their favorite digits on their faces and arms!

And the icing on the cake… the day is spent playing mind-challenging ThinkFun games!

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Chocolate Fix was a hit! Students built logical deduction skills and worked up an appetite for lunch as they played!

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This Hoppers player has great taste in games... and sports teams :)

While older players enjoyed games like Rush Hour, Chocolate Fix, Hoppers, and many, many more, younger students had a blast playing games like Hoppers Jr, S’Match, and Ducks in a Row!

McKinley 2010 0371 201x300 Happy Math Day!

Who can make a S'Match?!

McKinley 2010 0381 201x300 Happy Math Day!

The S'Match Spinner can withstand even the most energetic whacks!

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Who will be first to get his Ducks in a Row?

Our designer Josh (that’s right, the tall one from Toy Fair!) brought a prototype of a new game we’re developing, and we had a great time testing with expert kindergarten critics!  It’s amazing how much you learn about game play when you get it into the hands of a child, and kids light up when they have the opportunity to be “official product testers,” such fun!

McKinley 2010 052 300x201 Happy Math Day!

Guess who came along for the ride?  Zingo to Go! Check out our Facebook Page to see more photos of the places this new game has traveled!

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Zingo! to Go celebrates Math Day with some new friends!

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Things got a little zany near the end...!

I always love the opportunity to get into schools and see our games in action — what a great Math Day this was!  Do you have a favorite math game?  Please share!

5 Rules For Evaluating So-Called Educational Toys

The following post is by Wendy Smolen.  Wendy is a regular guest blogger at Toy Whimsy and co-founder of Sandbox Summit®, a series of conferences that explore the synergy between play and technology.

The ABC’s of Educational Toys

abcs 300x225 5 Rules For Evaluating So Called Educational ToysIt’s almost unavoidable. Every toy in your toddler’s playroom, from cell phone-shaped rattles to push toys to stacking blocks and caterpillars, seems to be decked out with alphabets. Is this part of our obsession to make kids smarter, faster, sooner? Should you specifically look for toys with ABCs? Or should you leave them on the shelf?

I talked to experts Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Professor in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and author of Einstein Never Used Flashcards: How Children Really Learn and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less (Rodale Books) and Dr. Alice Wilder, Ed.D., Chief Content Officer for Kidos, Co-Creator of Think It Ink It Publishing, and Co-Creator and Head of Research and Education for the PBS show Super Why!

Based on their insights, here are 5 basic rules to educate yourself about so-called educational toys.

1.Having the alphabet on a toy doesn’t automatically make it educational.
PLAY IS HOW KIDS LEARN. Do I need to say it louder? Every toy has a purpose. A ball, a drum, a stuffed animal, a picture puzzle — they all teach. Sharing, cause and effect, nurturing, motor skills, spatial arrangement– these are the childhood basics. Whether a ball has the alphabet written on it or the teddy bear recites a poem is secondary to the play value of the toy itself. As kids age, alphabet recognition becomes more important as a pre-reading skill, but it should be fun, not work. And you should know what’s realistic for a kid to learn at each age and stage of development. “Children don’t really need to master letter recognition and letter/sound connections until kindergarten,” explains Dr. Wilder.  “Having said that, surrounding children with books and words, playing with words and letters through games, songs, oral storytelling, and writing to communicate messages will all build the foundation for pre-reading. Preschooler’s toys should stimulate their curiosity and imaginations to explore the world and draw connections so what they are playing becomes a richer, deeper learning experience.”

2. A “pretend computer” with a qwerty keyboard is not necessarily better– or worse — than an alphabetical keyboard.
I’m all for tech preparedness. Kids in the 21st century need to know how to master the technology that makes up their world. I guarantee kids will see and recognize qwerty keyboards long before they’re able to start texting. But when they are first learning letters and sounds, an alphabetical keyboard may have some advantages over a qwerty. “There isn’t a lot of research on qwerty keyboards, “ explains Dr. Hirsh-Pasek. “Since young kids initially learn their letters in order, both by seeing them and singing them, an alphabetized keyboard at first seems more logical.  Once kids recognize the letters, followed by the sounds they make, using a qwerty keyboard presents a realistic challenge. Then you can encourage them to, ‘find an A,’ which isn’t at the beginning of the keyboard. Think of an alphabetical keyboard as level one, a qwerty as level 3. It’s all about readiness.”

Dr. Wilder believes that young kids will be able to adapt their knowledge to a new way of presenting information without much difficulty and learning in the context of real life objects or technology makes a lot of sense.   “Learning the order of the alphabet is less important than knowing each letter, the sounds each letter makes and the fact that letters come together to make words that have meaning. The way that I see it is that I know how smart children are and they can learn anything if given an appropriate context and motivation.”

Bottom line: you need to know your own child’s level. As adults, our “toys” have both types of keyboards: alphabetizing on phones; qwerty on computers. Somehow, we’ve been able to adapt. Our kids will too.

3. Don’t expect a one-year-old to read.
“It all depends on how one defines “read,” laughs Dr. Wilder. “Children are learning literacy from the day they are born. Before they know and can understand language they can ‘read’ body language, tone of voice, and they begin to associate symbols for things that they want or need and respond accordingly.”

Learning the alphabet and letter/sound correspondences are certainly key steps every child needs to master to learn to read. Making the connection between letters and words is another critical leap. However, kids do this everyday by observing the world around them. Sitting on your lap while you read a book, riding in a car and seeing road signs and bill boards, recognizing a McDonald’s logo—these are all ways kids prep to read.

“Encouraging strong language skills is one of the most important lessons you can teach your young child,” stresses Dr. Hirsh-Pasek.  Reading, telling a story, or carrying on a narrative about what you’re doing are the most natural ways to do this. One-year-olds may love to look at books and turn pages, but very, very, few can actually read “words.”

4. Any toy that sings the ABCs is good.
“Singing songs, understanding the words sung in a song, and associating the words with meaning are the important components of singing any song,” says Dr. Wilder. When kids imitate their stuffed animal or toy truck singing the ABCs, the song is a mnemonic for remembering the letters. In that context, any toy that encourages singing is good. Most three-year-olds, and many younger kids love singing the Alphabet Song. “But we need to take the alphabet out of the context of order to help kids understand the real meaning of the song.”

5. Playing together doubles the fun — and learning.
You — the parent, caretaker, or grownup– are your child’s best (and probably favorite) toy. Of course you want him to learn the alphabet, read books, and be able to navigate technology in all kinds of ways. Toys that encourage kids to practice these skills are welcome additions to any playroom. Just don’t forget about the simple bouncing balls, baby dolls, blocks and bikes. These are just as necessary as toys with words and letters. But most important of all, know that when you talk, laugh, read, pretend, and share everyday activities with your child you reinforce the basic skills he needs to interact with the world in an age-appropriate and fun-loving manner. And that’s exactly what an educational toy should do.

I am THRILLED to be attending the upcoming Sandbox Summit in May at MIT! Click here to learn more about this conference!

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!

Whats GNU review 300x225 Games bring GNU learning opportunities to homeschoolers!

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!

S’Match Supports Speech Therapy Sessions (say that 3 times fast!)

The following post is by speech-language pathologist Sherry Artemenko, featured on her Playonwords blog

smatch playing275 206x300 SMatch Supports Speech Therapy Sessions (say that 3 times fast!)

Strengthen language skills through play!

SPEECH THERAPY GAMES: S’ MATCH BY THINKFUN

I use fun commercial games for speech therapy all the time. Some are valuable as a reinforcer after a turn of saying a sound, practicing a language structure or using appropriate social language. It is helpful if they are fast paced and turns are quick to keep the session going. But some games have a bit of language learning embedded in them too. I have blogged about Richard Scarry’s Busytown and Mystery Garden for learning association and categorization.

A new game that just came out, S’ Match, by Thinkfun, can be used as a reinforcer or to learn language categories. You have to know the story behind the invention of this game. When I was at the Toy Fair, I spoke with Thinkfun’s Education and Curriculum Specialist and she said the Staples Easy Button and a salad spinner inspired the pop up spinner kids love that turns the dial to point to one of three attributes: color, number or category. Players turn over two cards and try to match images according to the attributes, making this a more complex memory game.

I first used the game with a little girl working on her /s/ sound. Every time we got a match we said, “S’ Match!” and each time we spun the wheel we said, “Spin the s’match.” When it stopped, we said, “I spun color, or category.” Interestingly enough, when kids didn’t make a match according to the spinner, they still called out the kind of match they got. For instance, if they had to match by category but uncovered two orange cards, they would say, “Smatch for color,” making a verbal note of where to find that match should they need it in the future. To reinforce categories, we would say, “a s’match for vehicles,” naming the category. Each sturdy cardboard card has the image as well at the words to encourage literacy.

Don’t forget to always look for a little language in a game.

Sherry Artemenko, MA-CCC, is a speech-language pathologist with more than 35 years experience and founder of Playonwords.com. The opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the author. “S’Match” was provided for review by Thinkfun.

Zingo!… adored by preschoolers and dinosaurs alike!

Proof that Zingo! truly is a game for everyone… young, old, even extinct!

Dino Zingo 225x300 Zingo!... adored by preschoolers and dinosaurs alike!

Looks like Stegosaurus has some catching up to do...

Doggie Zingo 300x225 Zingo!... adored by preschoolers and dinosaurs alike!

Wonder who will be the first to cover the "dog" image!?

Check out the new updates we’ve recently made to improve Zingo! game play!

Do you have a Zingo! lover at home?   Email me your photos, and I’ll feature them in an upcoming post icon smile Zingo!... adored by preschoolers and dinosaurs alike!

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!

Monopoly 300x198 Revisiting the Classics...

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!

The “Right” Way to Praise a Child

In a recent post I shared a study by Psychologist Carol Dweck that revealed the possible negative impact of evaluative praise (“You’re Smart!”) on a child’s willingness to take risks and challenge him/herself.

This article, offered by the University of Minnesota as a resource for families, shares more specific insight on the ways in which broad, Evaluative praise such as “You’re great,” “You’re wonderful” can do more harm than good, creating dependency and insecurity.

Descriptive praise, on the other hand, builds self-esteem and reinforces specific successes, helping children become independent, creative thinkers and doers.  Instead of looking to somebody else for approval, they trust themselves and their own judgment and learn to make corrections based upon their own evaluations.

Effective praise comes in 2 parts:  First, the adult describes a specific contribution or effort the child has made and expresses appreciation.  (“I see you’re ready to go to recess. You picked up your toys, put on your jacket, and got in line.”)  Second, the child, hearing the accomplishment described, draws conclusions based on this specific statement and praises him or herself, (“I know how to plan ahead and be responsible.”)

Parents guide praise The Right Way to Praise a Child

The S'Match Parent's Guide encourages parents to support young players with descriptive praise

Descriptive praise has two parts:

  • Describe what you see and hear.
  • Describe what you feel.

For a mother, telling her son, “You’re so strong” is not as effective in building self-esteem as saying “That was really a heavy load. Thanks for your help.” This boy can then think to himself, “I must be pretty strong.  Mom thought I was a good helper.”  These internal conclusions are much more believable to the child than a parent’s general value judgment.

As a teacher I found it enormously helpful to post language around my room like “I notice…” and “I like the way you…” to prompt me to make these kind of reinforcing, descriptive statements. This type of praise takes more work and may not come as naturally as first, but the benefits to your children and students are worth it!

Have any tips on how to “retrain” the ways in which we praise our children?  Please share!

Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

Here’s a photo of a real-life Rush Hour traffic jam sent to me by Laura Efinger, a pediatric occupational therapist (and big Rush Hour fan!) in Cairo, Egypt.  Laura writes, “I have attached a picture of some Cairo traffic, which may explain why we love Rush Hour in Egypt! icon smile Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!  Some is parking and some traffic, but it probably is the worst in the world, and no one follows the lines in the road and rules!”

cairo traffic jam Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

A Real Life Traffic Jam in Cairo, Egypt

All that’s missing is the Red Car!

Picture 24 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

A much more enjoyable "Traffic Jam" challenge!

For several years, Laura has used many ThinkFun games, including Rush Hour (which she reports is the hands-down favorite!) in her occupational therapy sessions with children in  Cairo, Egypt.  Laura writes, “I love them [ThinkFun games] as they develop the children’s visual motor/perceptual skills, fine motor, memory and planning skills.”

At a 2008 Occupational Therapy Conference, Laura presented a therapy-based workshop called “Recipes for Fun” in which participants were shown ways to use games like Rush Hour as tools to help children develop academic and sensory motor skills.  Looks like fun was had by all!

Cairo RH 300x225 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH2 300x225 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH1 225x300 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!Cairo RH3 300x280 Rush Hour in Cairo Egypt!

Laura is preparing for this year’s Conference which will take place at the end of the month. Here she plans to host a workshop focusing on the benefits of using card games to help children with skills such as attention, sequencing, memory, fine motor, etc.   Stay tuned for an update!

For more on Laura and her work, please visit her Occupational Therapy in Egypt blog!