Tag Archives: rush hour

GAMES on a plane!

This photo made my day!  Caryn, otherwise known as The Midlife Guru, has been testing some ThinkFun favorites as part of a new program we are exploring… and she sent me this photo and message over the weekend.

“Took [the games] with me on my trip to New York last week… Sure made the plane ride more bearable!”

Caryn RH on plane GAMES on a plane!

Taking game play to new heights!

Ever since we came out with our 3 mobile apps, they have been my trusty travel companions on long flights… one memorable red eye home from CA I worked my way through the entire Medium level on Solitaire Chess!

Solitaire Chess app 300x167 GAMES on a plane!

 However, I MUCH prefer physical game play over mobile, so I love that Caryn felt it important to stash these games in her carry on for her in-flight entertainment and plan to follow suit on my upcoming travels.  I can only imagine how jealous her seatmate must have been icon smile GAMES on a plane!

 

Do you bring games with you when you travel?  Which are your favorites?

Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

Last week, I had the pleasure of traveling waaaaay up north to be part of the very first TEDxEdmonton Education conference!  In the TED spirit of ideas worth spreading, this conference focused around a conversation on how learning is evolving and impacting our schools, workplaces and industries.TEDxEdmonton logo 300x134 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

This fantastic event featured speakers directly from the education world and individuals doing innovative work  in related areas.  TEDxEdmonton Education was designed to kickstart a discussion on learning.  How do we disrupt the status quo and replace traditional approaches to learning? How do we leave the politics of education behind to focus on impact and innovation?  Some incredible conversations emerged!

Bill on stage 300x224 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

The 500+ attendees included students, educators, entrepreneurs, artists, scientists, and community, technology, and business leaders across K-12 and post-secondary education… .quite a dynamic crowd!  Speakers included:

  • Larry Anderson, ManCap Ventures
  • Ashlyn Bernier, Graduate Students’ Association
  • David Bill, Urban School of San Francisco
  • Carla Casilli, Mozilla Foundation
  • Stephanie Lo, TED Ed
  • Bill Ritchie, ThinkFun Inc.
  • Amy Shostak, Rapid Fire Theatre
  • Kris Wells, Institute for Sexual Minority Studies & Services, University of Alberta
Recognize any names on that list?  That’s right, ThinkFun’s own Bill Ritchie was invited as a featured speaker to share his work in the space of education and building thinking skills through play!  Here he is in action…

Bills talk 300x224 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

Bill shared learnings from his 28+ years in the games industry, and his talk focused on the idea of Thinking Skills – having spent years searching for a definition and clear meaning of this term, Bill posited to the audience that people are just plain confused about what thinking skills are.  ThinkFun’s goal is to be pioneers in this space, creating programs that genuinely deliver thinking skills through playing experiences.

In Bill’s words, “We believe in the power of play to inspire kids and prepare their minds to be ready to learn, then it’s up to us to deliver the goods.”  He introduced ThinkFun’s newest Brain Lab program set to launch in November – stay tuned!

In discussing the typical way schools teach “thinking skills,” Bill shared this fantastic cartoon he dreamed up and our graphic designer created, anyone have a good caption!?

darth vader3 300x296 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

During the breaks between speaker sessions, attendees had a blast playing with ThinkFun games (even Giant Rush Hour made an appearance!)… some fun photos of the games in action:

photo 1 300x224 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

CF players e1350931074542 224x300 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

photo 2 e1350931135991 224x300 Exploring the future of learning at TEDxEdmonton Education

The conference twitter stream captured some fantastic highlights of Bill’s talk and the conversations it sparked.

  • @maureen_parkerDo you believe in learning that is more than sugar-coated academic skills?” Bill Ritchie on creativity & thinking skills #TedxEdmonton
  • @puneetasandhu: When thinking skills are subjugated to academic skills, they kind of lose their soul.” -Bill Ritchie #tedxedmonton
  • @carolynjcameron: #tedxedmonton Bill Ritchie thinking skills incude whole person – emotional,cognitive, metacognitive-through play and game-making#gcms #psd70
  • @deanwalls: Bill Ritchie says to move from cognitive to metacognitive by designing, instead of doing, puzzles. #tedxedmonton
  • @wrice1978The importance of emotional, cognitive and meta cognitive skills and engagement to build thinking skills via Bill Ritchie. #tedxedmonton
  • @mmichellelam: “Play is what makes the world go around.” – in a conversation I had with Bill Ritchie from @ThinkFun #tedxedmonton”

I look forward to sharing a link to Bill’s talk once it is posted next month – stay tuned!

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

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

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…

 Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure.

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.

AwQrMSeCMAADRxk Rush Hour: An Autism Adventure

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.

 

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.

RushH 5000 HiResSpill 300x300 Drop Everything and PLAY!           Choco 1530 HiResSpill 300x300 Drop Everything and PLAY!

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!

Playing Puzzles Builds Artisanship

The following post is by Neil Denny, a collaborative lawyer, trainer and author.  Neil lives in Bath with his wife, two children, and their guinea pigs – he originally shared this post on his blog Get Artisan. You can follow Neil on Twitter.

 

June 11, 2012

I spent yesterday afternoon exploring my geeky games, toys and puzzle collection with my children and I was struck with what I learned.

Watching my children become completely absorbed by these excellent ThinkFun made me think about the artisan theme of complexity.

Here is my son playing the River Crossing puzzle.  I think he is only playing the first or second level out of 40 graded challenges.  It was amazing to watch though.

Get Artisan River Crossing Playing Puzzles Builds Artisanship

Neil's son takes on a River Crossing challenge

He would pick up a piece, try it, replace it if it did not work and try with something else.

He would pause and think, working out a new hypothesis and then test that.  If it worked he went on relentlessy to the challenge until, eureka! he had crossed the river.

At the same time his sister was playing Rush Hour.  She would touch this car or that lorry, move it or, if it could not be moved, try another.  (This idea of physically connecting with the work is a key thought of John Ruskin and craftmanship – more on that later)

I loved that there were no self-recriminations if they had got it wrong but, instead, a playful frustration, accompanied by giggles and squeals of “It’s making my brain hurt!” as they set about another attempt.

Whenever a puzzle had been solved there was a real hunger to move onto the nextharder level.

Thinking Fun games have brilliant shaped learning curves so that the next challenge is always a little bit harder.  As we progress through these successive challenges then our skill and mastery grows too.  We are able, through effort, struggle and gradual progression to build up to sophisticated levels of complex problem solving reasonably quickly.

The struggle is important.  Just reading the answer cards will not bring about learning.  We simply lose that ability to make and refine  the synaptic connections that will help us in future problems.

As adults, and as professionals, it is very easy to lose this playfulness.  We can get caught in believing that we know it all.  At the very least, we can caught up in what I call “The Expert’s Curse”, namely a self deluding conceit that if I convince myself that I know all I need to then I can call myself expert.

All the time we see professionals dismissing novel ideas without even a hint of curiosity.

We see reductive thinking where anything new or challenging is reduced to be an example or evidence of something we already know or have already dismissed.

Imagine my son saying, as he sets up the next harder challenge… “Oh, this is similar to the last one I did.  I can do River Crossing…”

The moment my son believes he is an expert at River Crossing, or my daughter at Rush Hour, well, that is the moment they stop reaching for the next challenge and continuing to grow.

Design for Change Empowers Students to Change Their World!

The following guest post is shared by Sanjli Gidwaney, the Country Coordinator for the incredible Design for Change USA organization!  Sanjli first introduced readers to DFC in this 2010 guest post, and the organization continues to do incredible things to inspire creative social change – ThinkFun is thrilled to support them! 

Design for Change banner 300x64 Design for Change Empowers Students to Change Their World!

Children are not passive recipients of modern day pop culture and television overload, they are activators and change makers of their schools, communities and the world!

My name is Sanjli Gidwaney from Design for Change USA, a national school challenge engaging children in service learning projects with lasting benefit to their community. Design for Change USA (DFC) is part of a larger global movement involving millions of students and teachers from over 30+countries. We hope to empower students to address challenges which affect them directly by infecting them with the spirit of I CAN and tasking them with four simple steps:

  1. Feel anything that bothers you
  2. Imagine a way to make it better
  3. Do the act of change
  4. Share your story with the world

Last year, what started off as a small test pilot with a handful of students and educators, has now become a national campaign placing the USA at the forefront of service learning. This year, DFC received entries from coast to coast. Submissions ranged from buying basic necessities for children living in homeless shelters to sending letters of gratitude to United States Service Members. Teachers and students went above and beyond the call to action and we should all be very proud of their efforts.

The winning entry this year came from Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco.  Their project, The ONE LESS Campaign, is designed to create communal awareness about the consequences of not only the production but also the purchase of non-organic clothing.

Design for Change 2011 winners 300x224 Design for Change Empowers Students to Change Their World!

Students from Lick-Wilmerding High School in San Francisco - Winners of Design for Change USA

In an attempt to pay it forward, the students at Lick-Wilmerding requested that the DFC team share their prize with the incredibly deserving children at the Vincent Academy, a new charter school serving a challenged community in Oakland. This is the truest representation of the spirit behind DFC.  Here are some wonderful photos of the students at Vincent Academy enjoying their new brain games!

IMG 0469 300x225 Design for Change Empowers Students to Change Their World!

IMG 0470 300x225 Design for Change Empowers Students to Change Their World!

We’d like to thank ThinkFun, our wonderful sponsors for their generous donation of over $500 worth of ThinkFun games. We believe that children learn best when they’re having fun and who does it better than ThinkFun?  It is the creative and team building skills learned through games such as Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix, which will enable students throughout the USA to brainstorm, create and execute on their plans to improve their schools and communities! Thank you for all your support and for believing in our mission.

 

DFC is a 100% volunteer run and we would not be where we are today without the support of passionate teachers and organizations who also believe that children are the drivers of change. If you are interested in finding out how you can get involved, please visit us at, www.designforchange.us or email us at info@designforchange.us .

Here is what you can do today:

  1. Spread the word about DFC by sharing the link with family and friends
  2. Sign up your school/organization
  3. Volunteer to lead a project at your child’s school/organization/sports team

By participating in Design for Change, you will be joining millions of students and educators around the world saying, yes I CAN.

ThinkFun Games Ignite Minds in a 7th Grade Math Class!

This story is shared by Lori Mullarkey, an incredible 7th Grade Math Teacher in Nebraska City!

 

Because so many students feel defeated before even giving math a chance in 7th grade, my classroom philosophy is to encourage students to like math more at the end of the year than at the beginning. I have found that doing several hands-on activities and giving time for problem solving games does just this! ThinkFun games help students feel a sense of mastery in math which they have seldom had before. The beginner levels meet students where they are at and give them a sense of accomplishment as they pass each challenge. Students continue to be challenged as they move through the leveled cards. I have several students who are proud and excited to tell me that they just passed every card in the deck!

 ThinkFun Games Ignite Minds in a 7th Grade Math Class!

My first experience with Think Fun Games was at a High Ability Learner’s (HAL) conference. One of the sessions focused entirely on problem solving through single player games. They walked us through the general plot of each game and simply gave us time to play. It was only a few minutes before I realized I was addicted myself and had to have these games! I knew that all my students, not just my gifted learners, would love playing these games. I hoped that these games would help my at-risk students find some fun and motivation in school (even if it was from problem solving games), so I purchased a small handful just to test them out in my room. The result has been amazing and I soon had a wish list a mile long for my classroom!

 

As the year progressed, I noticed that students would ask to play the games as soon as they entered the room. As other students began watching, they too would start begging to play and “calling” particular games at the beginning of the period. Knowing I did not have enough games for each student, I told students once their assignment was completed, they could choose a game for the remainder of class. Once all the games were chosen, they could play quietly in partners. Sure enough, I had almost all of my students focused on finishing their homework in order to play the game of their choice! Our MathCounts club also loved them so much we began fundraising in order to purchase more games for the room.

 

Over the past 2 years, I have collected nearly 40 different single player games and created a small problem solving station in my room. In addition to the games, I also purchased a cube storage unit with 5 different drawers. Each drawer is a particular type of game. Drawer 1: Navigation Station: Rush Hour, Roadside Rescue, Stormy Seas, etc. Drawer 2: Shape It Up: Shape by Shape, Block By Block, Square By Square, Tangrams, etc. Drawer 3: More Think Fun Games: Games that were created by Think Fun but I didn’t have enough of the same type to designate a drawer. Drawer 4: Educational Insight Games (similar to those of Think Fun), Drawer 5: Other: for smaller brainteasers (think fun also has several of these). Since these are designed to be single-player games, students simply take them back to their desk to play once their assignment is finished. There is also an eight-foot table in the back of our room for when partners or small groups want to work on a game together.

 

At the beginning of this year, I took a class period to explain the problem solving behind each game to all of my classes. Students were told that once they completed their assignment they may ask and select a game to play for the remainder of the period. About once a quarter, or before holidays, we have a problem solving day instead of having class. I set a game on each desk, and students shift over one seat every 10 minutes trying the various games in their row. At the end of the period, we spend time discussing the problem solving used in various games and students discuss how they would rate particular games.

 

I also am the sponsor for our MathCounts club, and students frequently request problem solving game days! The eighth grade students involved in MathCounts said they joined just for the problem solving games and the sixth grade students also love the chance to play them. Since there are not as many students as a typical class, we can focus a day on geometry and do the shape puzzles, or have a rush hour morning instead of practicing math problems. They simply can’t get enough!

 

Classroom favorites include: any of the Rush Hours, Shape by Shape, Roadside Rescue, 36 Cube, Hot Spot, and Chocolate Fix. As said before, most students stick with a particular game until they have mastered all of the cards. These games not only challenge kids, but my husband and I master a card at each level before bringing them to school for the students to play.

The Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck

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

Asperkids fmaily The Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck

Jennifer and her playful family!

The Perspective from a Plastic Ice Cream Truck

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Destination ImagiNation: Where Human Frogs, Duct Tape Princesses, & Creative Problem Solving Unite!

Holy Smokes!  I’ve just returned from an incredible week in Knoxville, TN at the Destination ImagiNation Global Finals!  This massive celebration showcased creative problem solving at its finest, bringing together over 20,000 kids and adults from 1,276 teams – 45 states, 7 Canadian provinces, and 13 countries!

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The Opening Ceremony featured indoor fireworks - the kids' energy shook the arena! Click here to see a complete video of the light show!

The DI Global Finals brings together top teams from all over the world whose participants have made it through many rounds of competition to get here.  We met teams who had driven over 20 hours to get there, (and from their energy upon arrival we are guessing this was a very spirited ride!), and we met kids in the US for the very first time who had flown in from China, Korea, Guatemala, and Poland!

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This Korean team pooled their brainpower to solve Chocolate Fix challenge #40!

Throughout the week, teams present their unique challenge (chosen from the 6 options provided at the start of the year) and also showcase their think-on-your-toes problem-solving skills in an Instant Challenge.  Hats off to the master scheduler who was able to slot in 2,552 unique performance times for all the participating teams, an amazing feat of problem solving if I’ve ever seen one!

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An "Assembly Required" challenge in action

When teams weren’t presenting, there was LOADS of fun to be had all over the University of Tennessee Campus, with activities that included outdoor concerts, family camps, a Duct Tape Costume Ball (yes, you read that right!), a Glo Ball (featuring enough neon body paint and glow sticks to light a stadium!), the Improv Fiesta, and so much more!

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These ladies arrive to the duct tape ball in style!

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Duct Tape Couture!

ThinkFun was thrilled to be featured in the EXPO Hall, where we set up a booth dedicated to PLAY!  Luckily, these kids are experts in the field, and we had a blast playing with thousands of kids from all over the world throughout the week.

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A team from Arkansas shows of a 12-CARD SWISH!

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Problem solving is sweeter with ice cream (9am, by the way!)

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Love the hair! This kid had a special kinship with the red Hoppers frog!

We set up dozens of hands-on games, presented giant brainteasers, challenged teams to step into human-sized versions of classic ThinkFun games, and featured team versions of classics like Rush Hour.  Want more?  Here’s a quick video of our booth in action!

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Pooling brainpower to tackle tough giant matchstick puzzles!

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Kids transformed into frogs to play Giant Hoppers!

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A team collaborates to solve 4 Rush Hour games at once!

ThinkFun was thrilled to partner with Destination ImagiNation to support this year’s Global Finals, and we are very excited to continue working with this incredible network of innovative kids all over the world!  One thing’s for sure – I’ll never look at a roll of duct tape quite the same again!

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4 rolls, endless wardrobe possibilities...

 

“More!” you say?! Here’s a great collection of photos from the week!