Tag Archives: rush hour

Puzzle Piazza Summer Camp… a game lover’s dream!

Last summer I spent a fabulous day at camp – Puzzle Piazza camp that is!  The MathTree Puzzle Piazza program is a super fun DC-area summer camp that uses ThinkFun puzzles and games like Rush Hour to teach problem solving strategies through play… a game lovers dream!  In the following guest post, MathTree founder Lynn Salvo shares her lifelong love of puzzles and her mission to empower kids with thinking tools learned through the joy of play!

Lynn Salvo 150x150 Puzzle Piazza Summer Camp... a game lovers dream!

moz screenshot Puzzle Piazza Summer Camp... a game lovers dream!

PUZZLE PIAZZA:

A SUMMER CAMP THAT USES PUZZLES TO TEACH PROBLEM-SOLVING STRATEGIES

I am 7 years old.  My family has just enjoyed a delicious dinner of Chinese food at Jimmy Wu’s in downtown Baltimore.  We are at the cash register waiting to pay.  I am eye level with a showcase lined with red silk, beautifully and mysteriously lit, displaying lovely wooden barrels, spheres, cubes, and other objects.  This particular day, I am entranced with a w ooden Chinese gate that I can see is made of many interlocking pieces.  When it is time to go and I cannot unglue my eyes from it, my dad, an engineer who intuits my intrigue with it, buys it for me.  It is to be the first of a lifelong collection of puzzles.

At home, I fiddle with it and gently twist a knobby piece.  Suddenly, the entire structure crumbles into an incoherent puddle, dissembled as if it had been shaken apart by an earthquake.  Initially aghast, my puzzle-solving passion is born as I try to reconstruct the lovely wooden gate.  As the puzzle is well beyond my abilities at that age, it takes some intervention from my engineer dad to interpret the cryptic solution printed on delicate rice paper.  Once reassembled, the wooden gate came apart and went back together so many times that I could eventually do it effortlessly by heart.  While I didn’t figure out the solution myself, I did have the satisfaction of being able to “get” the mysterious object.

Now, more than half a century later, my intrigue with puzzles is sharper than ever and has taken a new twist.  I’ve turned it into a deliberate experience for children called Puzzle Piazza – A Problem-Solving Picnic for Kids.

 

 

The focus of the camp is to provide children the opportunity, through puzzle play, to develop and capture general problem-solving strategies that work for puzzles and also for life.  The campers work puzzles, mostly 3-D ones like the one that captivated me so long ago, some easy and some extremely challenging.  No matter the complexity of the puzzle, at some point the solver has an Aha moment that reveals the solution.  Instead of rushing on to the next puzzle, we have the campers stop for a few moments and think about what led them to that magical Aha moment and to record a journal entry on their puzzle experience.

The journal entry is short. Prompts help the children record notes, sometimes drawing the puzzle and their solution to it.  Often, campers need to solve the puzzle again to answer the questions, but this helps them capture their process and facilitates their recognition of that important Aha moment.

For younger campers, thinking about thinking can be a difficult activity.  We prompt them with questions like, “If you were going to give me a hint on how to solve this puzzle, what would you tell me?”  This one question seems to open their thought process and helps them start to see the strategies they have used.  Campers learn to solve puzzles with intention and to develop persistence, qualities beneficial for many types of learning and problem-solving.  Over a period of days, a camper can work many puzzles and have many Aha moments that result in discovery and deep learning.   By the end of their experience, they have accumulated a basketful of general problem-solving strategies applicable to puzzles, math, school, and life.  Introducing your child to problem solving early on will help him or her become a better thinker all around (or a puzzle aficionado like me).

In the DC-area and looking for a fun, brain-building summer activity? Learn more about the MathTree Puzzle Piazza summer program!

The Today Show Celebrates Smart Toys for Smarter Girls and Boys!

What a thrill to wake up this morning and see Stephanie Oppenheim on the Today Show in a segment featuring games that support learning through play! Even better? She shared two ThinkFun games that are very close to my heart – Zingo 1-2-3 and Rush Hour – both the physical game and the app!

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I worked closely with our Product Development team to fine tune the design and game play for Zingo! 1-2-3, so it was a very proud moment to see this game celebrated for the fun way it builds number sense skills and reinforces math facts!

Love to see healthy brain play being celebrated!

Is Your Child an iPad Addict?!

Yesterday, New York Times technology columnist David Pogue shared this very funny, and very insightful post on the captivating hold his iPad has over his 6 year old son:

pogue main 299x74 Is Your Child an iPad Addict?!

A Parent’s Struggle With a Child’s iPad Addiction

I think my 6-year-old is addicted to the iPad.

He asks for it constantly. He wants to use it in the car. He wants to use it at every unscheduled moment at home. He brings it to the dinner table.

When I tell him it’s time to shut off the iPad and head up to bed, or put his shoes on, or head out to the bus, he doesn’t hear me the first three times I ask. Sometimes, he gets bizarrely upset when I say I have to take it away now — out-of-character upset. That’s what makes me think he’s addicted.

And trust me — having read The New York Times series on the physiological effects of electronics on young minds, I’m plenty worried.

Now, before you begin sending the volleys of “bad parent” e-mails, let me reassure you: I’ve described what my son wants, not what he gets. We do have policies. The rule for my three kids is: no electronics on school days except what you actually need for schoolwork. No gadgets at mealtime or bedtime. Gadgets are O.K. when you’re home sick or in the car for long trips.

My older two kids manage to stick with those rules (mostly). My youngest, though, asks for that darned iPad constantly.

And I’ll be straight with you: I generally enforce the rule, but sometimes it’s tough. Because, let’s face it: When he’s on the iPad, he’s happy. He’s quiet. He’s engaged. And in this family, the two older siblings form a tween bloc (my oldest are 13 and almost 12), and then there’s a big age gap. So it can be hard to find activities, games or conversations that involve all three simultaneously.

The iPad is a magic electronic babysitter that creates instant peace in the household. If you told me you’d never, even occasionally, be tempted to hand it over, I’d say I doubt you.

What makes my feelings on this subject even more complicated is that, in general, my 6-year-old isn’t playing mindless video games. He’s not allowed to play shoot-‘em-ups or violent games at all. Instead, he’s encouraged to play creative apps — and most of the time, he does.

He spends hours, for example, playing with Puppet Pals, an amazing free app that lets you create animated cartoons. You choose a backdrop — say, the Wild West, or a pirate ship. Then you drag cutout characters around with your fingers; you can move them left, right, up, down, or forward and backward (they get smaller when you move them farther away). You provide the dialogue yourself. The app records everything you do, both audio and character motions. Later, you can play back the whole thing for your proud papa. Yes, my 6-year-old is creating his own animated shorts.

He also loves EasyBeats, a music app where you lay down one instrument track at a time, as the four-measure pattern loops over and over. He builds complex rhythms, one layer at a time.

Come on, how can apps like that be bad for a kid? Is it really that much different from playing with paper cutouts? Or blocks? Or a toy drum set?

When he does play games, he favors thinking games like Cut the Rope (a clever physics-based puzzle game) or Rush Hour (strategy puzzles). Heck, even Angry Birds involves some thinking. You have to plan ahead and calculate and use resources wisely.

iPadScreenShot 300x225 Is Your Child an iPad Addict?!

Rush Hour iPad app

In the old days, we used to tut-tut about how much TV kids watched — but parents usually made an exception for educational shows like “Sesame Street” and “Between the Lions.” How is this any different? Shouldn’t we make exceptions for creative and problem-solving apps?

In other words, I’m doing a lot of thinking lately. Is a gadget automatically bad for our children just because it’s electronic? What if it’s fostering a love of music, an affinity for theater and expertise in strategy and problem-solving? Is it a bad thing for a kid to be so much in love with mental exercises? Am I really being a good parent by yanking THAT away?

For now, I’m trying to live by the mantra, “Moderation in all things.” As long as iPad use is part of a balanced diet of more physical play and non-electronic activities, I think my little guy will probably be O.K.

Weigh in!  Do you give your child access to your smart phone/iPad?  Are there particular apps that you’ve found to be particularly engaging/effective as learning tools?

Playing Games with Problem Solving!

The following post is by Dawn Morris, whose blog Moms Inspire Learning focuses on resources and strategies to inspire lifelong learning, reading, and leading.  A former CPA, Dawn changed careers and earned an M.A. in Childhood Education and now shares her passion for teaching kids to embrace a lifelong love of learning!

The following is an excerpt from Dawn’s recent post on problem solving games.  Read her complete article here!

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Sometimes, it amazes me how much out-of-the-box thinking can be packaged inside one game box.

Even if you just have a deck of cards, there are probably millions of different games which can be played – not to mention ones you think up on your own. It doesn’t matter which one you play, as long as you do take time out to play it!  Just as my daughter started to cook on her own, children will eventually start to play games on their own as well.

We love to play all kinds of board and card games together.  And we’ve done that ever since they were toddlers, really. There are games out there for all ages. It doesn’t matter what kind of game it is, as long as it’s unplugged. Video games can be educational too, but we have to limit them like any other form of screen time.

As my sister-in-law is a very busy mom of three, I’m always on the lookout for toys, games, and books which will make her life a little easier.  So, wanting similar gifts for my 8 year old twin nephews, I ended up purchasing  Chocolate Fix Playing Games with Problem Solving! and Rush Hour Playing Games with Problem Solving!. They’re geared to children over the age of 8, but people of all ages will love the challenge of them, as there are 4 levels of play.

Before I tell you just a little bit about each of these games, let me just tell you I love most about them: they can be played independently, or with a partner, AND they’re portable and can be played anywhere – even in the car! What a great, unplugged way to keep children (and even teens) entertained and busy while you do something else.

 Playing Games with Problem Solving! Chocolate Fix comes with 9 “chocolates,” a little notebook of different patterns to solve (kind of like Sudoku, but with colors and shapes), a game tray, and a bag to store it all in. As long as there aren’t any toddlers around, who might actually try to eat the chocolates, it’s a great game to leave out on the coffee table or in your car. Whenever a family member has a spare ten minutes, like when a child is waiting for you to finish something, what a great way to sneak a little fun and problem solving in there!

The same goes for the award winning Rush Hour, only there are individual cards instead of a notebook, and there are 16 cars and trucks, instead of chocolates. This game is a little different, though, in that you arrange the trucks on the game board according to the cards (from beginner to expert). Then, you have to find a way to get the red car out of traffic. It’s literally stuck between the other cars, and you have to move them around (forward and backward only) to clear a path. What a great way to keep children busy while you’re stuck in traffic!  ThinkFun Rush Hour Jr. Playing Games with Problem Solving! is available for even younger children.

 Playing Games with Problem Solving!Recently, ThinkFun was kind enough to send me their newest game, ThinkFun Solitaire Chess Playing Games with Problem Solving!, for review. If you’re thinking about teaching your child to how to play chess, this is the game for you!  It’s also a one player game, and you have to know how each piece moves. If you don’t already know how, it’s great practice.

Like Rush Hour and Chocolate Fix, Solitaire Chess is all about the problem solving. As a matter of fact, when we first opened up the box, it was a challenge just to figure out how to get the mats out of the game tray! They were in there snugly.

The game tray is set up like a mini Chess board, and each mat has a different combination of pieces for you to set up. The object is to capture pieces until you’re left with just one. Which one you choose to move first makes all the difference. Whether you use the “guess and check” method and just start moving pieces, or you move the pieces around in your mind before you actually move one, it’s a great exercise in spatial perception, critical thinking, and logic.

I really enjoyed playing all three of these games, as did other members of our family. They’re perfect for busy families, and can challenge people of every age. Whether you leave one out on your coffee table, or in the car, you can set it up and play within seconds.

So, the next time your child says, “Are we there yet?” or “There’s nothing to do” and you need a few more minutes of alone time, one of these games might just solve your problem.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I did!

Thinkfun Mailbag – A novel idea from 4-year old Rush Hour fan

Not only does ThinkFun have the best fans… we also get the best mail!

This letter came to us from 4 year old Sadie in California.  Sadie loves playing Rush Hour and would very much like to play at preschool while her friends are napping, the only problem is that the game is a bit too noisy for rest time.  Said wrote to us with a brilliant proposal to “shush” the game a bit, her letter is below.

Sadie letter Page 2 300x238 Thinkfun Mailbag   A novel idea from 4 year old Rush Hour fan

Sadie's Letter - click to enlarge

For those needing a translation, Sadie’s mom enclosed this letter explaining her daughter’s request:

Sadie letter mom 273x300 Thinkfun Mailbag   A novel idea from 4 year old Rush Hour fan

Sadie's Letter translated

“Rubber cars for nap” … if this isn’t problem solving at it’s finest I don’t know what is!

We love to hear these creative ideas from our customers – if you’ve got one please share – we’d love to showcase your suggestion!

Meet Max

One of the perks of working at ThinkFun is hearing about how our games affect the lives of the children that play them. Just had to share Max’s story, emailed to ThinkFun CEO Andrea Barthello by his mother Aileen… stories like this are what keep us going!

Max 300x200 Meet Max

Meet Max, a ThinkFun fan through and through!

Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today. I felt that it was important for you to hear from “just another Mom” about how terrific your products really are. My six-year old Max literally is addicted to the “Chocolate Fix” and the “Rush Hour Jr.” and my 3 year old Sophie loves Zingo which has become her special game that she plays with her Pop Pop (he’s 73 and loves the games just as much!). To watch the two of them fight over BUG or both grab for a FOOT as they scream the word is really a sight to see.

For kids like Max, finding independent games that are fun, challenging, mind-opening and clever are few and far between….. but you seem to really have a handle on this niche. Today when I took a turn at “Chocolate Fix” he made a comment like “Hurry Mommy, customers are waiting!”

If you do ever need game tester, he’d be the first to line up. He’s a true gamer….. and finds games with strategy the most interesting. He’s as competitive with himself as he is with others. And, he just loves the “purity” of your themes (the ice cream truck, chocolates in a box.) He actually finds joy in that. I have caught him making up a story about the truck and how it has to pass the sports car, fire truck, etc. to get to the kids waiting for the ice cream.

That is another element of your product that really appeals to me as a parent. The conceptual relation and problem solving strategies increase in difficulty and can become quite complex — yet you have not lost sight of the fact that the ones playing the games ARE kids. Think Fun certainly serves up unique, tickle your brain challenges but the context for the games seem to be simple, pure and fun.”

Thank you for sharing, Aileen!

An App a Day Lets a Child’s Brain Play!

This summer has seen the birth of the iPad, and an explosion of fantastic new apps for iPhone and Android platforms.  While these apps helps grownups pass time waiting in line or keep us entertained on our subway commute, many parents and teachers are finding innovative ways to use mobile apps as learning tools!

The Love2learn2day blog on math education recently featured Rush Hour in a series on educational apps which got me thinking more and more about the ways in which apps can capture learner’s enthusiasm and help teach critical thinking skills, whether more general strategic thinking or more focused math/language practice.

Marvin Hall iPad 300x200 An App a Day Lets a Child’s Brain Play!

A young puzzler in Jamaica plays Rush Hour on the iPad!

The very next day I heard from my friend Marvin Hall in Jamaica – turns out his Puzzle Yuh Brain summer program now has students playing Rush Hour on game boards and on iPads side-by-side, very cool!

Have you used mobile apps as learning tools for your children or students?  What apps have you used, and what learning benefits do you see in them?  Please share your comments here!

Rush Hour Featured at Russian Car Show!

We just received some fantastic photos from “Autoexotica,” Russia’s largest annual car  and bike show which features over 8000 vehicles!  In it’s 14th year, this year’s expo was held from July 9-11th on the Tushino airfield in Moscow.

IMG 7337   300x200 Rush Hour Featured at Russian Car Show!

Representatives from ThinkFun’s Russian partner Mart Ltd. attended the event with car magazine “Ignitione” and offered prizes for exhibition visitors who solved Rush Hour challenges.  To win a prize, visitors competed to solve 3 challenges at 3 different difficulty levels faster than their opponent.  We love these photos of the competition in action and the happy winners!

Fun fact: The total cost of all showpieces at Autoexotica was over 200 million dollars… at $19.99 the Rush Hour game seems like a pretty good deal icon smile Rush Hour Featured at Russian Car Show!

ThinkFun-Inspired Jewelery!

*Bling Bling!*
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ThinkFun-Themed Necklace!

Alicia, one of our fabulous Designers, models the incredible ThinkFun-inspired necklace she crafted with a handful of game pieces, a drill, and a whole bunch of creativity!

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Challenge: Can you name all the games represented in beads?!

Next up… diamond-encrusted Rush Hour cars!?

How do you say Rush Hour in Italian?

Ora di Punta!

I just returned from Italy (a hardship, I know!), where I spent 10 wonderful days with my husband and his amazing family.  While I’m a pretty go-with-the-flow traveler, since starting my job here at ThinkFun I do have one mildly irritating travel habit… I absolutely can not walk by a toy or puzzle store without popping in for a quick ThinkFun check!

I hit the jackpot this week in Florence, at a tucked-away little shop called Stratagemma!

Italy store1 225x300 How do you say Rush Hour in Italian?

In addition to my wonderful family, also accompanying my on this Italian adventure was…. the Zingo! To Go Zoomer!!!  Here it is, posing with it’s Italian buddies at the toy store:

Italy store22 300x225 How do you say Rush Hour in Italian?

Zingo Zoomer visits with the Italian side of the family!

Stay tuned for an upcoming post featuring more photos chronicling the  Zingo  Zoomer’s travels all over Italy!  To see where the Zoomer has traveled thus far, check out the Facebook Fan page!