The following post is by Laura Dodson, a mom to five wonderful boys. Last year, Laura, her husband, and their 2 sons adopted three boys from Uganda, and she shares their remarkable journey in her blog! Here Laura describes how language games have been tremendous tools in helping her boys in speech therapy!
The Dodson Family
In the fall of 2008, our family embarked on a new journey: adoption. We were matched with 2 little boys ages 3 and 4. We were informed the youngest, Daniel, was hearing impaired and the oldest, Jeremiah, had some speech issues. After much prayer, we decided these boys were to be our new sons–4 sons in all!
After several months of filling out paperwork [5 inches thick. yes, i measured.] and obtaining clearance from the US government, a little surprise package was added to the mix. A 5 year old package! We were flabbergasted to say the least, but overjoyed at the addition of a third boy, Alan. (Yes, we thought we were a little crazy but a little crazy is good. right? right!)
The summer of 2009 was a whirlwind. We made two trips to Uganda totaling 7 weeks in country. On the last trip, our homegrown sons Joshua and Caleb, were able to come with us. We were blessed beyond measure they could see where their new brothers were born and the caring home where they spent the first years of their lives. We landed on US soil September 24, 2009.
During our first year home, it was discovered that Daniel’s hearing impairment was due 4 years worth of thick, gluey fluid in his ears. A gracious doctor in our hometown donated her services and performed the surgery free of charge. [due to our sagging economy, Jeff had lost his job during our first trip to Uganda]. We were ecstatic to learn that his hearing was fully restored.
Over the last several months, Daniel and Jeremiah have begun speech therapy. We have a wonderful therapist who comes to our home twice a week helping the boys learn various sounds, conversational language, and master other goals like categorizing, and responding to questions appropriately. I have learned volumes from her. Therapy is game based and that is where I learned about Zingo! and S’Match.
Our homegrown boys, Joshua and Caleb, are teens. We had very little in the preschooler game department J Our therapist gave us materials to practice with Daniel and Jeremiah on the days she wasn’t here. You know what that means! Shopping!
We purchased Zingo! and What’s Gnu? As we play Zingo!, the boys must answer questions in complete sentences such as, “Do you have the house?” “No. I do not have the house.” or “Who has the tree?” Daniel answers, “Jeremiah has the tree.”
If they draw a tile they have on their card they say, “I have the heart.” I must confess, that I’ve never really liked playing games. However, Zingo! has become a favorite of mine and the boys like it, too.
In S’Match, the therapist is teaching the boys about categories and same or different. She asks questions like, “Are these the same?” Depending on what they’ve spun, and subsequently drawn, their answer takes some brain power. They are developing good thinking skills as they observe their cards. The colors may match, but if the spinner says ‘category’ they need to look past the matching colors and focus on the pictures. It’s a challenge. We plan on acquiring this game so we can reinforce what they’re learning from her.
We are more than pleased with the progress our two youngest sons are making with their speech, thinking and language skills. Playing games like Zingo! makes learning tough skills enjoyable for all! Just last weekend, I caught our teens playing Zingo! with their little brothers. My heart spilled over with joy. This first year has been a toughie in so many ways, but we’re on the upswing. And if a game like Zingo! can not only help with language, but build familial bonds as well, then I say money well spent!
I absolutely LOVE this excerpt from Heather’s “Pumpkins, Cupcakes-, and a Little Zingo!” post on her blog Kaleidoscope. Heidi’s incredible photography captures her family’s play experience beautifully, and shows her son learning an important life lesson through play!
Once upon a time, a loving yet, apparently competitive family decided to play a game of Zingo!
they laughed, smiled, and were just generally happy to be spending some time together before bedtime.
they played and played until…”ZINGO!” someone won.
beckham was victorious!
peyton just missed the train tile she needed…
or had she just not yelled out that magic word.
you see, beckham raised his hands and said, “i won!” and with a covered board…he almost had, but his big sister realized that no one had said zingo and so she quickly grabbed the victory by yelling in her loudest voice…ZINGO! it was over in a matter of seconds…
the flood gates opened.
“what? i didn’t get to win?” cried the boy.
heartbroken becks sobbed while his parents tried to remind him that the rules were the rules and that he needed to remember them in order to play the game correctly. after all, they had been practicing the rules for some time.
a hard lesson for a small boy.
soon though, the lesson paid off and the very next game he covered his board and yelled…BINGO! ha. bingo, zingo…it all works!
our sweet little guy. winning isn’t the most important part of a game. learning and doing your best is. besides, winning wouldn’t be as fun if you never lost. we love you, baby boy!
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!
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.”
I am thrilled to share the following guest post by Pia Prenevost! In her blog The Crack and the Light, Pia shares her journey raising her son Jonathan who struggles with a severe speech/language disorder.
Teaching J-man To Play
Adorable. That defines my son J-man, with big blue eyes and those lashes that cosmetic companies would kill to be able to produce. He has an easygoing personality and is remarkably bright, especially when you consider that J-man has a severe speech/language delay. He is 3 ½ years old, and his language tests at about 16-18 months old. We have had him in some type of early intervention/speech therapy since he was about 15 months old. His disabilities are unusual. He does not fit into a typical Autism Spectrum diagnosis, but his speech/language disorder is severe and has impacted his ability to both understand the world and to communicate with it.
Early on in our journey, I learned about Stanley Greenspan’s DIR/Floortime model. The Floortime model advocates meeting the child where they are at developmentally and entering their world to play. This style of play allows the building of relationships to occur, thus furthering communication and interaction. For children with significant language issues, this relationship building is incredibly important. It is also remarkably difficult for a parent. Often, these children have their own agenda. Some children on ‘the spectrum’ are withdrawn from the world, exhibiting real difficulty engaging and interacting with others. Other children with language disorders, like my son Jonathan, may have real interest in interacting and playing with others, but do not have the language skills to do so. Many times they become disengaged from others simply because of the communication barriers in place.
Our approach to play with Jonathan has therefore been very focused on meeting him where he is at developmentally. Note, not chronologically….developmentally. It can be a struggle (especially for others) to recognize that although he looks like a three year old… and at times acts like a three year old… his language is not there yet. And his play behavior follows suit.
J-man is also what I call an “extreme” visual-spatial learner and problem solver. He can do 40-50 piece interlocking puzzles. He amazed us last month with the recitation of his ABCs by identifying them on a piece of playground equipment without ever learning them from us (no doubt Sesame Street and Super Why helped). At 2 ½ years old and within one month, he went from having no words or signs to having over 40 signs, just from watching the newly acquired Signing Time videos. He constantly amazes us with his ability to learn an activity and tasks just from watching others do it, or purely through his own exploration.
Many of the toys and games we have provided J-man focus on capitalizing on these “hidden talents” while (hopefully) encouraging the acquisition of language. We have found that the most effective way to encourage learning and play is by letting him take the lead, and modeling in those moments little bits of language and communication. At times, this can be a struggle. J-man certainly prefers things to be his way. Indeed, we have often been mournfully aware that we are creating a little ‘prince’. He needs to feel successful and in control to be engaged and willing to learn, and I work hard to discover new toys and games to peek his interest. Hopefully, providing these new play opportunities will push J-man to use or try new language skills.
Some guidelines I try and live by:
1. Think outside “the box.” Recently I purchased the game Zingo! Zingo! is tagged ‘Bingo with a Zing’, and consists of a series of pieces with words/pictures and associated bingo cards. There is a plastic machine that allows you to distribute the tiles by sliding it back and forth.
Here is J-Man with Zingo! in action:
While this game is meant for older children, or children with significantly more sophisticated language skills than my boy, this game does have numerous features he loves. He loves the pieces, with the words and pictures on them. He loves matching them to the cards. He loved figuring out the machine and sliding it back and forth to get out the pieces. Each of these features capitalizes on his visual-spacial skills and his awesome problem solving abilities. However, I get to ‘backdoor’ in some language. He is exposed to words and picture associations. I label, label, label…each game tile, each action.
He engages with me, needing my help and assistance to get the game going. We practice turn-taking and following simple directions. And as he grows, this game will grow with him, as I find new and inventive ways to keep him engaged. Thinking outside of the game or toy’s original intent, and using it in new and creative ways, is important. It is also important to allow the child to just explore the game and come up with their own “story.”
2. Respect where they are at and don’t expect more than that…Today. Many a time I have been sad or frustrated that J-man doesn’t play with toys the way he is ‘suppose’ to, or the his peers play with them. However, when I remember where he is at developmentally, I realize he really is doing exactly what he needs to be doing right now. If I expected J-man to have sophisticated imaginative play right now, I am not honoring his current language development. Indeed, his imaginative play is just now starting to emerge, and it is thrilling to see.
We have loaded the house with action figures (Buzz Lightyear and Woody, anyone?!?), trains, cars, dollhouses and dress up clothes, and he is embracing this play with gusto. But he needed to do it in his own time and in his own way. He loves puzzles, problem solving toys and games, and is very intent in figuring these things out by himself. If I interrupt his play with a new, interesting toy, I will invariably get the cold shoulder. I could worry… be concerned about his ability to engage in joint attention and reciprocal play. I am not. I know him, and I recognize his intense desire to work these problems out on his own. Once he has, there is room for me in his play. Sometimes I think that the intensity he needs to engage in that new, exciting, problem solving toy is at odds with the focus needed to include me and my language filled agenda in the action. So if I step back, allow him space and quiet, I can be part of the action without interrupting the flow.
3. The play is the thing!Shakespeare was right. In the end, it really isn’t about ‘teaching’ or ‘therapy’. While toys and games can be used therapeutically, that is not their purpose either. For us, it is about having fun. Without fun, no learning would ever really take place. Focus too much on the goal of learning, and not just enjoyment of life, and we lose him. However, get his spark through fun and play, and he learns in spite of us.
Raising a child with a disability is hard. It requires more energy and commitment than anybody can imagine. It is incredibly difficult to balance the intense desire to help your child, to give your child every opportunity, and the desire to just have a normal parenting life. I made the decision some time ago that I am J-man’s mommy first, everything else second. So I think about what will help him learn, what will further his ‘therapeutic goals’, but I don’t let it be the center of our universe. We are all happier as a result.
In addition to writing the blog The Crack and the Light, Pia Prenevost works as a NICU nurse, dabbles in writing, and is the completely smitten mother of the J-man.
The power of play to reveal and strengthen a child’s cognitive abilities is incredible… what have you learned about your child by watching him/her play? What guidelines or tips have you discovered to help support his/her learning through play? Please share!
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!
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:
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!
The following guest post is by Melody Velasco, an inspired educator and grad student who shares her use of ThinkFun’s Smart Mouth game as an enrichment tool in her after school program!
I worked as an after school program coordinator at a middle school in California. Our average daily attendance was 98, so with five instructors and our ratio being 20:1, our activities had to be diverse and interesting. Challenging days took place on rainy days, boring Fridays, test days, or when students were not allowed to play on the field because of remodeling. I wanted to provide students in my after school program alternative activities. Normally on these days, each instructor coordinated various arts and crafts stations, but nothing appealed more to my students on those days than playing board games.
It even came to a point that we created an activity every Monday and Wednesday called “Board Room” in order to cater to the board-gamers interest. It gave them opportunities to talk and compete. We had a variety of board games, some with incomplete pieces, and yet our students found ways to make it work. One game that always caught my students’ attention was Smart Mouth. It was so popular I had to purchase an additional set, and although two games of Smart Mouth would be operating at the same time, the game that would be the most popular would be the one that involved me or one of my Instructors.I enjoyed competing with my students, and I am a competitive Smart Mouth player. When I originally purchased the game, my students rolled their eyes at the thought of playing with words, but all it took was my competitive nature and a student who was just as competitive to play against me. One main rule: The first person to say a word that begins with the letter to the left and ends with the letter to the right wins the tiles. How do we determine the winner? The person with the most tiles at the end of the game wins. My students even suggested that we take the tiles from the other Smart Mouth game and combine it for continuous fun.
We would begin the game with two players: me vs. student. Usually the student who claimed to just wanting to watch the game was delegated the duty as the dealer. The dealer would push the tiles back and forth out of the plastic dispenser and be the person to decide who called out the word first by handing the winner the tiles. The dealer is an important role which I usually switch with the student once I play. If the dealer calls it a tie, the dealer takes the tiles back and returns it to the plastic dispenser for replay. If those competing can not come up with a word in a timely fashion, the dealer takes the tiles and returns it to the dispenser. I had up to four students, sometimes six, gather around the dealer and play, and combining tiles from other Smart Mouth games helps add to the fun.
I do not say my words…I yell them. I yell them loud enough to make my students jump, and laugh. I once had a student who stumped me when the letters “P” and “E” left the plastic dispenser. Before I can say a word, he yelled, “PENULTIMATE!” in which I yelled back with, “That’s not a word!” He quickly followed with a definition and argued, “Oh yes it is! It means almost last, the next to the last thing!”
I often challenged students the way they would challenge each other and said, “Nuh-uh! Prove it!” In this game between the two of us, we agreed that if he could not prove the word existed in the dictionary, I would get the two tiles. If he could prove the word existed, I would give the dealer two of my tiles. Alas, my two tiles went to the dealer.
From that day on he continuously challenged me with words, and seemingly won every time. Whether I allowed him to win will be my secret, but Smart Mouth challenged students’ vocabulary and identification of letters to create words. I allowed two and three letter words in our games. Not everyone was at the same academic level as my Penultimate-student, but simply having the students involve themselves in a learning game like this was good enough for me. It was also great that students requested to play Smart Mouth after completing their homework during their homework hour.
Later I introduced the students to Zingo! which dispenses tiles like Smart Mouth, but is played like Match and Bingo. My students had to call out the tile that they wanted, the first to call the tile wins that tile, and the first student to fill their card wins. Although recommended for elementary grade level, it worked well with my middle school students, as they are a more competitive age level. Any opportunity to yell in order to win worked well with my students and I am glad ThinkFun continues to introduce such awesome games.
Currently I am in the process of earning my Master of Arts degree in Multicultural Education along with my Single-Subject Teaching Credential. I found Smart Mouth an effective game in my classroom, and plan on utilizing it as well as other games to support comprehension and critical thinking skills.
No one likes to lose, but even fewer people like a sore loser! While we all want our children to experience success, it is equally important to prepare them to handle defeat… and game play provides a safe and natural arena in which to practice this important life skill!
In a friendly game of Zingo!, for example, it can be tempting to simply let your child win every time. This can actually do more harm than good, effectively teaching the inability to celebrate others’ success and making it more difficult down to road to cope with losing. While I’m certainly not suggesting you play ruthlessly and crush your young opponent each time, gently competitive games provide a great opportunity to prepare your child for inevitable ups and downs in all arenas of life!
So how do we help kids deal with defeat? In a recent article, Joy Berry, a child-development specialist and author of more than 250 children’s books, shares some dos and don’ts for turning losses into learning experiences:
Do let her feel disappointed. “Some parents are consumed with trying to avoid their child having any kind of disappointment, to the point of everyone on a team getting trophies or certificates so nobody feels bad,” Berry says. “It’s very noble, but disappointment prepares children for bigger disappointments later in life. You don’t want to raise a child who tears down the tents and goes home every time they’re disappointed.”
Don’t set your child up to fail. “Life is going to deal you enough blows,” Berry says. “We don’t need to set up failures for kids so they learn a lesson.” Choose age-appropriate activities for your child that he or she has a fair shot at winning. “Games that don’t take certain skills but are left to chance are a good way to level the playing field.”
Do have a post-game chat. “It’s important to say, ‘There is no way anyone wins all the time, and there are going to be some times when you lose. When you do, it’s important that you’re gracious. When you win, it’s important that you’re a gracious winner too.”
Don’t model sore loser-dom. “When your child beats you at a game, you can demonstrate how to be a good sport. ‘Congratulations for winning! Let’s play again!’ Tell them they did a great job and show them how to be a gracious loser.” Shake hands with, give a thumbs up to or high-five the loser
Do focus on the positive. “After a loss, say, ‘Great game. I really like the way you did this and this.’ Try to get them to focus on the things that did go right and emphasize the importance of doing that in every phase of life.”
As the Education Specialist at ThinkFun, I write Parent’s Guides for our early learning games (here’s the guide for S’Match!). These guides help adults use games not only as fun and engaging activities, but also help them draw out learning opportunities and use games as teaching tools. These guides share tips for supporting not only cognitive skills such as pattern recognition, word building, and number sense, but also for building critical social skills, like learning to win and lose graciously, through game play!
An excerpt from the What's GNU? Parent's Guide
How can parents and teachers turn a defeat into an opportunity for growth and learning? Please share YOUR tips and strategies for helping children cope with losing!
One thing we love, love, LOVE here at ThinkFun is hearing real, constructive feedback from players – kids, parents, grandparents, teachers… all thoughts are welcome! And the thing I love love LOVE about the work I do with our Product Development team is the opportunity to take that feedback and use it to genuinely improve our products!
Recently we did a major revamp of 2 of our best-selling games, Zingo! and What’s GNU?, and customer suggestions were the first place we started! After extensive testing and loads of revisions (Hello 2-sided tiles!), we released these updated games, and the response has been phenomenal! Check out the improvements here!
Always eager to read reviews and hear the word on the street, I was thrilled to stumble across this blog that compiles loads of Zingo! feedback from Amazon.com customers… some highlights that made me smile:
My husband calls Zingo! “crack for kids.” Fun for the whole family.
This kept my twins busy for years and saved many a playdate as everyone has fun!
Delighted grandkids, delighted grandma!
I don’t know what it is about Zingo, but it appears to be one of those games that kids just can’t stop playing.
Great Inter-generational Bingo Game!!(do I smell a new tagline?!)
For those Zingo! fans out there, I’d love to hear your thoughts on the game! Anything to add to the comments here?