Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 5)

Here is part 5 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

This week I am looking at Lego (and similar building style toys, including mega blocks, mecanno, and even the digital space of minecraft) as a toy that can support creativity through play.

The photos above are from a game of  ‘Lego creationary’ (think: pictionary with lego). This game has players make particular items and the other players need to guess the item made – lots of creative fun, competition and open ended play. The other Lego games also encourage exploratory play – games like Heroica, Minotaur, and Lego city police all have starting points for game play and set up, and as you play them more you can adapt the game board and rules to change the challenge level.

Aside from the more recent Lego games, Lego itself is a great open ended play tool. It does come in sets, with instructions to build the item on the box, and then once this is done and played with, the real fun begins. Children (and yes, adults too) can work together to build infinite objects. Today this is classified as a ‘sandbox game/space’ – an opportunity for open ended play where the child can be in charge.  Mecanno is very similar, but uses tools, nuts and bolts  to build machines.  Minecraft is a digital space that now fits this definition  – for a review of this please see: http://appsforaussiekids.blogspot.com.au/2014/06/minecraft-for-parents-part-2-of.html .   After getting used to the controls in Minecraft you can play and build whatever you want.  Playing with any of these alongside and with your child can lead to lots of fun, and learning for both of you 🙂 Setting challenges to ‘build’ – like building your house in Minecraft – can be interesting to collaborate on, as there are lots of problem solving opportunities that present themselves as you work though the challenge together.

So, what ‘sandbox games/spaces’ do you like? How else might you incorporate this style of game/toy to extend opportunities for develop thinking skills? Perhaps you would like to share a picture of your families collaboration in one of these spaces? Please share in the comments : )

Until next time

Fiona T

 

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 4)

Here is part 4 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

Puzzles of any sort are a great challenge for young and old alike. There are puzzles available for any developmental age group. The one pictured above is a mind bending adult puzzle…allegedly (according to the box) it has a number of solutions, however in reality I am yet to find one 🙂 . The challenge is in trying to solve these puzzles, and pushing your mind into creative and strategic modes it may not use otherwise. I don’t think I will find a solution to this puzzle. However, not all puzzles are like this, many have challenging, though achievable solutions.

Jigsaw puzzles are one such type of challenge. The picture/solution is on the box and whether there are 7 pieces or 1000, you can work towards reassembling the picture. The creativity used here will be in the strategy you use to find patterns… Do you pick up one random piece and try and match it to every other piece? Or are you matching shapes, colours, patterns or a range of all three? Do you find all of the edge pieces first and assemble these, then sort other pieces according to colour? Strategy and perseverance are important skills to develop. Leveling up here for adults is easy…there are now a range of 3D puzzles, and also puzzles that contain mysteries to solve within them. I even recall seeing a puzzle with 3 extra pieces!

For younger children the Jigsaws are often smaller,  and there are block puzzles (with different pictures on each side of a cube to match), or puzzles can be cut out shapes on a wooden board. Again,these support the same thinking skills and give children an opportunity to match shapes, colours and find patterns too. They also offer opportunities for hand-eye co-ordination and development of fine motor skills. As children get older, books with jigsaws in them may be an option. There is also the ‘spot what’ range where the puzzle can then be used along side a book to give the child clues.

Then we have word puzzles, and things like sudoku too, yes, I can already hear you thinking…more opportunities to find patterns and develop personal strategies 🙂 . Find-a-words and crosswords use elements of language and cryptic clues for us to ‘puzzle’ over.

Matching and strategy puzzles are also abundant on devices. Since Nintendo ‘game and watch’ in the 1980’s we have been able to have electronic puzzles in our pocket to play and challenge us anytime we want. The Gameboy (and similar)  bought games like Tetris, one of the first electronic puzzle games I played for months on end (getting to the top of the challenge levels and having the little men come out and dance…well it made all those hours worth it somehow 🙂 ) Smartphones and electronic devices grant us access to Apps like Bejewelled, Angry Birds, Where’s My Perry, Quest for Atlantis and my nemesis candy crush, all use puzzles as their main game play option.

So, what puzzles do you like? Have I missed your favourite puzzle type in my blog above? How else might you incorporate puzzles to extend opportunities for develop thinking skills?

Until next time

Fiona T

 

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 3)

Here is part 3 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.I was a bit surprised by this ‘bop it’ toy. I had often walked past it in stores and dismissed it as a present option for my nephews, as I had no idea what it was or did. Then, LT was given one as a present and I found out it is actually quite a fun toy and can contribute to both learning and thinking. There are several modes for ‘bop it’ to be used in; individual, pass and play for two or more people, or a two person challenge where you stand one person on each side of the toy. The aim in all these modes is basically the same: the ‘bop it’ toy calls out instructions, and you need to follow them by interacting with the toy. Vocal instructions are accompanied by sounds: “bop it’, ‘twist it”, ‘pull it’, ‘spin it’, or ‘flick it’. Sounds simple, right….wrong!  Instructions are called in different orders, making the thinking and co-ordination required to react quickly surprisingly challenging. As you are able to continue the sequence (we have gotten up to 20 right in a row) it unlocks levels. The different levels include things like the  spoken instruction being removed, leaving the sound to respond to. The next level again will call out colours instead of sounds.  All of these require fast reflexes to be able to stay in the game.

From an educational viewpoint, ‘bop it’ could be classified as a brain training toy. It develops quick thinking and coordination skills, reminding me of the cross marching exercises we use with students.  In terms of creativity, there isn’t much scope for free play with ‘bop it’, however I think it helps make connections within the brain and so would help children to ‘limber up’ towards creativity and reflexive thinking in other areas.

I wonder what other toys are out there that promote creativity, learning and thinking…please add any you think of in the comments below.

Until next time,

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic and have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Games and toys that promote creativity and thinking (Part 2)

Here is part 2 of a series of posts looking at commercially available* toys and games that can promote creativity and thinking in our kids, at home and at school. When I refer to creativity and thinking, I mean that children (and adults) have the opportunity to approach these toys in a variety of ways, not necessarily just the way described on the box. Creativity may involve changing rules, or allow a ‘free playing’ imaginative space for children to explore. Thinking, and expectations around thinking, will vary depending on the child and adult playing, for example it may be thinking about turn taking, sharing, language development, rule making or even just having a fun and relaxing space to talk in.

We love stories in our house. These ‘story cubes’ are a great starter to help children (and adults) create their own stories. Inside this little box are 9 ‘story cubes’ with images that can be used as prompts for your own stories. As a toy it becomes a tool to promote creativity and challenge the story teller to think ‘outside the box’. There are opportunities to work together on a story, or to take turns in creating your own stories, based on the roll of the dice. The inside of the box has hints about different ways to ‘play’ with these cubes. We like to sit around the table and take 3 each, making up a story together. I must say here that WH (Wonderful Husband) lives up to his name during this game, and comes up with terrific tales, scintilating songs and rollicking rhymes, we try to get him to go last because LT (Little Tacker) and I often can’t stop laughing long enough to remember what we were going to say!

These blocks would make a good gift for a primary school aged child. However, if you wanted to make your own version you could draw or cut out pictures of various items and make your own paper cubes to stick them onto. Digital photos could also be used here, and would work as a language prompt for new items or words. This  could be extended for teachers to use in particular topics/themes, with pictures that will prompt students to discuss, explore, extend, and revise their ideas, through the creation of stories.

Do you play story or song based games with your children or family? Do you have a specific tool/toy (eg puppets, books or something else) that helps to structure this play? What are they, and what specific opportunities for creativity and thinking are available? Please share them in the comments below.

Until next time, happy playing!

Fiona T

*All opinions are my own, and are unsolicited. I personally purchase all items reviewed on this blog and have received no payment from any supplier for promoting their goods. I am a student/teacher/academic have no personal business affiliation or business motive on this blog. Opinions expressed are my own, and are not necessarily endorsed by my employer.

Conference travel preparation.

The countdown is on! In less than 2 weeks I will be jetting off to the UK for my first International Conference.

I have been pondering and planning for this trip for a while now, and here is a link to my previous post on this topic.

After reading other blogs on conference travel I am under no illusion of getting a stack of reading done on the plane. In fact I am looking forward to the quiet (well relative quiet LOL) of not having to rush anywhere or do anything for quite a few hours.

I have found my case to be a little big for the carry on allowance the airline allows, so have sourced another case. I still did a trial pack though, into a smaller case, and think it will work out fine. I have 4 outfits that work with one pair of shoes and can cross co-ordinate these easily (yes, I’m only taking one pair of shoes!) :thinking in a minimalist way is getting easier. I am really proud that my toiletries bag is packed with the bare essentials, and have decanted creams and lotions into the teeny-tiny jars my BB found for us. Today I bought a bag that is between a handbag and a tote bag to be practical enough for plane and train travel and take to the conference. Of course there is always the option of shopping for something if I have really forgotten an essential item, but I don’t anticipate this as being necessary 🙂 .

Packing is only part of the logistics. The presentation will be fine and will be backed up on Prezi and Evernote. Insurance is sorted and tickets and accommodation. This week is busy with final bits and pieces as we get ready to jet off to this great opportunity.

The blog will be quiet for a couple of weeks while I am on this adventure, as I will be saving precious global data for skype calls home. I will post as soon as I can after I return.

See you all on the flip side!

Fiona T

Using technology to organise children’s games

As a parent one of the constant battles seems to be keeping toys and games organised, yet still accessible for kids to see and remember to play. Tucking things away in a cupboard is a great way of keeping them tidy, but often out of sight is out of mind with kids.

One of my close friends has come up with a great idea. She has photographed the games/toys and the cupboard they are stored in, then arranged the photos into a photo book layout.  Quite often there are great discount deals from department stores on printing of these photo books, and my friend kept an eye out for these. In the last discount deal the books were under $15 to get printed.

Now the printed books sit in the lounge and the kids (aged 4 and 6) can flick through to see what games/toys they want before they ransack the cupboards. It also assists them to put away the games, because they are listed in sections with a picture of the cupboard they were from.

I love this idea, it is  great example of getting technology to help to organise a household, and save time and sanity too.

How does technology help you organise your household? Please feel free to share in the comments below, or on the facebook page.

Until next week

Fiona T

The Importance of Imaginative Play

As a teacher I have known that play is an important part of learning. The discovery and modelling opportunities lead to such rich and deep learning I am amazed at the connections Children can make. As a Mum I have developed an even stronger belief in the power of play, and it seems I am not alone.

While reading a blog this week I was reminded of the games my Sisters and I used to make up as children when we played…here is the link to the blog from Nicky Johnston.

So yesterday, when it was cold and rainy, and LT was busy retrieving items we were trying to throw out, I again reflected on the value of this imaginative play. Here is a picture of the ‘game’ he was playing: The box has been around for ages, it was salvaged by LT to make into a slide (hours of fun there, for him and his soft toys). It gets put away for a while,and each time we try to throw it out he insists it can’t go. Yesterday it was combined with his lego and his own ‘heroica’ board game ( he has a full set of heroica at his Nana’s house, but is happy to imagine and build his own at home) and the characters were having adventures that were narrated very well. He included aspects of challenges styled after ‘the biggest loser’, building inventions from ‘Phineas and Ferb’ with some ‘Starwars’ thrown in for good measure. The level of creative play was great, I was happy to watch him and get involved every now and then with questions as to why a particular character was doing something. He would patiently explain 🙂  So it seems the box has been ‘re-incarnated’ and will stay in our house a while longer.

Kids are naturally creative, but we do have to give them opportunities to shape their world and grow. Opportunities to talk, play and create their own  games…we don’t always have to provide the rules. As a Mum (and a teacher) I think letting children take the lead and supporting them while they experience and learn is very important, it helps develop self confidence, creativity and social skills.

Can you recall imaginative play in your childhood? What did you enjoy most about it? Do you have a story about your own children/students/nieces/nephews and their play?

Please feel free to share below as a comment…or maybe you would like to do a guest blog about it? Please contact me via mypaperlessphd facebook page if you would like to guest blog.

Until next week

Fiona

 

 

 

On standby: Kid’s present box

Over the last 15 years I have gotten a lot more organised with kid’s Birthday presents. This came from necessity, my husband has 5 nephews, and (especially when we were first together) their birthdays would creep up on us and we would make a mad dash past the shops on the way to their birthday parties. It didn’t take me long to come up with a formula for presents and a plan for gift shopping. Welcome to the ‘present box’ idea. I know many people use these and, like me, are always on the lookout for cool presents and bargains that can go into the box and make a great present for any child at a moments notice.

First, you need to get a few things organised. I started by getting sticky tape, paper and generic birthday cards and storing them in a box. I also have balloons to put in the birthday packages. All of these are quite economical if bought at places like 2 Dollar shops or K-Mart/Big W.

Second, come up with a ‘present formula’. This helps when shopping and also when gifting. I found it helpful with the 5 boys to buy for, as it always made sure the presents were fair across the years. We also have a price limit on birthday gifts for kids, otherwise it can get out of control. My ‘present formula’ is pretty simple: Something educational (eg a book), Something Fun (eg a small toy), something to share with their siblings (usually a packet of lollies) and some balloons (’cause birthdays are fun). As the boys have gotten older, I don’t always put in the sharing thing, they often get a lolly or chocolate bar for themselves. The balloons are still a hit, even with my now 18 year old nephew (he did complain when I stopped putting them in when he was a teenager, so they were re-instated LOL).

Next, when you are out and about shopping keep an eye out for discounted items or sales. If you have your formula and price bracket in mind, this becomes easier. Things I have on hand in my ‘present box’ include: Packets of pencils/textas/crayons, Activity books, children’s books (we are still working through the stack of Mr Men books we got at an Aldi sale!), sticker packs, stamp packs, tubs of playdoh, fuzzy felt, glitter glue, craft paper, felt, small project kits (include things like sand art, foam art and making bags/jewellery), novelty paper clips and erasers, small meccano or lego sets, matchbox cars and paint by number kits (or the newer canvases with paints). These are mostly not gender specific gifts, so are flexible in that all children will enjoy them. With LT at primary school and birthdays (it seems) every couple of weeks, this present box is a brilliant time saver.

Do you have a present formula, or even a specific gift you like to give to kids?  Do you have a present box? What other tips could you add…please feel free to comment below.

Until next week

Fiona T

 

Family fun: Civiliazation 5

We have had the Civilization game for approx 2 Weeks. WH and LT have been playing at any opportunity. LT is now insisting on giving me lessons in how to play (he might even let me touch the mouse soon! LOL).

The first game LT played was very much exploratory, with WH as the guide on the side, his advice being mostly ignored as LT clicked and traded and tried out different moves. In the last few days LT has come to understand many things, including that the map he uses has real cities on it (though many are in the wrong places), and that the people/leaders of the cities were real people. This has excited him so much. The other major excitement was when he leveled up to his first Golden Age, this jubilation involved many high fives and hugs. While I still have little understanding of what this achievement actually entails, I do know just from his reaction that it is a big deal. This has flowed on to him wanting me to play too, and he has set up a game for me and is patiently showing me how to play.

WH has also reflected on how LT is playing this game. He commented that LT is more likely to trade with others, than to attack and try to take their land. LT has also found some other menus and diagrams that help give different visions of the game and it’s goals, WH was very surprised as he hadn’t found them yet!

Much of LT’s self talk while he plays is gorgeous too…he chats to the characters eg: ‘that’s not very nice, he is attacking me’, ‘these little guys are going to make a farm’, ‘yay, we got animal husbandry’ and ‘we can trade with London and we are friends’. LT is also very conscious of ‘liberty’ and this is a value he encouraged me to pursue  from the beginning of ‘my’ game. I have also noticed that the reading skills he is developing at school are transferring to sounding out the names and cities he is unfamiliar with.

LT’s other great love is still ‘gamestar mechanic’, and he has leveled up and entered his first competition. While his work didn’t exactly take in to account all the competition criteria, he loved having the focused task and was again very proud of himself when he had finished his game and submitted it. He has rung and told relatives that he has ‘done his first entry’ and is still excited about it days later.

In terms of learning, there is a lot going on here. I am excited about the wider world knowledge that is being developed, and more than that the general approach to learning and life my son is showing. He is excited about being active in producing games to show others. He is eager to show and teach others what he has learned. He is not frustrated by ‘not knowing’ how to use something new, and will happily play and explore to figure out how he wants to use it. He has confidence in his ability to ‘figure out’ what he can and looks for help files and tutorials (and yes, you-tubes too). He will also ask for help from us when he needs it.

In terms of Gaming theory (my area of current reading) the games we are presenting to him have engaged him because they allow him these spaces to learn. He is exploring and achieving in increments, operating at his zone of proximal development and getting constant feedback on his progress. He plays because it is fun and rewarding, the effort he puts in is rewarded within the game space. Failure doesn’t really factor in to these games, there is a focus on doing it better next time, and not on winning and losing.

The mere fact that LT, who is 6, can play and achieve the goals set, show his learning across many different areas and teach and show others how to play and level up suggests to me that digital natives are more willing to explore, try new things and find ways to succeed, instead of giving up at the first obstacle.  These are definitely characteristics I want all of my students to develop.

Until next week,

Fiona T

Digital Games and Building: Gamestar Mechanic and Eden World builder

We are a bit of a ‘techno geek’ family. We love technology and gaming. We love to play, but all play games differently, WH is more about the score and winning, I just want to do the best I can in the time available (story of my life really!) and LT shows sides of us both (poor kid!). My study is around Games and Learning, and this week I have been focusing on ‘play’ in my reading. Coincidentally, around 10 days ago we accessed ‘Gamestar Mechanic‘ for the first time. LT (who is now 6) and I have been playing and working on this together, but it has been mostly driven by LT.

Very briefly, Gamestar mechanic is an online game that also teaches about the prinicples of game design, it is produced by The Institute of Play.  You can play for free (there is a premium paid version too), and while LT needs some help with the tricky end parts of the levels, he is getting much better at planning his strategy and moves. He has really loved building his own games and is eager to level up so he can unlock further features to build his games with. He can’t get enough of it, and in this short time has levelled up and has only 20% of the ‘game’ component left. He is excited about collecting the last few avatars and creating more games to share in the arcade. He has also written a little book to present to his class about Gamestar mechanic, he is so excited to share this amazing creative space.

Last night we downloaded a chicken ninja game for the android, and it was nice to be playing this with LT and pointing out the features of ‘good game design’ that built the game from level 1, like making clear goals, allowing replay of levels until mastery, slowly building up a number of different moves/skills to clear a level etc.  It also helped to solidify in my mind what I have known sub-conciously as a teacher for years: making explicit connection between different learning spaces helps students to understand and make these links for themselves. We need to teach students to look for the links in the world around them to help them make sense of life. Teaching is not a random process, it is planned and scaffolded by teachers to create meaningful opportunities for learning and understanding. It is this scaffolding that is done so clearly in Gamestar Mechanic, to make it a valuable online learning environment to help create savvy gamers. Here is a link to a You-tube about Katie Salen and the Quest 2 Learn school, where the entire curriculum is designed around game principles and scaffolding life long learners.

I had also been meaning to check out minecraft, as it has been recommended to me for a while now, so LT and I took some time to have a look at this through the week too. However I couldn’t find a free version of it, or a trial version for that matter,  so this was a short lived venture.

I was reminded this week by some students I work with about ‘Eden-World builder‘ for the i-pad. There is no online version/free version I could find, so we did pay 0.99c  for it for the i-pod. It allows you to build worlds, much like I envision minecraft to does (but I may be wrong…) LT has played with this a little too, and has so far built numerous TNT towers to explode! (boys will be boys…). We have yet to explore this in depth together, but I am excited by the possibilities.It will provide opportunities for us to explore forums and help features to learn about the ‘game’. It is a different space to work in to Gamestar Mechanic, and I’m sure we will have fun exploring how this work and talking about the different environments.

WH is excited about exploring the ‘Civilization‘ and seeing what this has to offer too, from our reading it is quite powerful for learning about history, politics and economics…so I’m sure you will hear about our adventures in a future blog!

What games/spaces for learning in the digital world do you use?

Until next week, may all your games be fun!

Fiona T

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