Monday, December 26, 2011

An Alternate Way of Displaying Creativity

Puzzle-making is a great way to be creative if you prefer puzzles more than open-ended toys like building blocks.

WHAT: Rush Hour Traffic Jam Jr. by ThinkFun
DOES:  Allows you to solve 40 fun puzzles, with one puzzle represented on each of the cards.  Cards are numbered thus as a child completes a puzzle, he moves onto to a slightly harder puzzle. Added surprise: this puzzle allows your child to create his own puzzle easily.
INVEST: $14- $18
TOOLS: Express Yourself, Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Work Experience

Recently I saw on ThinkFun's Facebook page, someone had written that she allowed her very young child to play with Rush Hour Traffic Jam (original version - not the junior) and described the fun learning experiences that resulted.  And so I posted this photo you see above because her post reminded me of the significance of Rush Hour Traffic Jam Jr. in our lives. It was one of the first times that I really recognized my 4-year old's attempt to make something very unique.

Number 2 really isn't into making things. So far, he can build structures but isn't so into it.  I know he'll enjoy building more over time.  I also know he is creative inside but I think that I'm not always giving him the right materials to him to show his ideas.  So this year, I thought I'd try out piano lessons.  He really likes music and he likes watching people play instruments.   He started about three months ago and last month, he made up his own song.  It's not really a song that can be repeated and there was certainly no score.  However, for a kid who sometimes doesn't know how to just start playing by himself, that fact that he created a "song" was a big deal.

Another big deal was when he finished the Rush Hour Traffic Jam Junior puzzle that I bought for him shortly after he turned four.  I forgot how long it took him to finish all 40 puzzles but when he did, he did something awesome.  He made up his own puzzle!  It never even occurred to me that he could make his own "traffic jam."   But there he was making up his own puzzle and he told me about it so I snapped a photo with a page of " his handy dandy notebook*" where the number 1 was written to signify his own puzzle's card no. 1.

How exciting!  I can never get him to sit and color or draw but there he was making his own puzzle.  He likes puzzles and mazes and I supposed it is because they are NOT open-ended.  There is most definitely and end to puzzles which I'm sure gives him a great sense of accomplishment and reduces chances of feeling overwhelmed.

I drew dots so he could trace the number "3"   To me, making up his own game means that he's making something for someone else to enjoy.  
Working Backwards Can Be Less Stressful

I like this puzzle mostly because if you screw up, you don't end up paying big for your mistakes.  That is, you can just keep moving the cars up-and-down or side-to-side and that never changes no matter what you do. All mistakes can be in a sense "erased" because you don't have to pick up your pieces and start all over again. All that is required is that you just need to find your way out.

Last week, my son was having a hard time with a 2D maze on a worksheet.  He likes mazes a lot but oftentimes they are either too easy or too hard.  I think that means he is stuck and he needs a strategy.  But what do I know?  All I could tell him was to work backwards and start from the end rather than the beginning and so he did and he finished it immediately.  I guess Rush Hour Traffic Jam works the same way.  You know which car needs to be moved so that the ice cream truck can go out but what needs to be moved before you move that piece and what needs to be moved before you move that piece?  At the same time, and I know I've done this, sometimes you just move pieces the cars around and let the answer appear in front of you.

I think that is why the game is fun.  It's just not that taxing but it is still challenging.  Lastly, different from jigsaw puzzles, it doesn't take up tons of space and you get to the end of each puzzle quicker but still feel pretty smart after you finish each of the forty puzzles.  You get to feel smart forty times, with the 40th time providing the biggest sense of accomplishment.

I also modified the experience slightly by helping him set up the pieces onto the puzzle board.  Sometimes, he had a hard time with that even if he could solve the puzzles easily.  Setting up the puzzles according the traffic layout on each card uses more organizational skills and patience and some kids don't have very much of that.  There is also a color-recognition component because if the color on the card is not the exact color of the puzzle then a child can become a little confused and lose steam.  There is less of a chance of this in the Junior version but still, you can't take this for granted with some kids.  (Although Number 1 pointed out that it really doesn't matter which color car you put down, just as long as it is the same-sized car.  Oh yeah..... geez, when did grown-ups become so dense? it is probably just me....)

Still, even if these components are slightly challenging for a little guy (suggested age is 6-8), it doesn't mean they can't kick butt on the actual puzzle-solving itself.  But looking back, had I had used to opportunity to gently teach more of the organizational skills required.  To be sure, the motivation to solve the puzzle was there.  Speaking of organizational skills... for a couple of the puzzle cards, where he got stuck on a particular puzzle ie. Number 28 (out of the 40 puzzle cards), he would get upset and give up.  I told him to not give up but after a while, I just told him to move onto the next card and then go back to No. 28 later.  I don't think there is anything wrong with that in this type of a situation.  Finishing #29 is not dependent upon finishing #28.  It's just another strategy to the kind of frustration that causes a person to give up.

Making Your Own Puzzles is Creative and Open-Ended, Isn't It?

Seeing how my husband had made that train display rack yesterday and having read the post about ThinkFun's Rush Hour game., I was re-inspired by this photo to encourage him to make more puzzles and mazes.  We use brown paper wrapping paper for giving gifts and I have the kids draw on the brown paper instead of buying a card.  I AM SO CHEAP but have managed to mask it with "green" reasons.  We did that a bit for Christmas this year and for one present to his younger cousin, Number 2 drew him a maze instead of a picture of something.

While I often try very hard to get Number 2 to do more open-ended play (ex. blocks) and to make something so that he can play with it, this puzzle-making and maze-making activity needs to be explored more.  I love that he is making something for someone else to use.  That is a really good job and social skill, isn't it?   Additionally, creating mazes and puzzles are definitely open-ended in its own special way.  And this special way seems to be the venue to allow Number 2 to be creative.  How serendipitous!  Who would have known that creating a puzzle was as easy as placing little cars on a board and placed them in such a way to present a challenge?  I mean, obviously the folks at ThinkFun did but I would have never imagined that a child would have looked at it and felt he could do the same.   I have to thank Number 2 for the idea because I always want him to be making and finishing something.  With this puzzle, making a new puzzle on your own is super easy.  All you need to do is snap a pic and then then he can be off to make another challenge for me or anyone else who shares his interest in this game.

* Yes, that is Blue's Clues - an old favorite of Number 2's.

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.  The reviewed toy was purchased by me way before this site existed. 

1 comment:

  1. I just clicked on 'work experience" b/c having recently been to an Autism conference where Temple Grandin strongly promoted the concept of beginning work ethics and habits very early, I was curious which games you would suggest in this area. Funny to find this one. It is my son's FAVORITE "reward" at the end of OT sessions. (His OT sometimes lets him have his choice for table time after doing the rest of his session) It is such an engaging game, with more applications than it first seems it will have re conversation, problem solving, etc. Would love for you to review even more in this vein.