Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Review and Giveaway: Lab Mice: The Gift of A Clean Slate

It's not easy to encourage children to "see the big picture" but it's easier to make analogies to that if you are using Lab Mice and Find Your Way Gnome.  photo: Mindware

WHAT: Lab Mice
DOES: encourages practice in planning, self-monitoring, and looking at "the big picture"
INVEST: $17.95
TOOLS:  Think Like a Scientist/Engineer, Remember to Learn, Flexibility is My Superpower

One day Number 1 Son got in trouble... really big trouble.  All of us were so upset but eventually, he made amends and he was told that he had "a clean slate."   When I told him that, he looked up at me as if I started singing his favorite song.  Those words meant a lot to him.

I think that Lab Mice, one of Number 1's newest faves contains this very component that means so much to him.  It's not about erasing your past mistakes because you WILL remember them and that's a good thing.  But when you look forward to moving on, all you see is a clear board and you can start over again.

That is why I love Lab Mice too because with some logic games you have to set up the beginning scenario yourself and that is not a bad thing.  However after working really hard on one scenario, if you feel the need to start over from Step 1, then it can be a little frustrating.  With Lab Mice, it's about connecting mice and cheese of the same color without crossing another mouse's path, but here if you need to start again or "go back" then all you have to do is take your dry-erase marker's eraser and with a couple of wipes, you can start all over again -like magic!

I'm not the only one who likes Lab Mice and its sequel logic game Find Your Way Gnome.  Dr. Gayle Hermann, whom I admire as the brilliant neuro-psychological testing machine that she is, also liked the two games and had lots to say.  Gayle is super-perfect to talk about these two games because aside from being a mother herself, everyday, all day long, she is assessing a child's skills in various areas including cognitive, academic, memory, social/emotional, language, and executive functioning.   While she's now in private practice, most of her experience is based on having done hundreds of these assessments at the now closed Marsha Winokur Learning Center at the Jewish Board of Family and Children's Services.


Simple Games Can Support Critical Skills 

"These are definitely logic games," Gayle said.  I asked her this because the term "logic game" is applied to so many games that I get confused about it.  But then she really surprised me when she said, "these require a lot of executive functioning, planning, and self-monitoring."

Wait, what? Planning? Self-monitoring?  But I thought this was just a logic game.  In my mind, I define logic as in what I know from high school algebra.  If this, then that.  Right?

"That's planning."  Gayle explained.   She described the thought pattern a child might have. "Well this goes here and this goes here but oh if I go here then I'm going to cross the line so I can't do that.'"  This is what Gayle describes as self-monitoring. "You need to stop yourself and rethink it.  You can't just draw lines anywhere.  You have to plan.  You have to plan routes and consider all the disasters in front of you."


Did I just find a game that can let my child practice ... let's use Gayle's key words for a minute:
  • stop yourself
  • rethink it
  • plan routes
  • consider all the disasters in front of you
All that for $17.95?  But wait, before I get too happy, what's a real life example of this?

Number 5's Mom and I give a thumbs up to the tin boxes.  Each game comes with two dry erase markers.  photo: Mindware

Self-Monitoring Is Not Just About Being Nice to Others

As an example, Gayle described how she might set out to drive around to certain places in one day but is challenged with limited gas and limited time.  Thus, she would have to do all those things she mentioned above to find the best ways to do all that she needs to do.

Gayle continued on to discuss how she is likely to act if she knows that there will be more traffic at a particular place at a particular time (ie. don't pass the school at 3:15).  "So I 'self-monitor' and go 'hmmmm, that's not a good idea.'"

That is "self-monitoring?"

"Self-monitoring is stopping yourself from doing an action that you are not supposed to do."   Gayle explained that self-monitoring can be with your behavior and I knew that but then she also said, "Self-monitoring is in your work - that you remember to look.  Gayle used punctuation, capitalization, and spelling as example of things to self-monitor.

Oh, if Gayle only knew how capitalization and punctuation are thorns in my sides.  Sometimes, when I'm really lazy, I will write an entire email in lowercase. I suppose it can be very rude but it's worse for Number 1 who's still learning. If he doesn't pay attention to this, he loses points on spelling tests and that bugs both of us and so I'm happy to hear this from Gayle.  It's good news!  Self-monitoring in a game that is generally played solo?  I love it!

I asked Number 1 what would be a common mistake.  Here it is circled.

Dry-Erase Away Intimidation- Take A Chance!

About the two games Gayle continued, "It does make you think and plan and I like the fact that this game has a dry-erase aspect to it because kids will otherwise get intimidated."  Gayle said that if you did this with a pen, then that would be a much harder task to do.  "Here you get a chance," she said. "There's no timing aspect, you get a chance to erase if you make a mistake, which is forgiving so I think it encourages kids to take chances and have an opportunity to rethink when they've made an error and figure out a better solution or alternative."

Take another stab at something after making a mistake?  Oh, I loved Lab Mice when we got it but now I love it more!  I am so happy that Number 1 and 5 like this game. (Number 5 has Find Your Way Gnome which we will see tomorrow).  Both kids are very smart but they are both still human and like most humans, they don't want to make too many mistakes.  Knowing them as I do, I am even more convinced that the dry-erase aspect is no small thing.  I like any game that encourages kids to take chances (the good kind- that mothers like).

And this is the same game but solved.   You can tell, he did it before.  I'm glad he remembered but generally, it's probably impossible for anyone to remember all 100 games and so you basically can play with your mice and gnomes for a long time.

Talk To Yourself!

"There is clearly a visual and spatial aspect to this game and some people will see it.  They will clearly see it, " said Gayle.   However, some may make an impulsive move and make a connection to the mouse and the cheese that are closest.  "But that's not necessarily the best connection when you consider the whole card because you haven't considered what are the other ways you need to go.  That's really where the self-monitoring and planning and impulse control come in.  You have to be able to see the big picture."

I love this.  I am constantly telling Number 1 that if he is going to solve a problem then he should not create another one while solving it!!!  ie. vacuuming mess he made on the floor and then leaving the dustbuster there for someone to trip over or letting the charge die so it can't be used later.

This is a video of Number 1 showing his Dad how to play for the very first time.  We should have let him start with the lower numbers especially since my husband is a little color blind but hey, if you get a little help, color doesn't have to be an issue either!  This particular one was hard but the beginning is not.  There is a good learning component here and Gayle agrees.  

But how do we help them do this big picture solving? Gayle said that kids may use something called "Self-Talk" or "Verbal Mediation" to help themselves.  This is very similar to how Number 5's mom helped her daughter when she was stuck.  Number 5's mom is really smart.

Gayle said that kids would say, "'Ok, here's the purple mouse, he goes with the purple cheese, oh but wait, then the blue mouse will be stuck.,"" she said and described how this might happen out loud or in their heads.  "We want them to use self-talk and verbal mediation in their everyday lives. 'What happens if I do this? What are the consequences of this action?'"

It's important to note that Gayle mentioned that kids who have speech delays may actually also have problems doing this sort of self-talk even in their head because of the lack of language that they may have.  However, she also said that some kids will totally leave out the verbal part and just see it as a spatial problem.

Number 21, the same card from the video is solved

Seeing the Big Picture

The day before I spoke to Gayle, I had an opportunity to attend a discussion between Brian Grazer who won Best Picture Oscar for A Beautiful Mind and Harold Koplewicz, the President of the Child Mind Institute.   Brian Grazer lives with dyslexia and struggled in school as a kid.  "I got all F's," he told the audience.  But sometime while he was in college, he started getting straight A's.  He said, " I learned that I was a good synthesizer—I'm actually pretty good at understanding what's important. Like the big picture of things."

Is it no wonder that someone who is good at seeing the big picture actually won an Oscar for Best Picture?  But seriously, this gift of this kind of "sight" is worth exploration.  I also am so curious because Number 1 totally kicks butt in this game or rather I should say, he just kicks the butts in this family.

Speaking of kicking butt: Number 5's dad, blew me away.  I thought no one could do those last cards but he solved it really fast and if you look at the marking, you'll see, he didn't even make a mistake!  Oh well, I guess he can see things in a big picture but how can he do something like this!!!!!! ???? Gayle????

How can someone do this after just five minutes.  I think this was the 2nd card he did, or maybe the first?  Unbelievable.

Come back tomorrow when Gayle talks more of the visual aspects of this game, show you more about Find Your Way Gnome and discuss tactics on how to encourage your child to have the most fun with these two wonderful games.

Time to Win Your Own Lab Mice or Find Your Way Gnome Game (your choice)!  Remember to follow the rules!   The winning game can only be shipped to the U.S.  Ends June 12, 2012 12:01 AM EST

Remember to come back tomorrow for another chance to win.  It's two separate giveaways! So there will be TWO WINNERS!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Can't wait to see who wins Lab Mice or Find Your Way Gnome?  Click on the photos to purchase through my Amazon link.

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 product was given to Toys are Tools' testers and Dr. Hermann to facilitate a review.  Reviews are never promised.   


  1. I like games that encourage critical thinking.

  2. These look like great games to encourage critical thinking, give a little quiet time!

  3. Nice for motor planning, visual scanning, midline crossing, and visual tracking

  4. They look like learning disguised as FUN!  

  5. My sentiments exactly.  Can't ignore the mice and cheese.  Very simple.  Very fun.

  6.  Aimee, You always know all the right things to say!

  7.  Me too. Thanks for bringing up the term "critical thinking"  I  haven't used it enough in this website.

  8. You are absolutely right!  This is total quiet time.  My son is wearing pajamas in this video and he usually plays this at night to wind down the day.  It's perfect!

  9. I love gams that make you think, are fun adn can travel.  Great for waiting at appts, going on road trips, doing at the table while Mum is on the phone or making a meal.  This looks like one of them.

  10. I remember using something like this as a child and my son just used some in co-op.  It's "magic", fun and scientific.  Could make a great summer review!

  11. Uniquely Unique KidsMay 24, 2012 at 10:28 AM

    Great review - have shared on my site as well.  I try to explain why this game is so great but have never done so to my satisfaction.  You do a wonderful job of explaining it.  Every family should have this.  I love it that much.

  12. Both of these games look fun while being educational too!

  13. Lab mice reminds me of some phone apps I've played

  14. This is a great portable version of a game I used to play called MouseTrap! But without all of the tiny parts that go missing and the excitement of change every time you play.