Classical Education and Logical thinking seem to be 'buzz' words in the homeschooling world today. But how exactly do we train our children to think logically or classically? Into a world of techno everything and instant answers everywhere, Growing Fun Ltd. has brought one of the freshest and most interesting products I have seen in a long time. In order to teach our children thinking skills, we need to give them the freedom to think "outside the box" as it is typically called. Easy enough said and now, easy and FUN to do!
Every time my family opens this box we get excited, and I get even more excited when I see the lessons and how fun they are and how easy it is to incorporate into our packed homeschool day. So, what is it you ask? You won't believe it when I tell you, but hear me out to the end, this is "WAY cool!" (to quote my 10 year old).
Remember those wooden table top puzzles you always seem to see at Grandma's house, or in the doctor's waiting room? The ones you had to think a bit to solve and they really were kind of fun but not really connected in any way to one another. Growing Fun has joined with a company in Israel that has been making these logic games for years, and using them IN a curriculum in their school system. Now, no one will dispute the fact that logic puzzles stretch the brain and make you think at least for a few minutes. They can be lots of fun at Christmas, but where is the staying power? Growing fun has given us the staying power! They have brought the whole kit and caboodle, from Israel, to North America. That means the curriculum and the puzzles together to form a step by step, incredibly well developed, and proven logic program! Suitable for groups from 2 to 20, ages 6 to 106, this program gets me excited over and over again.
Not only does it practice every single thing authors like Susan Wise Bauer (The Well Trained Mind) have been expounding on, it does it with hands on, interactive, guided lessons. You will only need a computer to print the lessons off of the included CD. I have five kids ranging from 22 down to 6. Every single one of them were gathered around the table playing with the puzzles and talking about the possible solutions, sharing ideas and thoughts back and forth and making their brains work. You should have seen the joy on my just turned 6 year old daughter as she figured out something before her 22 year old brother, just by looking at the puzzle from a different direction!
Thinking Out of the Box is a syllabus based on teaching children to think non-traditionally, and to expand their creative ability and thus enlarge their worlds. Schools in Israel and Singapore have been using this curriculum for some time and the benefits are measurable even in the children's aptitude and basic skills testing. Solving puzzles and working together just makes the brain a stronger muscle, so everything improves!
This curriculum is based on 32 meetings over a year with 15 students meeting together once a week for 45 -50 minutes. I have been implementing it in my home with just 3 to 6 people depending on who is home, and the results have been just as positive. It is a phenomenal idea for a CO-OP logic class where both the instructor (called the Guide) and the participants would have a blast! Now Susan at Growing Fun has developed a modified version which only requires 10 sessions together and uses a few less puzzles. Either way, the lessons are based on four main acts: Experience, Play, Create, and Solve.
The lessons build in difficulty slowly, starting with easy games and targets, and then step by step reaching more difficult targets. There are a set of Main Curriculum Targets that are listed on the first page of the intro and every lesson refers to them by number. The entire lesson should be based on fun! The educational targets are 'hidden' between the experience and the creative work. Games are used all the way through, as a tool of mind development. GF (Growing Fun) has listed the complete syllabus lesson by lesson for you and all the targets associated with each lesson are listed right up front, and referenced back to the main list of targets. It is VERY easy to decide which subject that lesson could be credited to, should you need to track your teaching in such a way. 'Organized' adults like to know what we are working towards, the kids don't really care, they just enjoy. The lessons are guided so as to make the most of your time together, and there is always something fun to work on at home as well. All the prep things that need doing and the materials you should have on hand are listed at the top of each lesson.
Lots of print outs are available, and take home paper puzzles, if you opt for just one set of the actual puzzles per group; say as a co-op. Every lesson time ends with the kids making cardstock versions of the real puzzle, as well as working together on an original board game that can be presented at an exhibition to mark the end of the course. There is even an optional 'internal' scoring system you can set up within the class, awarding points for individual victory, group victories, etc. Just to add an element of fun to the whole process!
Most of the lessons in the syllabus have an emphasis on self creation, and every participant will have the opportunity to join in. The studying process happens during the playing, even being guided to see how to use and understand their mistakes (or wrong solutions) to have better results, while facing the same challenge, next time. The guide has a main role, by leading, giving hints and clues, helping the students to help themselves to illumination, and the lessons are partly scripted so the guide can help out with out actually giving away the solution. I have loved having the whole set at home and I find the kids playing with them all the time, not just during logic time.
Each lesson is based on a particular subject area and that is noted as well, such as: Interlocking Puzzles, Strategic 2 Player Games, for Math.
Many of the games overlap into several subject areas, as well as socialization, community and group interaction, etc., and comments and additions to the main syllabus guide are typed in a different font so they are clearly identifiable. The one small glitch I had with the program is that the translation has been done from Hebrew to English so some of the syntax is a bit out and I had to re-read a few things over again to fully understand. As a whole, it is straight forward and easy to follow. You won't necessarily finish all of one lesson in one sitting, sometimes because the lesson is involved, sometimes because the kids don't want to move to the next step as they have fun conquering something over and over again. They really enjoy showing visitors and relatives to the house what they have been learning with this syllabus-definite bonus points from the grandparents!
Now, the puzzles themselves range from the traditional Tangram set, to complex pyramids with many pieces. From a simple (hah!) 2-piece pyramid to the Locking Box that 'seems' to have no way to open it. The puzzles are made of either plastic or wood, the plastic is a bit more economical, the wood is absolutely gorgeous and it feels so nice when you work with it. Now, each of the puzzles required to complete the curriculum may be purchased separately and indeed, you may already have several of them around your home in one form or another. A few of the lessons even use traditional table games to teach their targets; Connect Four and Othello, Jenga, and Mastermind for instance; even Snakes and Ladders has a place and a few things to teach about logic! Each of the puzzles comes with a solving sheet as well as a few hints. I confiscated these sheets right away as I wanted the kids to figure them out with each other and while working through the program, but it is perfectly ok to give Dad the cheat sheet if he needs it.
Susan at Growing Fun here in Canada has told me that the Syllabus will be added free of charge if all the puzzles are purchased together, if not, the Syllabus by itself will have its own price. At the time we last talked she was really hoping to package it all together, as designed; puzzles and Syllabus together. You can contact her for her current thoughts on the distribution. Remember, the puzzles have been around in one form or another for quite a while but this syllabus is new to the States and Canada. I predict it is going to be very popular and a HUGE hit with homeschool groups across North America. I can't wait to spread the news! I highly recommend Thinking Out of The Box and I know you will enjoy it also. Even purchasing all the puzzles in wood, with the syllabus, is cheaper than many book-based curricula and you are actually buying your family a gift that will be used over and over and over again; possibly for generations!
My family hosted a Community Christmas Day Dinner this past year and we used the puzzles as centerpieces on each table. We thought they would 'break the ice' and that they did. Folks who didn't even know each other were laughing and working together to solve the puzzle closest to them, then switching with ones further down the table. Everyone had a riot! With the option of a shortened lesson set, this program becomes do-able for all families. 10 lessons rather than the 32 original, but with all the fun! Sounds like an awesome plan to me.
If you would like a list of all the puzzles required as well as prices, simply email Susan at Growing Fun and she can let you know. When I became involved the 10 lesson set of Syllabus and puzzles was only about $100 Canadian money, which is an awesome deal for the US customers. Prices will vary as to what size program you choose and what material you want the puzzles and games in. Currently, Susan is packaging a mix of wood and plastic to make it most economical, and leaving it up to us to provide the simple family games most of us already own, such as dominoes and Connect Four. There may also be a choice as to the format of the program, either CD based or hard copy. Susan is responsible for getting this program over here and I am very grateful to her for the opportunity to teach my children to think 'Out of The Box'!