An unexpected benefit: BrainBox games for autism and dyslexia

Don’t you love an unexpected benefit? You know, when a decision or a course of action has positive consequences that you didn’t intend or foresee. Like when you give in to the incessant requests of your children and buy a cat, only to discover that you no longer have to worry about birds eating your grass seed. Or when you switch to an own-brand pasta sauce to save a few pence each week, and find out it tastes better than what you used to buy.

We had our own unexpected benefit moment at BrainBox HQ recently. We’ve always set out to design games that combine learning and fun, and that can be enjoyed equally by families playing together or children playing alone. But we were delighted to discover that our games are also a big hit among children with learning differences such as dyslexia and autism.

It was customer reviews that gave it away initially. Here are a few of our favourites:

“For our son with special needs… I think this will help enormously with his development”
Joy, Mummy blogger of children with Aspergers, reviewing BrainBox Dinosaurs

“Fantastic and fun. My two children have dyslexia, and we play it to help their short-term memory”
Clare, reviewing BrainBox Dinosaurs on Amazon.co.uk

“Excellent product for my son who has ADHD with autistic tendencies. He enjoyed the game and it also helped to calm him on some of the down time occasions over the holiday period”
Deirdre, reviewing Brainbox Football on Amazon.co.uk

“The instructions were very clear and D especially enjoyed giving the cube shaker a good shake to start the game”
Jeannette, Mummy blogger of two autistic children, reviewing Square Up

“It’s fairly simple and my 6 year-old can play it … it’s great as it’s very non-confrontational”
Daisy, posting about Qwirkle in an online forum discussing games for dyslexic children

“This is a great game: almost as challenging as Scrabble but without the need to be able to read and write. If I hadn’t just left teaching, I would love to have tried it out with teenage dyslexic students”
Mrs Grace, reviewing Qwirkle on Amazon.co.uk

“Both my children loved this game and great fun was had by all! I am still amazed that it kept Xaviers attention for the duration!”
Lucie, Mummy blogger of children with autism, reviewing Corner’d

Our suspicions were confirmed when Dyslexia Scotland highlighted BrainBox in a report called ‘Supporting Pupils with Dyslexia at Primary School’: “The games are simple, compulsive and great fun for one or more players.”

In her book The Autistic Spectrum: A Guide for Parents and Professionals, Lorna Wig says: “Children with autistic spectrum disorders tend to prefer toys that involve visuo-spatial skills such as shape and colour matching, jigsaw puzzles or constructional materials.”

We’re not quite sure what the magic ingredient in BrainBox games is. Maybe it’s the vibrant colours, or the tactile elements, or the emphasis on visual and memory skills.

Whatever the reason, we’re very pleased that our games are making learning fun for so many children and families – and perhaps you might just find some unexpected benefits when you come to play them.

How to make revision fun

From SATs up to GCSEs and beyond, like it or not, tests are now a big part of our children’s lives. They come thick and fast, and it’s easy for them to feel bogged down in getting ready for tests. But it needn’t be a slog, full of angst and arguments, and with a bit of thought and imagination revision can, dare I say it, actually be quite enjoyable and give your children a real sense of achievement.

Get online
There are ways to revise that are much more effective – and fun – than having your head stuck in a book for hours on end. Take the internet – children love it, so why not encourage them to use it to help their revision? Teachers will be happy to point you in the direction of the best sites if you’re not sure where to look. An online video, an activity, even a multiple choice test are great ways to help those facts sink in.

Bring some colour to it
Any excuse to use a variety of coloured pens is also a good idea. My eldest has created some elaborate mind maps to help with her revision, carefully colour-coded and written in her best handwriting.  And while sticking these up on the wall temporarily may mean obscuring Ben 10 or Niall from One D, it will help to reinforce the message.

Rhyme and reason
Making up silly rhymes or mnemonics to remember things is another fun idea. “Big elephants can’t always understand small elephants” is the classic for “because”, while I still use the sing along spelling of “necessary” that a friend’s mum once taught me – n e, c e, double ss a r y.

Points mean prizes
It’s a good idea for parents to get involved in revision too. You can take your children on in a head-to-head quiz about what they’ve learnt – a bit of chocolate as a prize can have dramatic effects on how hard they work.

You can take this a step further by having friends round to revise before taking part in a ‘University Challenge’ style quiz with two teams and you taking the role of Jeremy Paxman!

Making learning fun
And of course, there are a whole range of BrainBox games that are perfect for revision. So why not help your children brush up on their French vocab with a BrainBox Let’s Learn French, for instance.

For older children, it’s worth having a chat about why exams and revision matter and why it’s important to get a good, all round education, including learning about things such as quadratic equations or tectonic plates, which they may never come across again .

There are a few basics worth considering, too. Whatever they say, Twitter isn’t a revision aid, and older children might want to come up with a revision timetable. Regular breaks are important, as is getting out to play, getting fresh air and meeting up with friends. Revision shouldn’t mean a complete shutdown, a battening of the hatches to the exclusion of other things they enjoy.

And remember, at the end of the day, it is just a test.

Earlier this year a letter from an Australian head teacher to her eight and nine year old pupils in the run up to their first tests caused an internet storm – for all the right reasons. “There is no one way to ‘test’ all of the wonderful things that make you, YOU!,” the letter concluded, having talked about all those skills the test wouldn’t cover, such as singing, dancing or speaking with confidence in front of the class.

In this day and age, tests do matter, and parents have an important role to play in helping children to revise. But we also have to help keep things in perspective, too.

Types of Learning Styles: An Overview

Our friends at www.brightminds.co.uk share their insights on how our children learn, with a great little learning styles quiz you can complete with your child. Enjoy!

For years now, psychologists have agreed that there are distinct ways that children and adults prefer to learn.

A learning style refers to a person’s unique approach to learning. Everybody looks at and understands the world in slightly different ways. This means that individuals pick up, learn and remember information in different ways. How an individual learns important information is known as their learning style.

The most common learning style model that teachers and parents tend to be familiar with is the VARK model. This refers to Visual, Auditory, Reading/writing and Kinaesthetic learning styles. Here we have based our seven learning types on a recognised model that takes a broader view of the well-known four styles.

The seven different learning styles are: visual learners, auditory learners, physical learners, verbal learners, logical learners, social learners and solitary learners. It is likely that one of these styles will be a best fit for you or your child. However, it is common for children to have a mixture of two or more learning styles. Additionally, children may change their learning styles over time. There is no better or worse learning style for your child to have. Equally, it is not better or worse to have one learning style or a mixture.

Visual – Look and Learn

Visual learners prefer to use pictures, diagrams and images and have good spatial understanding. Such learners tend to visualise information and will easily remember something that they have seen, such as writings on a whiteboard or drawings.

Auditory/Aural – Hear and Learn

Aural learners enjoy listening to sounds and have a good sense of rhythm. Often, aural learners will speak or read out loud to help them remember information. Aural learners’ ability to hear different sounds easily might make them good at music or foreign languages.

Verbal – Learn with words

Verbal learners are those who use either spoken or written words to help them learn information. Such learners also tend to think about the meaning of words and prefer things to be written in an explanatory paragraph, rather than in a chart or diagram, which a visual learner might prefer.

Physical – Do and Learn

Physical learners like to use their hands, body and sense of touch when they are learning. Physical learners may be able to remember the details of an object or model they have held in their hands or been able to touch.

Logical – Learn with systems

Logical learners tend to follow a rational approach and easily understand systems and sequences. Such learners thrive when they see how things link to each other and work together.

Social – Learn with others

Social learners may lack focus when they work alone but do well when they work in a group or with a partner. As group work helps children to develop good communication and listening skills, social learners can also be very engaged when simply listening to a person give a presentation.

Solitary – Learn when alone

Solitary learners may struggle to work in a group but thrive when they work by themselves. Such learners may enjoy teaching themselves new skills or finding things out for themselves, rather than asking another person.

It is helpful for each child’s current learning style or styles to be identified. Knowing your child’s learning style can help you to support your child, allowing them to get the most out of their education. Each learning style lends itself to different learning techniques and using a variety with your child can only enhance their learning.

Identify your child’s learning type by reading the descriptions above or discover your child’s learning type now with our fun learning style quiz!

Then start thinking about how you can help your child to learn in the style that best suits them.

“I’m not naughty – I’m autistic”

How can you tell the difference between a naughty child and a child with an Autistic Spectrum Condition? What kind of things upset a child with autism? How should other children interact with children on the spectrum?

It’s Autism Awareness Month, and we’ve been busy showcasing our games at the ‘Anna Kennedy Online’ Autism Expo. Autism affects up to 1 in 64 people, and here at BrainBox we’re really keen to understand more about it.

There’s so much information in so many places it can seem daunting, so we’ve pulled together six great tools to help us all get better acquainted with the A-word:

6 tools to help you understand autism better

Video: Too much information

This new video from the National Autistic Society shows how 10 year old Alexander feels when he tries to walk through a busy shopping centre. He gets sensory overload, so the plethora of sounds, sights and smells can be very confusing and upsetting, and people brushing into him can sometimes be too much. Watch the video and see if you can make it to the end.

Game: Pick a character

Autism can affect people in so many different ways. This interactive animation from Autism Scotland lets you choose a character to understand more about how their spectrum condition affects their daily life:

Article: Talk about it

Children are accepting of differences but they don’t always understand them, so it’s important to talk honestly about autism with all children, whether they’re on the spectrum or not. This blog gives 10 ways to talk to children about autism:

Programme: The A-Word

Many of you will have seen the BBC drama The A-Word. Here’s what it’s all about: “How do you respond to attempts to change you when change is the thing you fear the most? The series follows Joe’s resistance and his response to those who demand things from him he cannot give. And his manner of dealing with the family around him and their ever-changing needs provides us with a dramatic journey that is emotional, funny and real.” Watch it on iPlayer.

Blog: Autism in the family

Back in May 2014 we featured a blog from Lucie Aiston who has two children with autism. She told us how she uses play to help her son learn to share and interact. Read more about it here:

Parents View: Games that help

Here at BrainBox we want to help and we think our games do just that! Here, parents tell you which games hit the mark for children with learning differences like autism and dyslexia:

Whatever you do for Autism Awareness Month with your children, we hope you’ll keep learning – and keep it fun!