From Sesame Street to The Sneaky Chef, we adults have long been devising clever ways to help kids learn their ABCs and eat their vegetables. My animal-themed AnimaCrostics series is designed to kids build vocabulary and problem-solving skills through equally crafty means.
As an added bonus, AnimaCrostics puzzles also help kids develop an important personality trait—grit.
Many researchers, including Angela Duckworth, a University of Pennsylvania psychology professor, are finding that grit may be a better predictor of children’s success in school—and in later life—than IQ.
AnimaCrostics are intentionally challenging (from a child's perspective), but they’re also a lot of fun, which gives kids a reason to persevere. After all, what kid wouldn’t want to learn about fish farts, parrot puke, and hippo poop?
Step-by-step, illustrated instructions show how to solve the puzzles. Children are encouraged to use a dictionary, encyclopedia, and/or Internet resources while solving, which helps teach them basic research skills.
“The best kind of learning is the kind that doesn’t seem like learning at all. That’s what these puzzles are,” said Michael H. Dickman, Ph.D., a scientist, educator, and author of the Acrostica puzzle series.
“They’re fun and yet they are crammed full of information. Solving them means getting the spelling correct, as well as perhaps learning a new word or two per puzzle. The quotes are fun and educational, too.”
AnimaCrostics were recently tested by a large group of kids (ages 8-12) at an elementary school in Spokane, with extremely positive results.
“There is sheer joy in watching children’s faces light up when they've stretched their minds and figured out a puzzle,” said Heather Moore, a fourth grade teacher at the school. “The kids have a deep pride that only comes from accomplishment.”
So, how do you get kids to put down their electronic devices and solve good old-fashioned pencil-and-paper puzzles?
For parents: I have to assume that what worked on me back in the late 1960s will still work today—good old-fashioned money!
My mom, a former schoolteacher, offered me $10 for every puzzle book I completed, cover-to-cover, during summer break from school. At first I solved puzzles to fill my piggy bank, but I soon discovered that I loved puzzles so much it didn’t matter if I got paid to solve them or not. That was in 1969, when I was 8 years old, and I've been solving ever since.
You may have other incentives in mind—a special outing, a favorite dinner, a new video game. Whatever works for you, and motivates your child to solve puzzles.
For teachers: You can encourage kids to solve puzzles by making them an in-class exercise or a take-home extra credit assignment. If you cut out the individual puzzle pages and make copies of the solving instructions at the beginning of the book, one volume of puzzles can go a long way in the classroom.
Older children (10 and up) typically have no trouble solving AnimaCrostics puzzles on their own, while younger children (8-9) usually need a little help from a parent or older sibling, making AnimaCrostics a fun activity for the whole family.
And while AnimaCrostics are challenging for kids, they're quite easy for adults, making them perfect for older solvers who are newcomers to acrostics, or those who simply enjoy an easy puzzle once in a while. After all, who says kids get to have all the fun? We adults love learning fun facts about animals, too. :)