One relatively recent area of brain research I find fascinating is the connection of movement to learning. For example, “A report in the journal ‘Applied Cognitive Psychology’ demonstrated that volunteers who doodled during a dull verbal message were 29 percent better at recalling details from the message.” (http://www.scholastic.com/browse/article.jsp?id=3751901) Movement is also a stimulant to creativity, as almost every art form demonstrates. (Can you think of any art that doesn’t require movement of some part of the body – hands, voice, feet?)
Perhaps that is why I have kept some form of colored blocks on my coffee table for years, inviting visitors of all ages play. Following are three of my favorite products in this category. The impulse to pick up the wooden pieces and manipulate them into pleasing designs is irresistible for all three.
This 10 x10” wooden frame contains 40 pieces in 10 colors and five sizes that can be arranged into an endless variety of patterns. Divide the board into quarters and duplicate your arrangements in each quadrant, divide it in half, or create random patterns in or out of the frame.
The four smallest pieces could be a choking hazard, but for most people this will not be a problem because the sharply angled edges would not be comfortable in anyone’s mouth. If I have any complaint about this set of blocks it is just that two of the colors – the lavender and orange – do not blend well with the others. The designs would be more aesthetically pleasing if they were changed to something like teal and gold, but it is a small complaint.
This block set also lends itself to group play. Give two people half the blocks or four people a quarter of the blocks and see who can come up with an interesting pattern all could replicate on the whole board. The box provides some ideas, but the point here is to come up with your own.
Each red, white and blue 1¾-inch ArtBlock™ cube is crafted of solid pine and painted with a different design on each of its six sides, but all 16 blocks have that same set. Together they can be made into countless designs in and out of the frame. In fact, the box my set came in carried a charming story of a romantic couple that used the blocks to form two hearts, an engagement ring, a question mark, a “yes” and “a pair of rings linked for eternity.”
ArtBlocks were created by Allan Phillips, and their inception was described like this:
“As an illustrator for The Charlotte Observer and the Chicago Sun-Times, Al noticed how his own creativity benefited from ‘playtime.’ Until he retired in 1998, Al’s job was to create drawings to accompany newspaper stories, often under tight deadlines. When in a crunch, he often found himself diverting his attention away from the assignment and onto something that would allow his brain to shift into a more relaxed state.
“He noticed that when he drew patterns or uncomplicated designs, his mind would buzz with ideas. He invariably came up with better ideas when he could find ways to divert his attention. Little did he know at the time, but scientists were discovering that the brain functioned more creatively if nudged into a relaxed — or ‘alpha’ — state.” (http://www.artblocks.biz/aboutartist.htm)
I told you playing with blocks was good for the brain!
The ArtBlocks box illustrates dozens of possible designs – as does the animated website. Like Pattern Play, multiple people can create designs with four or eight of the blocks and then share or combine their efforts. The appealing Mr. Phillips is said to be working on a new set of blocks – which I am certain will also be terrific – but frankly, I think this set could benefit from simply being offered in other more soothing color combinations – blues and greens, perhaps, or yellows and golds.
Nueve was designed by Newartifacts of Montevideo, Uruguay (hence the Spanish name) and is distributed in the U.S. by Noted (http://www.notedco.com/). Like ArtBlocks™ each of the nine blocks is painted with the same six patterns on each side, but in this case, the blocks are slightly smaller – about 1-1/4” cubes – and the background is red, with the patterns left in a natural pine wood. What I particularly like about this compact version, is that all the patterns are curvy, so any design you make feels relaxed and soothing.
This version is becoming harder to find, (It’s no longer even listed on the Noted website) but as of this writing is still available on Amazon.
Click here to order “noted* Nueve Cubes – red motif” from Amazon.
Click here to order Mindware’s Pattern Play from Amazon.
ArtBlocks is not available through Amazon, but you can learn more at http://revealgames.com/index.html