Thursday, January 31, 2013

Think-a-lot Toys Licensed to Continuum Games

Big news! (...and a bit late since so much has been going on.) 

Last fall, Think-a-lot Toys made the decision to license its line of games to a wonderful, family-game company called Continuum Games. For five years, we strove to be a thoughtful and creative game company that focused on imagination and storytelling games. We grew from making one small game called Think-ets to making a full line of Think-ets, which included different colors, sizes and themes--and then we added a suite of other storytelling games to round out the line up.

But we were small and needed someone else to take it to a wider audience. So, we made the decision to license our games to Continuum Games. We think they will do a wonderful job at this. Already, our line of "toys and games that make you think" is nicely integrated into their line of "family games to bring families together". It's great when the new owner not only likes the product but loves it and is truly excited about moving it forward.

So now, the story continues with Continuum Games. And, we hope it will be a good one.

PS- If you like Think-ets or want to see something developed, don't hesitate to contact Continuum Games with your thoughts.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Using Think-ets for Creativity, Avoiding Meltdowns, and Family Bonding

We get a lot of unsolicited stories from people who use Think-ets. Some of them crack us up; some of them make us smile; and some of them are things we never would have guessed.

One of my favorites is from a Mom who talked about how her "I-only-like-to-play-video games" son got wilder and wilder with the stories he was creating with Think-ets.  

"Think-ets was great fun. My daughter begged me constantly to play again. Then my 7 year old son joined in. Fun. BUT then, my 12 year old son wanted to play. Nice kid, sweet and all, but does love to play video games with his dad. Soon, our usual story line which included magical shells and mystical tea parties ended up with limbs being dismembered and villains rising from the dead and zombie invasions. The funny thing was that everyone was cackling at the twists of the game each time it was someone else's turn. To be very honest I actually have to tell them to give me a rest from it sometime, that's how much they want to play. Thanks so much for such a simple but ingenious invention!"

Another one comes from a waitress in a restaurant who said that she uses Think-ets to give to parents whose kids are having a meltdown at a nice restaurant.  

 “I thought you might like to know that I work in a not very kid-friendly restaurant (think boring for kids) and the Think-ets that I keep in my work bag have saved a couple of families from the dreaded meltdown. That's what we use ours for too. Great product.”   

Hey, if we can help parents eat a nice meal out AND have kids entertaining themselves with brain games, that's pretty cool.

Of course, Think-ets makes for a great travel game. If you are lucky enough to travel to Italy, you can bring it along with you to all the great Italian hot spots. 

"We brought think-ets on our three week trip through Italy.  It was the perfect travel game - light, FUN and always fits in mom's purse!   

Or if you're traveling in the good-ole-USA, you can bring it along as your go-to travel game.  

“A sister-in-law from Brooklyn, NY had Think-ets on a recent extended family trip to Florida and it was played often with cousins at restaurants, poolside, and waiting places."   

As far as I'm concerned if water and Think-ets are involved, I'm happy.

Then we had the media specialist (aka librarian) who used Think-ets to create a school-wide thinking competition at her elementary school. Barbara Medford was tired how all the competitions always at Bedford Hills Elementary School were sports related and she wanted to promote thinking skills in her students. That year, her school was trying to get kids away from the TV and video games and using their brains. So, Barbara created a day long competition—and it was a huge hit. She says:

“You could feel the excitement at the school build. Kids really were so excited to participate and those who moved up to the finals were thrilled. Many kids are good at sports and some kids don’t have that talent, so this game is good for them. I cannot express the excitement and enthusiasm that this game has created among our students. Thanks again for creating this marvelous brain exercising game!”   

Yeah for media specialists!

We all know how important family bonding time is. What we also know is that games make great family bonding activities. So we loved it when well-known author Daniel Pink (author of A Whole New Mind: Why Right Brainers Will Rule the Future) wrote to us and said:

"My family and I have had some rollicking good times playing Think-ets.  It's a terrific game for both sides of the brain!" 

I think bonding happens whenever the word 'rollicking' is used.

Finally, we discovered that the game has even been used by the tooth fairy. Says one Dad: 

"Whenever our daughter lost a tooth, she was instructed to put it in an empty Think-ets bag under her pillow.  By the following morning, the tooth fairy had removed the tooth and filled the bag with Think-ets. In a few months our younger daughter will start losing her teeth. Time to stock up on Think-ets again!"

We also hear from speech and play therapists, social workers, and lots of people who travel and are on-the-go. The game seems to be so creative and so portable. And, there is just something about the look and feel of miniature items that kids—and face it, adults—love.

It's just been fun to hear from people over the years how they have played with Think-ets. We even ask people to send in their stories (and photos) of the craziest places they have ever played the game—and we've gotten some good ones. Mine is when my daughter Meryl and I played with our Think-ets game in the revolving restaurant at the top of the Stratosphere Hotel in Las Vegas. (And, yes, we were there to see Cirque du Soleil.)

Thursday, June 21, 2012

The Story Behind Think-ets

Some people have asked how our game Think-ets came about. Here's the full story...

I came up with the idea for Think-ets after realizing how much my 8 year old daughter Meryl loved playing the game “What’s Missing?” when we went hiking in the mountains of Colorado. I loved to hike and she loved to play. So we used to play this wonderful, old fashioned game called “What’s Missing?” at rest stops along the way. 

We would use twigs, rocks, moss, etc. as our items to test our memories. The game made hiking fun and interesting for us. She no longer thought of hiking as a chore or a bore—instead, she welcomed the outings because she wanted to play "What's Missing?"! And since she LOVED this game, I thought to myself, "Why not make this into a game that others could buy as it worked so well with my daughter?" 

So, I put a handful of miniature objects in a little mesh pouch and with some friends came up with the name Think-ets. I added some more games to play so kids wouldn't get bored and soon Think-a-lot Toys was born. That was in the fall of 2007.

All of our “tiny treasures” have been painstakingly sourced from around the world. They come from Brazil, Mexico, Philippines, India, China, Peru, and the U.S.A. among others. We seek to avoid cheap plastic items that contribute to our world’s trash heap. We don’t believe in games that are bought one day and tossed the next. Some of the tiny trinkets are made in large factories and some of them are painstakingly made by hand by rural artisans.

For example, our little straw hats are made by some older men in a rural village in Mexico. My supplier says it's hard to say how long these will be made because the younger generation doesn't seem to be as interested in taking the time to make them. The little soccer player in our Sports Think-ets is hand painted by mostly women in rural India. The miniature animals are carefully made by Safari Ltd. in China by workers who hand paint each item. The little crown, coffee cup, copper chalice and jet airplane are made in a pewter factory in Rhode Island. I could go on but you get the idea. It's simply amazing to think about the craftsmanship behind some of these little trinkets.

And, we're happy to say that our game Think-ets is assembled at a facility that employs people with developmental disabilities located in Lakewood, Colorado. We like supporting our community in this way and many customers love knowing we do.

One other interesting story: Our company logo is the face of Meryl's best friend and next door neighbor growing up. Her friend's dad took the picture, morphed it a little, put some trinkets above her head to show think-ets imagination…and voila, a logo was born!

We now have 13 different versions of Think-ets (the same number of stripes on the American flag) and have also created other storytelling card sets and games. To date, we've sold more than 75,000 Think-ets here in the United States and in a few countries around the world. Our goal is to make "toys and games that make you think—and use your imagination." It's really true. Imagination is more important than knowledge.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Want to Get Your Kids Into College? Let Them Play

Really? Play gets kids into college? What could be better?

At Think-a-lot Toys, we've long advocated that play is an important factor in education. Play gets kids to have fun while learning new things. It teaches them how to interact socially and emotionally in healthy ways. So when I came across an article by a Harvard professor and an early childhood teacher who serve as "Masters" of a residential house at Harvard, I felt it was worth passing on because it shatters some of our beliefs that we have about how to create smart kids.

Their article says that while most parents think that while play-based education is good for a kid's childhood, skills-based education is what will get them into Harvard. After working with Harvard students for many years, they both came to the conclusion that in fact, this belief is wrong and should be switched. A play-based curriculum is better at getting kids into Harvard than a skills-based one.

Why? Because a play-based curriculum teaches kids how to play well with others. It teaches them how to listen to the feelings and ideas of others. It teaches them how to disagree, problem solve, be flexible and live with disappointment. And it teaches them how to control their impulses, which research says is the best predictor of school success.

How does this relate to getting into college?

Well, these authors write, "As admissions officers at selective colleges like to say, an entire freshman class could be filled with students with perfect grades and test scores. But academic achievement in college requires readiness skills that transcend mere book learning. It requires the ability to engage actively with people and ideas. In short, it requires a deep connection with the world." And play seems to be one of the best ways to get kids to engage with others and connect with the world in a constructive way. As they said, "They all know how to work, but some of them haven't learned how to play."

So, it appears that a play-based education really does get kids into college. As parents, we can make sure our kids have enough play in their life and we can advocate for having enough play at school and even in the classroom. Having games like Think-ets, StoryPlay Cards and Story Speller in the classroom may help get them into a great college.

To read the full article, visit

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Storytelling in Education

I came across an amazing statement the other day about the importance of storytelling in education.

"Amidst the bustle of our visually-oriented, technologically-enhanced, multi-tasking, competitive world where we share information through text messaging, sound bytes, cell phones, and disks that we burn, we need to be reminded of our humanity... Storytelling helps students be active not only in presenting but also in focused listening and reacting, enhancing the vital skills of communication."

This comes from a statement from the Youth, Educators and Storytellers Alliance of the National Storytelling Network (aka YES! Alliance) and I think it hits the nail on the head. Too often we spend time in digital communication rather than face to face communication. Storytelling, in all its forms, is a shared form of communication that brings us closer to our humanity.

According to their report, some of the benefits of storytelling in education include the following:
  • it enlivens the delivery of curriculum
  • it encourages students to think about issues
  • it can deliver emotional and factual content beyond a child's vocabulary or reading ability
  • it helps students stretch and expand their thinking
  • it expands visualization skills as children form pictures in their minds.
Indeed, we tell stories naturally. At dinner parties. In casual conversation. By the campfire. Even in business presentations. Learning to tell stories effectively is a useful skill and when we bring our silliness, imaginations and creativity to our stories we further engage our audience.

Sure, there are ways to manipulate stories to our own ends. And there are ways that we over indulge our emotional responses when we share our stories with others. But the art of storytelling requires that we balance our own personal stories by listening to our audience and blending our emotions with fact.

The YES! Alliance recognizes that storytelling has an important role to play in education. We here at Think-a-lot Toys couldn't agree more.

(To read the full statement from the YES! Alliance, go to: Position Paper.pdf)

Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Think-ets is...Major Fun!

We're thrilled to say that our game Think-ets has just won the "Major Fun" award from, who else...Major Fun!

Major Fun is also known as the award-winning designer and educator, Bernie DeKoven! Bernie has been inventing new ways to play since the early 1970s when he developed a curriculum in social skill development through games for the School District of Philadelphia and helped the New Games Foundation develop its international training program in facilitating large scale community play events.

What we love about him is the quality of his reviews and the insight into games, culled from years of experience. Check out what he wrote about our "game" Think-ets:

"But despite all the games that can be played when you open one of these packages, I’m not going to talk about the games. Instead I’m going to talk about what makes Think-ets such a great toy as opposed to a game.

A quick story. When I handed my daughter (9) and one of her best friends (11) a couple of bags of Think-ets, one of the first things they did was arrange the pieces. My daughter went for shape and color and her friend by alphabetical order. They created other patterns and spent half an hour or more just moving the pieces into lines. This actually seemed to fit some of the games mentioned in the instructions, so I suggested one of the other games and they shrugged without much enthusiasm but went right on playing with the pieces. They soon left the table and went off to incorporate the Think-ets into a rather complicated game of school they had going upstairs.

My guess is that most people will experience Think-ets in the way my daughter and her friend did. They are fascinating toys. They are vehicles for imaginative play, and in this capacity they are incredibly engaging. For a game to work—for anything to be considered a game in the first place—the players must agree to follow a set of rules; a prescribed set of behaviors must be followed. A game is a common set of behaviors. By contrast, a toy might suggest methods of play, but a toy is not limited to a single set of actions. You want your cowboy action figure to dive to Atlantis? Fine. You want it to actually be a dog instead of a human? Sure. That dog has a pet spider that looks a lot like my car keys? That’s great…

Hey! Gimme my keys!

Think-ets are Major Fun not because of the games that are included in the package, but because the collection of trinkets lends itself so well to the imagination."

See what I mean?

So, if you're looking for a great game, or toy, check out his site. You will be pleasantly surprised to see reviews from a pro. Check him out at

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

What's In a Story?

Have you ever really listened carefully to the stories that your kids or your friends tell when they are engaged in storytelling? It's an amazing exercise and may even give you lots of information about them.

Kierran Egan is a professor of education at Simon Fraser University in Canada and author of the book, "Teaching As Storytelling: An Alternative Approach to Teaching and Curriculum in the Elementary School." He argues that schools often ignore the power and educational use of children's imaginations. Kids make sense of the world through stories. It helps them manage the information that comes in. And, teaching through storytelling is an important tool that should be used in the classroom.

So, what does this really mean? Well, it means letting the kids learn about abstract concepts like loyalty and betrayal, courage and cowardice, and honor and selfishness through stories--both those written by famous people and those written or told by themselves. Stories have a way of tapping into symbolic expression, which lies a little deeper under the surface and which gets kids totally engrossed.

So, grab your bag of Think-ets or StoryPlay Cards and tell your kids or friends to tell you a story. Short ones are fine. Then, take a moment and really look at the story elements they included. I like to think of stories as little inkblot tests, they sure can tell you a lot about what a person is thinking. And that, can be really interesting--and boatloads of fun.