Several years ago, I came across “Sandra Dodd’s Thought Manipulatives” aka “Thinking Sticks.” I thought they were really cool, but I also thought, “I’m not going to buy them when I can easily make some myself.” About 2 years of intending to make them, I finally decided to fork over the $10. I figured it would be worth it to help out a fellow homeschooling mom. I tell you, it’s the best 10 bucks I’ve ever spent.
The set comes with about 35 sticks, and there’s a topic on both sides of each stick. Basically, it’s a game. There are multiple ways to play, but the most basic one is this: You just pull out 2 sticks, toss them down, and start a discussion. Everyone should be able to find a connection and add something to the conversation. Then, you bring in a 3rd stick that you have to somehow tie in with the other two. It’s great when you have “Germany, Space, and Soup,” or “Automotive Engineering, Weaving, and Holidays,” or some other strange combination. It’s not always that way, though. Sometimes you’ll get “Japan, Children, and Hats,” or “Toys, Environment, and Animals.” You never know!
The idea is that it causes your brain to make connections where it normally wouldn’t. Theoretically, the more connections you have inside that complicated circuit board in your head, the smarter you are, or rather, the better of a thinker you are. It’s exercise for your brain. And based on what I’ve been reading, the brain needs exercise, just like any muscle in the body, so that it can stay strong. There’s an article on Science Daily called “Well-Connected Brains Make You Smarter in Older Age” that explores this very idea. According to the article, “Brains that maintain healthy nerve connections as we age help keep us sharp in later life, new research funded by the charity Age UK has found.”
Aside from all that, the Thinking Sticks are fun. They’ve sparked many great conversations in our family, and it’s cool to see how your kids think, and how that changes as they grow. We first got ours when Max was about 7, and have used them since. (He’s 10.5 now.) I always keep them in my purse so I can bust them out at any time. My favorite time to use them is when we’re at a restaurant waiting for food. We can take out the ones we need, and then Oliver, my 4 yr old, can play with the remaining sticks. He can build with them, or sort them by color. It’s perfect.
I bought a set of colored popsicles from Casey’s Wood Products (the place Charlie ordered the novelty parts she used in her Random Wood post). I’m thinking of using them to make a few sets of Thinking Sticks to give away as inexpensive, hand made gifts. You could certainly make your own, but the set from Sandra Dodd is fabulous. If you have $10 to spare ($13 if you’re outside of the US), then I recommend buying them from her. They’re very pretty, and will last for years. Plus, she includes an excellent set of instructions and creative ways to use them.