________________ CM . . . . Volume XXII Number 13 . . . . November 27, 2015

excerpt:

"Look at this!" he cried. "We accidentally tore the instructions apart. If we tape the instructions back together, we can use them to build something!"

After the instructions were whole again, the task was clear. These were logic 3D puzzle games!

"We have to put the cubes together according to the clues."

"Okay. Let's begin!"

They read the instructions. For each puzzle, there were two pictures.

"The picture in the window gives you two clues: First is the number of cubes of each colour to collect. Second is the pattern of colours for connecting the cubes according to the model given on the right."

Following the instructions step by step, they constructed the first piece of art in just a few minutes.

"Look! It's a robot!" the Smarti bears cheered proudly.

"Let's make another!" said one little bear.

The bears worked hard as a team. In just one hour, they assembled four pieces of art. Each item stood upright with the colour cubes securely linked. (From
Smarti Bears Create Art.)

Part of the "Wisdom for Children" series of boxed stories and accompanying game kits, created by educator George Ghanotakis, founder of the Canadian Institute of Philosophy for Children and special consultant for K-12 thinking skills programs in various provinces, these titles are meant for individuals or small groups of players to use with adult supervision, and, eventually, independently. The premise is that the adult reads the story and discusses it with the child, and then the child has some examples to colour before playing the actual game. (If the storybook and kit were purchased for home use, the colouring pages could be used, but not in a classroom setting as only one person could have a chance to participate.) Each kit is comprised of a book, nine game cards (which include an instruction and an answer key), game pieces and a coloured die. The skills covered in each kit are listed on the instruction sheet along with tips for parents and teachers, while yellow stars at the bottom of each game card indicate the level of difficulty, ranging from one to three.

Though kids might find some of the games fun to play, there is not much new or original here. Teachers have been using educational attribute games and cubes to teach logic, problem-solving, matching, concentration and patterning for decades, and there are many similar commercial products on the market for parents to purchase for their children. The text in the storybooks varies from being quite juvenile to using more difficult vocabulary that can occasionally be a bit confusing or didactic. As well, it might have been a good idea to provide one or two extra game pieces in each kit in case one goes missing, and solutions should have been printed on a separate card instead of on the reverse side of the ninth game card. Finally, the kits are rather pricey for a game that might only be played a few times.

In Smarti Bears on the Run, Mama Bear returns from the grocery store to find that her nine children have all run off to play their favourite sports, leaving her clues as to where each of them has gone. Following the clues, Mama quickly figures out where they are and is able to deliver their lunch to them. The accompanying game focuses on spatial orientation, problem-solving and logic. Players must place the 3D plastic bears on game cards according to the sport the bears are playing- parachuting, sailboating or racecar driving. Diagrams give clues as to the proper placement on the cards.

The bears are enjoying a swim in the lake in Smarti Bears Go for a Swim, but Mama Bear wants them home for lunch. She devises a game whereby they have to line up on the zigzag trail home according to the clues she provides. Along the trail, Mama places coloured flags which correspond to the bears' coloured t-shirts. The games in this kit are the easiest of all the games in the series, even at the most difficult level. The main skill here is sequencing.

In Smarti Bears Create Art, the bears decide to enter an art contest. Using inter-connecting coloured cubes, they create four different art pieces- a robot, an elephant, a dog and a pyramid- and win first prize. Ironically, the prize is for creativity, yet the bears followed instructions on the box of cubes to create their masterpieces. The main skill featured in the game kit is also creativity, but it is really just matching because players are asked to duplicate exactly the patterns given on the game cards. There is no room for originality or creativity at all. In fact, the possibility of using one's imagination and trying something different is not even mentioned in the instructions/tips for parents.

It is Mama Bear's birthday and Father Bear has taken her out to a restaurant for dinner, leaving the little bears with Miss Mouse, a babysitter. In Smarti Bears Make a Gift, the bears decide to make Mama a unique birthday gift with the help of Miss Mouse. She provides them with buttons of three different shapes, colours and number of holes for sewing on to Mama's favourite apron. The object of the game in the kit is to follow the clues to place buttons on an apron card. Yellow, red and blue foam buttons - squares, circles and triangles - have one, two or three dots on them. In addition to placing the buttons correctly on the game cards, players must interpret + and – signs which indicate whether or not a particular button can be placed on that part of the grid. This game does not really get increasingly difficult until the sixth of the nine cards. Perhaps the buttons should have been made of hard plastic, like the game pieces in the other games, so that they will last longer, but, for home use, the foam is alright. What might have made this game more challenging is making each of the shapes in different colours instead of all the triangles being yellow, all the squares red and all the circles blue.

Though this series has merit, the concepts and skills it professes to teach have already been covered by other products on the market.

Recommended.

Gail Hamilton is a former classroom teacher and teacher-librarian in Winnipeg, MB.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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