Watching Kids Play
By Tracy Dudkiewicz
In the eighteen plus years that I’ve worked in the game business, I’ve had some pretty cool highlights: working with the 90s boy band *NSYNC to develop a board game, helping to build a set for a TV pilot, and working with Miss America on a cause marketing campaign.
Recently, though, I experienced what might be my favorite day of my entire career, and in an unlikely spot - in a small 4th grade classroom, in a small Midwest town – West Carroll Elementary School, Savanna, IL. I was there with David L. Hoyt, America’s Premiere Puzzle Guru, the author of Jumble™ in 700+ newspapers nationwide, and the inventor of the new game WORD WINDER™. David and I went to Savanna to meet the 4th graders who have been working with us to develop a classroom version of WORD WINDER™.
Savanna is a depressed town with a population of 3,062. From speaking with some of the people in the town, I learned that many of the children at West Carroll Elementary School have never been further than 20 minutes from their hometown. Even with Chicago only an hour away, the children haven’t had the opportunity to experience all that the city has to offer.
David met West Carroll teacher Judy Mathers at the Chicago Toy and Game Fair in November of 2011. Judy was at the fair looking for games for her classroom, and when she saw David’s game and discovered that it was all about word building, she said: “I just had to have one.” At the time, WORD WINDER™ was still in its prototype phase, and any thought of a classroom version was little more than an idea. However, David asked Judy if she would like to pilot the game in her classroom.
As David said to me later: “How are we going to make a classroom version without a classroom?
We’re not going to teach: we’re going to watch, listen, and learn.
The kids are going to teach us!”
And that’s what David did. He and his partners at WORD WINDER™, Graeme Thomson of HL Games and Steven Bullock of Adveractive Inc, gave Judy’s class a dozen prototype copies. For three months the class played with and experimented with the game, with David staying in close touch via email, phone, and Skyping with the class.
At the end of March we went to visit – to hear from the kids themselves their thoughts about WORD WINDER™, and their input on how we could make it better. We interviewed each of the kids to see what they liked about the game and what they would change; the class challenged David L. Hoyt to a game of WORD WINDER™ on the Smart Board and they won; we created the largest WORD WINDER™ board in history right on their classroom floor; and we quizzed them with word puzzles from David’s WORD WINDER™ puzzle book to see if the puzzles from the book could be a learning tool in the fourth grade classroom.
Here’s what I learned and why this day was a “career highlight:”
- We are making a difference. One student said, “this is the highlight of my life.”
- These kids have good ideas! We learned we don’t need to come up with a different game for every level – they will adjust the rules. I saw strong readers paired with struggling readers. They just adjusted the rules to make it work so they could play together. For example, a student with a large vocabulary worked with a student with a smaller vocabulary to come up with a new rule variation – the more advanced student took one turn to the other student’s two turns.
- Gratitude goes a long way – I have never experienced such a genuine sense of gratitude because of the time we were investing in Savanna’s students… starting with the guy I met at the coffee shop to the administration, local media, and to the students themselves.
- Integrated Learning – we no longer can just release a product on one platform and have it work in the classroom. These kids played Word Winder on the Smartboard through the WORD WINDER app, the board game and the book.
Working with *NSYNC, building sets for TV pilots, working with Miss America were all very cool. But meeting the kids from Judy Mathers 4th grade class in Savanna, IL was beyond cool. It was a deeply rewarding, deeply enriching, and completely indelible learning experience. It showed me – showed us – what a couple of toy industry professionals can gain by giving, listening and observing. It will forever affect the way we see the impact our business can have on others…and the impact that they should have on us, what we do, what we create, and how we create it.
This summer grab a game and let your kids do the talking, the planning and just see what happens. And, when you are walking about and meeting people in life just as Judy Mathers was, look for the opportunity to get involved. Our industry needs input and partnerships with educators.
Here's the CBS News story showing the kids and the teacher talking for themselves:
Tracy Dudkiewicz is President and Owner of TAP MARKETING, a communications agency that specializes in helping companies maximize their marketing investment. She has worked with many internationally known brands on strategic marketing partnerships for her toy industry clients, including TGI Friday’s, Domino’s Pizza, Arby’s, Southwest Airlines, Sylvan Learning Center, Amtrak, Hilton Hotels, Kraft General Foods, and Pizza Hut.