The groups playing our rooms are as diverse and unique as escape rooms themselves. Most of the teams playing our rooms are groups of friends or families, also with children. If one thinks about escape rooms, one might imagines demanding riddles that need a lot of brain power to be solved. One might be weary of the possibility that young children would enjoy themselves in escape rooms, let alone be able to solve any riddles. After all, that requires concentration, patience and a lot of mental labor. However, as an experienced game master (and psychology student) I can ensure you that we often times underestimate our little ones. In this blog I will lay out the reasons for why escape rooms are beneficial to children, and how they even help children to improve their cognitive abilities.
The psychology of children
Jean Piaget, a Swiss psychologist and by far one of the most influential psychologists to ever live, was concerned mainly with the cognitive development of children. His view differed from the consensus of that time, which was that children would adopt a passive role in their development. For example, some psychologists of that period would label children as „tabula rasa“ , as blank slates, that would over time solely be influenced by their environment. On the contrary, others argued for a development solely driven by biological processes. Today we know that the truth lies somewhere in between, meaning that biological processes and environmental factors influence each other, and they drive development by their interaction. Now, Piaget added that children would even be actively forming their own development. He discovered that children form basic knowledge about the world very early on. They are curious by nature, and therefore they improve this basic knowledge continuously – like little scientists. They would establish theories about the world, that would get better and more differentiated with time. With preschool children these theories are restricted to the domain of real, tangible things, like how gravity works (things fall to the ground) or what kind of different animals there are. When they get into school, they encounter numbers and letters, and their numeric and verbal abilities increase drastically. For the first time they are able to form symbolic representations and they are able to learn abstract thinking. Additionally, their concentration spans become longer, so they learn how to focus on more and more complex tasks. They learn how to operate strategically and become solution-oriented individuals through exercises. Sadly, school work increasingly becomes more dry and boring, and the childrens attitude slowly changes from one of „wanting to learn“ to one of „needing to study“. Thats why escape rooms are so beneficial for elementary school children.
Escape Rooms for the cognitive development
Escape rooms stimulate children in line with Piagets perspective — as little scientists. Escape Rooms are all about being curious, exploring, and about working solution-oriented. Furthermore, one dives into a story and for a certain amount of time is isolated from everyday life, indeed one even adopts a different role. One experiences a flow – like state, and the sense for fantasy gets stimulated. This is actually the same principle when children play with each other. In „pretend-play“, children take on different roles (like playing father/mother) and learn how to put themselves in the positions of others which is very important for the development of certain traits, like empathy. The amount of fantasy that children naturally have in this age, sadly is lost when we become adults. Thats why the stories in escape rooms feel more real to the children, and they solve the riddles very enthusiastically. So basically, escape rooms connect difficult cognitive tasks with play, and therefore support children in their problem solving abilities. For children older than nine it is suggested to have adults with them in the room, but children of twelve year olds and older are very much able to play our rooms only with their peers. If they want to solve our riddles, they need the same strategies as everyone else. The most important things are good communication among each other and a efficient group dynamics. The types of riddles are very diverse, and every person has their strenghts and weaknesses elsewhere. As a game master, it happened quite a few times that children were even faster in solving certain riddles than grown ups. Often times creative thinking is required, and children surpass us in that immensly. Additionally they’re very used by everyday school life to be confronted by an exercise and to have to solve them immediately. Thats why they love to get going without speculating too much about which way is the best way to start. They just do it, and this is sometimes more efficient in escape rooms. Last but not least it has to be said that escape rooms offer an experience of success. If children (and grown ups too!) are able to solve a difficult task, they feel reassured in their competences. This increases self-esteem – if a child feels smart, this is very beneficial for it’s future development. To summarize: If you play escape rooms with your children, you not only allow them to further their cognitive abilities in a playful and active manner, but also gift them the opportunity of an experience, that they might remember their whole life.