Thursday, January 17, 2008

Caribou Cranium-A Great Communication Game

The object of Cariboo Cranium is to find balls that are hidden randomly behind little doors and then put them in a shoot. The doors are opened with a key. When six balls are placed in the shoot, the treasure chest opens and inside is a treasure. See the video clip below to get the feeling of the game. We often put new treasures in the chest to keep the game interesting. Chocolate coins work well. Little jewels are fun. There are many communication skills that we teach with this game:

Learning Vocabulary: It is possible to put any picture you want on the little doors of this game. We use sticky poster clay to adhere new pictures on the doors. Your child can learn to understand new words and demonstrate comprehension by only opening a box if you tell him or her to do so. Open the Elephant door. Open the Zebra door. You can put the pictures of classmates on the doors and say Open Andy's door.

It is also possible for your child to learn to say new words. In this case, your child asks for permission to open the door. He or she might say Can I open Elephant Door? or a less verbal child might say Elephant? and you would grant permission or not.

Understanding new words is called receptive vocabulary and saying new words is called expressive vocabulary. More abstract vocabulary or phrases can be taught, first receptively and then expressively by creating a game of describing the picture. For example, your child might be learning category words: Open a door with a food on it. Open a door with an animal on it. Open a door with a small animal on it. Open a door with a sweet food on it. When you add the words small or sweet, then the learning objective is learning descriptive vocabulary. You can become increasingly complex, depending upon the pictures you can find. Open a door with a boy who is tired on it. Open a door with a boy who is hungry on it.

Now here is the manufacturers game idea:

There are a set of cards that come with the game and when it is played as intended, it is a matching game. The child picks up a circle card and then only opens the door if there is circle pictured on the door. In most cases, we don't play the game as the manufacturer intended because when you play it that way, there is not real reason to talk. Still, we usually teach the game to the child as a matching game because learning a new game takes a lot of mental energy and we want the child to focus on how to play the game rather than trying to learn the game and at the same time learn new language skills. We do often use the cards, though, even after we start making it a communication game but one person holds a card so that the other can't see what is on the card. That is what is happening in the clip below.

Asking for information: In the clip below, the child is learning to ask for information. He wants to know if he can open a door with the key and the adult tells him yes or no based upon whether her card matches the picture on the door. If the child understands that this is the way the decision is being made, it is easier to stay calm when the adult says no.

This little boy was much more interested in the game when we started calling all the openings magic boxes. We modified the game to make it more interesting and motivating to him. Another way we could modify this game would be to include pictures on the doors that depict something very interesting to the child. For example, we might put photo's of Dora characters or Thomas the Train engine and engine friends.

Reading Non-verbal communication: If we just used non-verbal head shakes and nods to answer yes/no, the game would be teaching non-verbal communication.

Shifting Attention Rapidly: If the game is played non-verbally, the child needs to look down at the game to pick a door and then look up at the adult to ask permission to open that door. This non-verbal version is good practice shifting attention rapidly between object and person.

Inhibiting Movement: It is also helpful for some children who need to learn to inhibit movement to play this game because between asking to open a particular door and opening it--there is a pause, a waiting period sometimes followed by inhibiting the opening of one door and moving on to another. Some children think of doing a thing and then do it and do not know how to inhibit between thinking and doing. I sometimes have to hold a child's hand and give a gentle prompt to move to a new door when the answer is no. But soon the child can do this with out help.

Using Non-verbal Communication: If the child holds the cards and the adult asks permission to open a door, then the child can nod yes or shake no. This allows the child to learn a non-verbal expressive communication skill. In this and other games, it was a surprise to me how hard it is for many children to nod or shake their head.

Reversing Roles: If the child is the one giving permission on a turn, the child is learning to play both communication roles and this skill of taking turns telling and listening is needed for the child to be able to play with a peer.

What makes this a good toy/game is that it is fun for many children and it can be used to teach many different learning objectives.

  • Keys, doors, treasure, mystery, balls--all of these things are pretty interesting.
  • The child is really communicating with this game not just practicing communication.
  • There is a clear role for each play partners.
  • The roles can be reversed.
  • Almost any kind of vocabulary can be taught, so long as you can find pictures.
  • There is an interesting physical action that takes place between each communication exchange and it makes the game intrinsically rewarding.


Jessica said...

This is a great idea. I'm already thinking about how we can do this with my son. I love reading your blog which gives me so many wonderful ideas. Thank you for your willingness to share these ideas for any who want to look at them.

Tahirih said...

Thank you for commenting. It is nice to hear back from readers. I know the blog is being read as I get a lot of hits on the counter but feedback really is encouraging.

Unknown said...

I have a 5 year old on the autistic spectrum (havent got a diagnosis but I am sure). Although he is with a terrific speech and language therapist and is in a mainstream school I have many helpless days when I dont know what exactly I should do with him that addresses some key issues and is also fun. Your website is my lifeline. I am more grateful than I can say and cant wait for my child to get back from school today. I will certainly let you know how specific games have worked with us.