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BookSmithStudio.com | Nikki Smith Book & Visual Artist

Handmade books and various art explorations

Creative Work, Creative Play, Creative Learning

August 1st, 2010 by Nikki Smith

This weekend I was inspired by my 2yr old daughter to create a photo concentration/memory game to help build her vocabulary. There are some nice games for kids that we’ve found, however they weren’t quite what I was looking for.  Building our own game allows us to continually expand her vocabulary by adding new photos and themes, and eventually increasing it from the simple 16 cards to a more challenging number as her skill and confidence grows.

I started out by actually making my own “real-world” concentration cards with photos for her.  That was fun, but they also get lost, bent, and bitten.  They need to be backed by matboard or some other heavy paper to minimize the damage a 2yr old can inflict.  Plus it’s not as easy to add more photos.

So, it was back to my “day job” creative skills – crafting a digital game instead of a physical one this time.  I do enjoy this type of creative work; it’s a nice break from building eCommerce stores and great that I can apply this skill set to improving the life of my child, too!

I’ll share two resources here, in case you are interested in doing this for yourself.

  • Basic Javascript Concentration Game.  First, About.com has a simple open-source javascript Memory game with 30 tiny cards where you provide your own photos.  I used this code as a base (to not “re-invent the wheel” for the basics) and customized it extensively so that it met my criteria and was more friendly for a toddler.  (I incorporated larger photos, a smaller number of cards [16 instead of 30], a flexible and expandable library of images chosen randomly rather than a fixed number of images, longer delay before images disappear on failed matches, ability to select a photo theme for each game, and the sound of kids applauding when she wins.) However, the above game is free and a great place to start for someone who has very basic html skills (i.e. cut-and-paste into head and body) and can create/resize their own images.
  • Photo Search Engine: COMPFIGHT.   I just discovered this site and I love it!  It allows you to search for Creative Commons licensed photos on Flickr – just choose “Creative Commons ONLY” at the top.  What a great source for inspiring images that you can use guilt-free!  Most images just require attribution to the photographer if you are sharing it.  (Check the license on each photo and respect the copyright of other creative folks like yourself, please!)

So now for my creative play step – building the photo theme libraries of images.  What words would I like her to learn?  What would she enjoy?  What words that she already knows should be reinforced with more visual images to represent their variety?  I have started on the following themes, adding images both from the web (see above link) as well as my own photography:

People Theme.
people theme: jumpThis includes:

  • Head-shots of relatives (especially those who live far away) and playmates
  • Professions such as doctor, dancer and fireman
  • Facial expressions and feelings such as happy, sad and silly
  • Actions – people jumping, etc.
  • Other ideas for this category are body parts, ages, gender, etc.

Places Theme.
Places theme: cabinThis includes:

  • Types of buildings and structures: yellow house, tent, etc…
  • Nature scenery like waterfalls, forest, mountains, the beach, fields…
  • Destinations like home, school, the park, etc.
  • Cities, planet earth, landmarks, a map, etc.

Animals Theme.
Animals theme: squirrelThis includes:

  • Pets
  • Farm animals
  • Zoo animals
  • Baby animals
  • Unusual / less common animals (i.e. those that aren’t in her picture books)
  • More examples of animals she knows — the variety of colors, shapes and sizes of dogs, for example.

Numbers Theme.
Number theme: 2We’re trying to teach our toddler that “20” is “twenty” and not just “two, zero”.

This includes:



Misc things theme: robotMisc Things Theme.
This includes:

  • Anything that doesn’t fit somewhere else!
  • Random electronics like cash registers, calculators, cameras, computers, etc.
  • Robots, thermometer, teapot, fire, hammers, etc.

Other Theme Ideas:

  • Transportation Theme
  • Food Theme
  • Nature Theme
  • Characters Theme – just for fun: all of your child’s favorite cartoon or storybook characters.

Plans for the Future:

As she ages, I intend to make more complicated versions of this game to build additional skills like reading and reasoning.  For example, instead of matching two identical images she would need to match the photo and the word or first letter of the word (i.e. a picture of a house with the text “house” or the letter “h”), or match opposites (night/day, happy/sad), or two photos in the same category (i.e. two different images of horses, two different cats, etc.)  The possibilities are endless!

Creative Play and Creative Learning

The real-world test: What does my toddler think about this game?  It’s fun!
Is her vocabulary growing?  By leaps and bounds!

By the way, my daughter touches the screen to tell us which card she’d like to flip (“that one!”) and either mommy or daddy moves the mouse and clicks the square.  But it’s only a matter of time until she learns that skill, too!  (If only we had touch-screen monitors…)

She loves finding the matches and the sound of kids applauding when she wins!  When she makes a match she says “yay, two robots” (or whatever the item was.)  I’m constantly amazed at how much and how fast she learns, and this is just one more great way to foster those skills.  Way to go, kiddo!

Photo Credits for above images:
Jump, Cabin, & Squirrel: My family’s photos
Number 2: Flickr user Boklm
Robot: Flickr user Tinkerbots

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