Escape Room, Kids, Puzzle Design

Writing Escape Rooms for Kids — A Perspective

So it’s been interesting. I’ve been working on two different “rooms” now for my kids and I’ve already found some roadbloacks as far as them making their own logcal leaps. There’s been puzzles that I’ve come up with that are diffficult for them to understand, even sometimes with plenty of hints.

For example, in this last edition of the “spy” series of challenges, there was an instance where they not only had to count the number of shapes around the room to get the numbers to use for a code but they also had to use another sheet with the shapes and smaller numbers inside of them to determine the actual order of the numbers from the shapes. For example, say they counted 2 triangles, 3 squares and 4 circles. The other related printout also had numbers inside blank versions of the shapes that indicated #1 was squares, #2 was circles and #3 was triangles. When these numbers were correctly aligned, they could open the next lock.

They seemed to really struggle with this one, though. They seemed to catch on quickly that there were different shapes up around the room but they seemed to get stuck there, even with a few other hints about order, number of items and even reinforcing the blank page telling them the order. I tried to make things a bit more challenging this time around and I think I ended up going too far. Even with my oldest being 11 right now, a logic lead like this seemed to be a bit much for him to gasp.

It’s an interesting balance, trying to find the right spot where the puzzles are easy enough for a younger person (11’s not really a child anymore) to understand and follow through on. It’s one thing when you’re in the middle of an escape room and you have an adult to work you through a problem. It’s another when you’re the oldest person in the room trying to figure out a puzzle. Ultimately, my oldest ended up a bit more frustrated with this latest spy puzzle set despite there being some new elements he didn’t quite grasp.

So, I’ve decided to give it another go and try something different this time. I’ve learned a lot from my previous two scenarios and I think I’m more finding my stride when it comes to kid-centric escape room kinds of games. I’m getting e better feeling for what they’re able to solve and what can keep them engaged in the game and wanting to figure it out.

It’s interesting to listen to podcasts (shout out to Escape Room Divas!) and read reviews of rooms with unique elements and fun twists and turns. I love hearing about their experiences and general details of what other rooms are like. I’m coming to realize more and more, however, that there’s a missing demographic of people that escape rooms are just too much for – our kids.

I’m not just talking about my kids here, I’m talking about kids in general. We as adults find it challenging to stretch our logic and work through these puzzles in order to make it out of the room in the allotted time. We reason through the puzzles given to us, using our own experience as a source for determining patterns and connecting random clues and items. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed about kids though, is that problem solving and learning about these patterns and solutions is part of their normal process.

We all remember what it was like, trying to find our way and navigating the halls of junior high or high school. We know how hard it was sometimes to figure out what was the right way forward. We all remember how difficult it could be to just make it and come out the other side unscathed. This is the perfect relation to what it means to be a good “Escape Artist” and get out of a room in one piece. Finding the clues, reading the patterns and making the logic jumps are all required to make it through school and life after that successfully.

The only problem with kids is that it takes a while for their logic centers to kick in. They can make some connections but not all of them. A lot of this depends on the environment they’re in too. From early on I was a part of the “nerd” crowd and we valued knowledge as a way that we could have our advantage. We worked hard to keep our grades up and to learn as much as we could about the world around us. We worked out the parts of our brains required for problem-solving and making those same kinds of logic jumps. It wasn’t really until later on, almost college, that the kind of thought process that an average escape room would require began to develop.

Now we need to roll back the clock and take it back down to an 11 year old and what kind of logic jumps he can make. It’s considerably less than the average 18 year old making his way off to college. It has taken a time or two to figure out the right level of the puzzles that would match someone of his age, but I think I’m getting there. The logical leaps have to be smaller and the clues need to be more obvious than they would for an adult (or even a high school graduate).

Part three will be coming up shortly and I feel like, having undershot the first time and overshot the second time that this third time should be more of the “charm”. Hopefully, the puzzles will make more sense and the narrative will help drive the story a bit better so they connect into one more cohesive piece with one clue leading easily to another.

It’s a tricky thing, trying to figure out what’s the appropriate mental leap for someone younger than yourself without being an educator. Teachers create entire curriculum around the kids they’re teaching, knowing what skill level they’re at because they’ve been taught that. Someone on the outside like me only has assumptions to base it on but I’m slowly learning…I’ll get there…