Excerpted from a sidebar in Child of Wonder:
Mazes can be traced back to as early as the 5th century B.C Egyptians, with early records placing the Egyptian Labyrinth as more fantastical than even the pyramids. We see mazes appear in literature as early as the story of the Greek myth of the Minotaur. Fortunately for us, our maze journeys will not end with a meeting with the half man / half bull creature. Instead, mazes and especially the creation of them, have the potential to lead us to a life of rich creative thought.
The benefits of making and doing mazes are wide reaching. They offer opportunities to practice planning ahead, trial and error, motor development, and critical thinking skills. They are engaging and fun for all levels of learners, from toddlers to grandparents, and can be a great point of connection to share ideas, work together, and challenge your thinking-outside-the-box skills.
Webster's tells us that a maze is a confusing, intricate network of winding pathways; specifically with one or more blind alleys. From commercially made mazes to the ones we make ourselves, the opportunity to practice first being confused then working our way through the pathways is a virtually unbeatable way to practice creative and critical thinking.
Maze books can be found in almost any grocery, dollar or book store. Keep maze books around (in the bathroom, car, or on the writing table) for your kids to stumble upon. The process of tracing a pencil or marker through the maze can be a wonderful prewriting exercise. For young children just learning to aMaze themselves, try My First Book Of Mazes and Amazing Mazes, both by Shinobu Akaishi and Eno Sarris. As children move beyond their first maze books, the selections become more plentiful. Check out A Super-Sneaky, Double-Crossing, Up, Down, Round & Round Maze Book by Larry Evans for seasoned mazers.
As far as board games go, there are several good options for all age ranges to have fun with mazes.
Labryinth (and Labryinth Jr.) by Ravensburger, is probably the best maze game available and has been around for decades in Europe. Rush Hour and River Cross, both by Think Fun, are wonderful maze type games that involve a good deal of strategy. Think Fun, www.thinkfun.com, makes junior versions of most of their games but consider just investing in the regular version because they too are leveled and can grow with your kids.
Even the tired old Candy Land can be revived when you think of it as a maze.
Marbles, and their inherent movement, make for great maze travelers. Make your own by attaching pieces of recycled materials inside a tray or box lid or use pipe insulation to make marbles travel from atop bookshelves or other furniture and do loop de loops. TEDCO makes a particularly wonderful Marbles and Blocks game that offers endless possibilities for marble maze making.
Examples of Mazes
Like all aspects of creative development, provide opportunities to witness maze making. Point out mazes you see everyday in the places you happen to frequent such as the grocery story, your favorite park, a rose or botanical garden, or the local library. One great example of mazes occurring naturally is through up close viewing of an ant farm (available in almost any toy store).
Computer Games and Websites
Many software programs and websites offer interactive maze experiences. They can be fun and challenging, but don’t let this be the only mazing you do because computers have yet to offer all the motor skill development and tangible experience that many of the others listed here can.
Make a Maze
Mazes are a great time filler. While in restaurants, waiting for a bus, sitting in the doctor’s office. Whether on a the back of an old receipt, on a napkin, or in your sketch book, making your own mazes can meet all skill levels and engage all learners. Whether you are working on making them together or challenging each other to finish your creations, incorporate maze making into your waiting repertoire.
For very young children, you can introduce them to mazes by using a Maze Table, the kind with large pieces of wire connected to a table, where you can move a large bead through the maze. Unfortunately, these tables can run up to several hundred dollars. The up side is that a maze like this is not altogether difficult to make on your own. With sculpting wire (available at art supply and craft stores) and a few large beads, you can easily make an ever-changing maze or a more permanent one if attached to a table or large piece of wood.
But don’t stop there. Real life mazes are the ultimate in maze experiences. Use leaves, sand, snow, pillows, dominoes, blocks, chalk, hay bales, corn, and even mirrors to make mazes all year long. If you have a small section in your garden that is otherwise not being used, try sprinkling grass/rye seed or red clover in the shape of a small labyrinth.
Education and parenting itself is one big maze. We move through each experience trying new directions, sometimes hitting walls or other things that block our way, but eventually we find a way that works for our families. Along the journey, we pick up new techniques, strategies, and ways to think and approach the puzzles life brings. Eventually, we emerge at the finish with a sense of accomplishment and hopefully a few more problem solving skills that will aid us in the next maze we try to tackle.
Excerpted from a sidebar in Child of Wonder: