Kids just want to help. They want to help make dinner; they want to push the grocery cart all by themselves. And heaven knows they want to help solve that puzzle you’re working on. My daughter used to help me with the New York Times crossword by pointing to the few random words she was able to read and shrieking them with joy. Very helpful.
The Fireboy and Watergirl series of online video games really lets your kid help. Each level is a maze, which must be solved by two people working together. One player controls Fireboy, a smiling red flame, who will of course go up in smoke if he so much as touches water. The other player controls Watergirl, a sprightly blue splash, who naturally cannot enter the pools of lava that seem to be everywhere these days. Only through cooperation can the two friends make their way to the exit and the next, more challenging level.
The games — I believe there are four of them now — are perfectly accessible for even little kids: The only controls are right, left, and jump. (I started playing these games with my daughter when she was six.) But the puzzles themselves are no joke. After a few whet-your-appetite easyish mazes, things start getting challenging indeed. You’ll probably want to discuss strategy with your child — and you may be surprised how quickly your child sees the correct way forward. (“Okay, you stand on the blue button to lower the door and then I’ll go through and pull the lever so that the elevator descends, and you take the elevator to get the gem!”) Even so, certain levels will have to be attempted more than once — if either character touches something he or she should not, it’s curtains and back to the start.
We solve puzzles because it is satisfying to do so. Well, it is even more satisfying to solve a puzzle when your child is sitting on your lap, genuinely lending assistance every step of the way. Actually, wait — your child doesn’t merely “help” solve the Fireboy and Watergirl mazes. You and your child are, in fact, equals. You are helping each other.