Back to school! Is it that time already?! As students and teachers are gearing up for another year of learning and growth, it brings to light how far removed the rest of us are from our early years of academics. Elementary school may have happened a bit further back than we care to admit, and while we might not remember all of the nitty gritty specifics, there are a lot of important life skills and lessons we can utilize even today.
Escape rooms are kind of like a holistic test in that it requires a multitude of skills and intelligences to complete, but don’t worry we won’t give you a grade or send you to detention if you don’t make it out. But a lot of fundamentals from our youth do come into play when working through escape room puzzles. Let’s take a look at some of the common subjects from our grade school years and what lessons and skills we can apply to escape rooms!
An intimidating subject for many, often fraught with frustration and sometimes sprinkled with success. We promise we do not incorporate crazy complex algebra, calculus or trigonometry that you might have muddled through in high school; most of the arithmetic you encounter in escape rooms is quite basic going up to 4th grade level math for the most part. Number recognition is a quintessential part of escape rooms, finding codes to open locks or a sequential order to put things. Addition and subtraction of items to discover a code or pattern are common skills to have in escape rooms. Every so often, you might find a puzzle with basic order of operations (Please Excuse My Dear Aunt Sally, anyone?), but nothing beyond that. Our first escape room, The Blood Map, had a puzzle to find a three digit code by solving a simple math problem relying on good ol’ PEMDAS, which would throw seasoned folks for a loop, but youthful players would breeze through. Sometimes math problems in escape rooms are disguised by word problems, but talking it through helps folks make sense of it. Other times, you might need to have a basic understanding of geometry and angles; play through Super Secret to see what we mean about that. When it comes to number crunching, we will often include a pen and paper to help you, but it sometimes helps to have this as a safety net when keeping track of numbers and patterns.
Your basic reading and writing. A lot of escape rooms have clues and riddles in written format; sometimes when you ask for hints, they’re given to you via typed up messages on a tv monitor. It’s also good to know spelling and grammar; pay attention to errors in any written clues and messages you find in an escape room as those errors might reveal a hidden word, message or number. Some puzzles even play with homophones and phonetics to solve them. For example one of our retired rooms, The Family Jewel, had a puzzle like this. In it, you combined or took away sounds (as indicated by a picture) to find a new word: sparrow - arrow + ear = spear. General reading comprehension and analyzing does help. You’re not needing to give a post-modern analysis of what you find, but you should be able to parse out disguised messages and codes beyond the surface level.
Elementary students would not ever conduct experiments with hydrochloric acid or dissecting a frog; as such, you would be hard pressed to find any sort of dangerous escape room puzzle. You do learn basic elements to the scientific method in grade school, encouraged to test out your ideas and record what you find. It’s a great idea to apply that basic skill to solving puzzles in escape rooms to keep your head straight and not flustered with the time crunch.
If it works that first time, awesome! You’ve made progress and completed a puzzle! If not, try again; you might have missed something that first time through. If at that point nothing is working, start over with a different idea or reassess the puzzle altogether as you may not have everything you need to complete it.
Most elementary school classrooms wouldn’t be complete without a globe or a wall map. Typically escape rooms follow suit, often incorporating these items into puzzles. In both situations, you don’t need to recall on a moment’s notice the 50 states of the US in alphabetical order or all of the rivers in the Serengeti, but it does help to have a basic idea of the relation of places on a map in the world to help you solve through these types of puzzles in escape rooms (or pass your 5th grade geography quiz). Chances are if you see a globe or wall map, you will most likely have some sort of puzzle incorporating it, like retrieving a key, finding a number code, or figuring out a new location. A lot of our escape room scenarios have some sort of map puzzle; see how we creatively make different puzzles from a common element!
While you won’t be doing crafts with macaroni noodles or playing with finger paints, you do need to know your colors and how to interpret visuals. Sometimes in escape rooms, there are hidden numbers or messages in the artwork in the room if you look at it from a particular angle or certain lighting. In our first room, the Blood Map, the final puzzle was holding the coveted treasure map up to the light to reveal hidden numbers to open the door to escape. Other puzzles might need to know basic color blending theory, like which two colors make green, but nothing beyond that involving hues or tones. Other times, if you are tracing a route for a given puzzle, that could make a number or meaningful shape; pay attention to those things as they could be useful. Check out Duel at Dusk to see how your days in kindergarten art class come to light in one of the puzzles. While you may use some of your artistic knowledge, we kindly ask that you keep any and all artistic expressions with writing utensils to just the paper provided and not the props in the room.
Ahhh… the sounds of 3rd graders playing recorders... Thank goodness that’s not something we encounter on a day to day basis. But think back to your elementary school music class: you learn basic skills in music like repeating rhythms and distinguishing different sounds. A lot of escape room puzzles require you to repeat patterns or listen to certain sounds. We’re not asking you to compose like Beethoven or sing an aria, but a basic understanding of music composition like beats and high/low pitches might come in handy. You might have to check out Blackwell Manor to hear how music plays a part in the eerie nature of that haunted house, or how music was used back in Ancient Egypt in Nefertari’s Tomb.
You won’t find dodgeballs or parachutes in escape rooms, and certainly, there is no need to climb on things, run around, or throw anything; however, gym class did introduce us all to timed events and games as well as teamwork and spatial awareness. Some puzzles require working together to move an item through a hidden maze or space relying on communication and a bit of physical effort (though no greater than the exertion of a pre-K kiddo). Perhaps our most physically immersive room is Bombshell, which does require someone to be able to crouch down/kneel as well as some steps; reach out to us for more information on this for accessibility. The classic and spooky scenario The Cabin has a few hands-on puzzles requiring dexterity and finesse to complete, but as always no brute force is necessary. Otherwise, keep a sharp awareness of how large (or small) your space is to work together efficiently to open all of the locks, discover each hidden area, and sail your way to victory.
In our early years of education, we learn necessary skills and discourse for problem solving and communicating. In escape rooms, we don’t need you to raise your hand for help or ask permission to use the restroom; however, you shouldn’t be afraid to ask as a group for a hint to help with your progression, and you are always free to step out of any of our escape rooms at any time to take care of your needs. It is important to have good listening skills as some of our scenarios give hints and clues via audio messages; not only that, but you should be minding what your teammates have to say and including their ideas to work through the puzzles at hand. With that in mind, try new ideas! Sometimes the “silly” idea might be the most efficient way to tackle that task. Talk through your puzzles as a group so you all (and your game master) have a good idea of where the others are at when working together to avoid repeating oneself or ideas.
Escape rooms and elementary schools require a lot of similar skills and knowledge. In fact, some teachers even create mini in-class escape rooms or puzzles for their students to work through as there are a lot of parallels to both environments. Just because escape rooms incorporate a lot of the fundamentals learned in early education, doesn’t mean that any grade school student could complete a room entirely on their own. Check out our handy dandy guide for bringing kids to an escape room for more information. Kids are brilliant and have a lot more to offer than we give them credit for, but having adult help will lead to a successful endeavor.
As we are in the back to school season, consider playing an escape room with your students as a field trip, coming with the youth in your lives to give them a break from the stress of classes, or going with your adult friends/teachers to break the monotony of life with some youthful fundamentals in an immersive environment. We do offer a discount to school groups who book with us. For more information on booking your school group at the New Mexico Escape Room, please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.