Thursday, 31 August 2017

Escape Rooms for Families - Tips


An Escape Room is an experience where you have to find clues and solve puzzles to escape from a physical room. It might involve padlocks, keypads, physical problems to solve and more. Rooms have a theme and a backstory and many are fully immersive and try to make you feel like you're in the situation for real.

We think Escape Rooms are a brilliant activity for families. You'll have to combine your skills and work as a team to succeed.

Tip: Lots of Escape Rooms have deals on Groupon so it's well worth checking.



What Are Escape Rooms?

Escape Rooms are physical rooms that you enter as a group and have to solve puzzles to escape within a time limit, typically one hour though some offer extensions if you are nearly there. Many Escape Rooms have two rooms that you need to complete. 

Typical puzzles involve using logic to solve clues and codes to reveal combinations for padlocks, electronic keypads or other innovative ways of entering solutions. You may also find some physical puzzles where you have to manipulate props to release an object or clue. 

Some rooms are packed with technology while others just rely on padlocks. Some create an immersive experience with music and sound effects. Some have an elaborate back story while others are all about the puzzles. 

The thinking involved is similar to that in adventure style video games or room escape apps. Or problem-based geocaches or geocache trails. 

There are also outdoor escape experiences in many cities. These take a similar approach but clues are hidden around a city and you are given props that you need to solve the puzzle. Many cities also have family trails which are often less expensive and don't need props. An outdoor experience might be a better option for kids who aren't well suited to being stuck in a small room for an hour or more. 

Are Escape Rooms Family Friendly?

Many Escape Rooms are family friendly. We've seen the lower age for full participation given as 9 in some places, but most permit children unless the subject matter is unsuitable (there are some horror-themed rooms that aren't suitable.)

Our 9-year-old was kindly provided with a step ladder recently so that he could fully participate in high-up puzzles. We found that our kids aged 9 and 10 were able to fully contribute to helping us escape.

Rooms often have multiple puzzles active concurrently so having multiple team members helps to complete the room in time. This works really well because it gives kids the chance to spot some things first. Our kids have been genuinely useful and really enjoyed the experience.

Note that you're not really 'locked in', either the door will just be open or there will be a button release.

What Skills Do Escape Rooms Develop?

Escape Rooms are fantastic for encouraging logical thinking and collaboration skills in kids. These are great skills for computational thinking.

The experience is a bit like being in a computer game (Escape Rooms are inspired by video games) so it should appeal to gamers.

They also create an environment where you have to think under time pressure.

Escape Room Board Games

There are now quite a few Escape Room board games that you can complete at home. We recommend trying some of these before booking into a physical Escape Room. They'll help you understand the kind of thinking needed (though there's lots of variation) so you'll be able to make the most of your experience. Escape Rooms are, understandably, fairly expensive activities so you want to make the most of your time there. 

We've previously reviewed Escape the Room: Star Gazer's Manor which we would recommend for families.

Our Escape Room Experience

We've now completed three escape rooms as a family, with more planned. These are:

  1. The MAYAN room at Other World Escapes in Southampton. This was a fantastic first experience. It's a fully immersive set with loads of great features and interesting puzzles. The kids were really involved and my younger son was provided with a step ladder so that he could be involved with everything. There's a full backstory on the website which I read to the kids first (editing out some non kid-friendly content!) The room itself is completely child-friendly. 
  2. Pandora's Escape at City Games in Oxford. This was quite a good experience but we escaped in under 25 minutes. The puzzles just seemed to unfold in front of us. The main obstacle was that it's dark in the second room. We would have preferred more light and more puzzles to solve. There's no story that we could discern here. If we had completed this room first then we would have really enjoyed it and there were some nice touches. 
  3. Mission to Winchintzy at Clue Capers in Winchester. This was a really well put together experience. Lots of variety in the puzzles and really great props. The backstory was a bit weak, I don't think we thought about it at all while we were in the room. But it didn't matter, the setting was really nicely designed with lots of interesting details. 

Are Escape Rooms Worth the Money?

Escape Rooms aren't cheap. They typically cost more than a family trip to the cinema and are often close to the cost of a family day at a theme park or attraction. You may be able to find deals that reduce the cost (we've had success on Groupon.)

Unlike in a cinema or at a theme park, you are getting a really custom experience which does cost money to provide. Quite a lot of Escape Rooms are small independent businesses which we like to support. 

If your kids are the right age and temperament then a good escape room feels like value for money if it's an affordable amount of money for your family. We're finding that they're a great way to spend family time together now that our kids are entering the tween years and aren't so interested in younger kids attractions anymore. 

If escape rooms are beyond your budget, you could try an Escape Room board game, or try geocaching first. 

Escape the Room Video Games for Kids

I'd recommend the Hooda Math Escape Games for Kids, these are computer games where you have to move between rooms looking for clues and solving puzzles. They involve a lot of the skills that kids will need in Escape Rooms and in the real world. 

The graphics aren't fancy, but there's lots of thinking to be done and there are video walkthroughs if you get stuck. 

I'd also recommend adventure game apps. There are some brilliant ones out there. I'd particularly recommend The Lost City by Fire Maple Games. 

History of Escape Rooms

My partner and I both watched The Adventure Game on TV as children, this was a TV show where teams had to solve puzzles to escape from a series of rooms in a fantasy setting. (We've made our children watch it too!) I also watched Knightmare which used green screen techniques to create a puzzle environment through which a team had to guide an adventurer. Then there was The Crystal Maze which took a similar approach and has had a recent revival (on screen and with a physical venue for adults.)

I played lots of text adventures as a child which have similar puzzles, but on a computer (and I still do play them though they're called interactive fiction now.) There are also lots of escape the room apps and games. Early ones influenced the physical games. My partner and I devoured games like 7th Guest and Myst when they first came out.

The first Escape Room for the public is generally reported to be the Real Escape Game by Takao Kato in Japan. 

Tips for Taking Kids to Escape Rooms

  1. Check the age limit first, it's usually in the FAQ. It would be really annoying to book and then find out that it's not suitable. 
  2. Check what the arrival time means. Sometimes it's the time you should arrive at the venue, sometimes you need to be there 10-20 minutes before that start time. 
  3. Some Escape Rooms set an age recommendation based on the difficulty of the puzzles rather than the maturity of the content. After they've got some experience, these may be suitable. 
  4. Make sure no one is going to be hungry or need the toilet during the escape. You don't want any distractions!
  5. If you have solved something or worked out how to solve something that your kids will be able to solve then pass it over to them while you look at something else. This makes sure they're involved and makes the best use of everyone's time. 
  6. Tell them it's their responsibility to look for clues that are low down in the room (this gives them a specific focus and offsets any high up clues that they can't see.)
  7. Encourage kids to look for details you might miss and examine everything closely. 
  8. Try and get their attention before doing anything major like unlocking a padlock so that they don't miss any important parts of the puzzle. 
  9. Don't take kids who are likely to be boisterous or get bored. There may be props that could easily be damaged and it's no fun for anyone if the kids aren't keen to engage with the puzzles. 
  10. Do some research and find an easy escape room to complete first. This will give you the chance to get used to the idea and it's less fun to do easy rooms later after completing harder ones. 
  11. Plan to go for a meal or a walk afterward so that you can discuss the experience. This is half the fun - talking through the puzzles and making sure everyone understands any puzzles they missed. 


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