Keeping your brain active in a Covid-19 world

The Covid-19 outbreak has seen an unprecedented rise in online activity. From shopping to having to socialise virtually, people across the world have been working within the quarantine restrictions of their own country but also keeping themselves active by engaging more through their computers, tablets and smartphones.

Keeping fit in lockdown

Online physical training has received a lot of publicity in the media thanks to celebrity workouts from the likes of Lucy Wyndham-Read, Joe Wicks and Chloe Ting. However, the rise of brain exercises and mental stimulation games online has grown rapidly almost unnoticed by mainstream media.

Simon Grey, the University of Hull Lecturer in Computer Science, specialising in games, graphics and physical simulation, has some interesting observations. “There is … evidence that more people are turning to games during COVID-19 lockdown. That could be a way of socialising with friends and family, or simply to pass time while we are spending more time indoors.”

There are a wide range of online brain training and mind games. One of the more interesting developments has been the rise of the humble word searches. From their beginnings in newspapers and puzzle magazines they have now become widely available online.

Word Search Games

Setting wordsearch difficulty levels adds to the challenge

Once seen as a simple learning tool, online puzzles like word searches enable the player to personalize the game to suit their mood, interests or the difficulty level. The level of personalization that this genre of games offers is a crucial part of its recent success. Tapping into people’s desire for tailored products that suit their way of life and their hobbies adds to their appeal.

With large numbers of adults across the world under a physical quarantine, some with exercise restrictions and curfews, many without gardens or access to healthy open spaces, it is natural that they seek mind challenges to maintain their mental health.

In fact, it goes further than this. An upbeat mood and sense of control over your life are key ingredients in self-confidence and quality of life, particularly when physical exercise is restricted. During the pandemic, people all over the world are facing mental stresses and pressure due to lack of socialisation, financial worries and concerns about whether they will have a job to return to when the Covid-19 restrictions lift.

Nobody, not religious leaders, politicians or wise elderly relatives, knows what life will be like in a post Covid-19 world.  That makes it more important than ever before to maintain strong mental health and keep your brain functions active. Simple but challenging puzzles like word searches can help in keeping positive, confident and resilient through this difficult time.

Word search benefits

A typical wordsearch game from coolmathgames.com

This need to challenge yourself mentally through a tool like word searches is most apparent in children and young people. Mental Health Foundation Scotland’s “Impacts of lockdown on the mental health and wellbeing of children and young people” covers this. The report, published in September 2020, makes a key point. “Lockdown related school closures have been one of the most significant public health measures across the world. For children and young people…this has been the first extended closure of schools in recent history and as such, its impact on their mental health and wellbeing is important to consider”.

The interesting element of the growth in word searches since early 2020 is how it reflects the puzzle’s basic brilliance. People of all ages, all education levels and from a variety of cultures and languages can all play the game. No matter their background, they all have an equal chance of success. This is a perfect tool for those Home Schooling. They can improve their child’s vocabulary and perceptive skills without any barriers from their own educational background. Using a word search as a Home Leaning tool and brain exercise is not in the same exhausting league for a parent as tutoring a child in algebra or Shakespeare!

Restricted in how much internet access you have, or have more members of your family than devices? No problem! Online word searches like the one mentioned above, have a print function so you can turn your 21st century puzzle back into an old school paper challenge as it was originally intended.

Word search history

The first word search was devised and printed in the US by Norman E Gibat. It was published in the Selenby Digest in Norman, Oklahoma in 1968. The actual origins of the puzzle are disputed. The Spanish puzzle creator Pedro Ocon de Oro was publishing ‘Sopas de Letras’ (Letter Soup) before that date. However, it is not clear how or whether this influenced Mr Gibat. The Oklahoma puzzle proved so popular with local teachers that it became a regular learning tool in classrooms. Before long, the puzzles were being sent around the country to help fellow schools educate their pupils.

The days of posting word search puzzles across the US have long gone. The modern equivalent of posting puzzles online, has taken things to the next level. And the science seems to show that moving word searches and other learning games – such as Unolingo, Word Detector and Words Family – online actually improves information retention amongst young people in particular. Research shows that on average, students retain 25-60% more material when learning online, compared to classroom learning. Online learning is faster and more tailored to the individual student’s pace. Online learning is more attractive for young people. It’s not surprising then that using online methods for learning creates more interest in the tasks and material being learned.

Students of all ages love wordsearch games

According to BYJU’s Mrinal Mohit, “Over a period, we have observed that clever integration of games has demonstrated higher engagement and increased motivation towards learning, especially among younger students, making them truly fall in love with learning”.

If we’re trying to find anything positive to come from this terrible pandemic, perhaps this is one place we could start.