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4 Surprising Things Solving a Rubik’s Cube Taught My Kids

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The real joy of solving a Rubik’s Cube is what it can bring out in our kids…

I recently succumbed to my 8-year-old’s persistent pleading that I help him solve a Rubik’s Cube. I remember being his age in the ‘80s, when kids everywhere were hunched over the colourful toy, twisting and turning, some with great glee and accomplishment, others with frustration and bewilderment. I fell into the bewildered category, picking up a cube and having no idea how on earth one small coloured face could be forced into a specific place, let alone making all the other pieces line up and behave themselves.

There are many things in life I consider myself perfectly capable of doing in a “good enough” fashion, but the Rubik’s Cube went directly into the “too difficult” box and that is where it stayed… Fast-forward 40+ years, and my love for my determined, persistent son propelled me over the abyss, and inspired the conviction that even someone so spatially inhibited as myself might be able to solve the Rubik’s Cube.

So, where to start? Recognising my own limitations, I’d barely picked the thing up before turning to Google. Hello, Robbie Gonzalez and his wonderful video! There is so much that I liked about his approach, but his recommendation to “Set aside an hour for the first time you try to solve the cube” turned out to be a wild overestimation of my learning abilities!

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My son and I set off trying to solve the cube together, but when his bedtime had come and gone and we were still holding a jumbled cube of colours, I sent him to bed and ploughed on alone, jotting down notes in a desperate attempt to pin down this magical manoeuvring in a way I could teach and replicate.

Eventually I deployed one of my top coping mechanisms, and had a meltdown. I threw the cube across the room and watched Silent Witness instead. Solving a murder by forensic science seemed a lot easier. Needless to say, I also went to bed that night without having solved the damn thing.

The next day I tried to dissuade my son from taking the cube to school, citing that he would lose it, or be told off for playing with it… But the truth was, I couldn’t wait to get my hands on it again. My neighbour kindly lent me a cube, so back to work I went.

A few hours later, I finally got there. The joyous moment of six matching shiny faces of glorious achievement! The photo I share is actually the first time I finished it, and I gave it to my son to do the final twist. (Yes, I know, what a moment of supreme generosity and maternal love!). All my hours of fidgeting and fiddling with the bloody thing, but the point is, that I knew I had done it, and I knew I could do it again! What a glory! The fact that millions of people around the world can complete a Rubik’s Cube is absolutely irrelevant to me. The fact that I could eventually manage it, and that I could show my son how to do it? True achievement!

This entire process has been enlightening and thought provoking in so many ways:

1. The democratisation of information and knowledge. That some kind chap was good enough to record and post a 25-minute video, explaining in explicit detail how to solve the problem, for free, well, that is pretty amazing, isn’t it? That certainly wasn’t an option in the ‘80s. And this emblematic of so much out there: smart people all over the world are sharing their special skills and knowledge, and we can all access and learn from them

2. Growth Mindset: What prompts us as individuals to move something from the “too difficult” to the “By God, I can do this!” box? What is our motivation to give something a go, and the limitations we impose on ourselves when we don’t? It has made me think about what else I have put in the “too difficult” box, and whether I should re-assess and address those things….

3. Resilience: Some people just get stuff really fast. And what they get might not be the same as what I The Rubik’s cube feels like it is specifically designed to out-fox me. Personally, ME! But applying myself, taking a break, resting, starting again, I did it. Achieving things that are harder and require us to be resilient pays dividends in the self-actualised reward we experience.

4. Pride: My kids just couldn’t be prouder about knowing how to solve a Rubik’s cube. They take it with them when we go out, they solve it on the bus, they show it to waiters and friends. And my heart also fills with pride. It’s not like they designed the thing, but they worked hard to learn and memorise the moves. Now they are seeing other ways of completing it. They are tricking people by doing just a few twists that messes it up but is actually very easy to complete. They are PLAYING. And it’s not a screen! Hallelujah! They are playing like kids played when I was a kid!

So, I’d like to leave you with a suggestion. If you are fighting to get your kids off technology, why not set off on this journey together to solve the cube. See yourself, the elation of achieving something we thought impossible!

Lead image by Olav Ahrens Røtne on Unsplash

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