Escape Rooms are a fairly new, popular group activity in which participants must solve several puzzles by putting together whatever clues they discover and “escaping” the room they are in with the final passcode before their time runs out. These escape room experiences typically have themes such as Sherlock Holmes, an epidemic outbreak or being a wanted person on the run. Now, at least one library has taken this concept and recreated it for teens. Carly Dennis, Teen Librarian at the Fairport Public Library, has turned this popular entertainment activity and created “Escape the Library!” Area teens can’t get enough.
“We use Breakout EDU,” says Carly. “It gives us everything we need to develop one of these rooms.” Breakout EDU is the creator of several different games, including physical, digital and digital game builder based activities, which encourage critical thinking, teamwork and complex problem-solving skills. Carly Dennis refers to a thick packet of information as she explains, “We use the puzzles included, but sometimes, we may need to adjust them. Some are just too easy, so we increase the difficulty level. Others are too hard to solve, so we add some additional information or clues.” Ms. Dennis then creates the materials to place around the room. Some of the pieces are on the several long tables in the center of the space, and others are placed up on the walls around the room. This Escape Room’s theme is based on the movie, “Elf,” and participating teens must solve the puzzles placed around the room to find the combinations to several locks securing a box containing the key to Santa’s sleigh.
The entire event is scheduled to take one hour with participants receiving only 45 minutes to complete over half a dozen puzzles. Young people, ranging in age, pour into the designated room right on time. Ms. Dennis explains the rules of the Escape Room activity as well as the theme-based situation. For example, players may not simply fiddle with the locks. They must have an actual combination guess to try based on clues. There are also two Hints available from Ms. Dennis which the players can ask for at any point so long as the decision to use the hunt is unanimous. This particular group of players consisted of approximately a dozen or so teens. Therefore, being unanimous in a decision would, much like the activity itself, require teamwork indeed. The timer was then set, and the game began.
As players moved around the rooms, groups repeatedly formed and unformed. Cooperation, critical thinking, collaboration, creative thinking and many other such skills were actively practiced by teens engaged in these puzzles. Teens successfully solved puzzles and opened locks as time progressed; however, one of the most interesting things to watch was the dynamics within the group itself.
Throughout the activity, when puzzles proved challenging, some participants quickly wanted a Hint. However, due to the unanimous vote requirement, several other students would encourage them to keep trying and receiving the Hint was delayed. While control of the Hints remained in player hands, the unanimous vote pushed peers to become motivators, encouraging more discouraged participants to try again.
During the last puzzle, a vote for a clue was called for several times, even when over twenty minutes remained on the clock. Several players preferred to solve the puzzle without the final Hint. These players negotiated with the group to wait until the fifteen-minute mark before accepting their final Hint. However, seconds before the fifteen-minute mark approached, a few determined and innovative teens discovered invisible ink on the clues! Very quickly, players began solving the puzzle, and with thirteen minutes and seventeen seconds left on the clock, the players unlocked box’s the final combination lock on their own, never having taken the final Hint at all.
The feeling in the room was exuberant. Santa’s sleigh key was retrieved. All the puzzles had been solved. The group was victorious. Importantly, players experienced a confirmed sense of confidence in their own critical-thinking and problem-solving abilities. Ms. Dennis brought the group together for a photo in front of the timer, evidence of their success. The Fairport Public Library offers several fun activities for the entire family and encourages you to check out their upcoming events at www.fairportlibrary.org.

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