I didn’t start teaching my 6 year old boy to solve the Rubik’s Cube to make him smarter. I had a completely different reason, a reason I haven’t told anyone about except my wife before writing this blog post.
Our son has an older sister so his whole life he’s been second best. She is taller, smarter, and stronger than him. Of course, in the years ahead some of that may naturally change, but you second siblings know what I’m talking about. Plus his best friend is his cousin who is his sister’s age and who plays Minecraft and wins first place at Math Olympiads. So I could see that my boy’s naturally competitive edge might develop into one of two opposing traits – a kind of aggression, or a kind of giving up.
I wanted him to have something for himself. Something neither his sister nor cousin knew how to do. I thought this would give him confidence, the good kind, the kind he needed, plus the fact that the Rubik’s Cube seemed like a healthy activity. Finally, my boy and I spend a lot of time together waiting around while his sister is in her ballet classes, and this was the perfect kind of portable and bonding pastime for father and son. Better than staring at an iPad.
Before I get into the benefits of this hobby and how it affected his life and mine in so many wonderful ways, I want to say that things didn’t exactly work out as planned. During the stages where my boy was learning the Beginner’s Method, his sister and cousin quickly cottoned on and effortlessly took it up. They wanted to be able to solve the cube too, and I couldn’t exactly refuse to teach them. With their finer motor skills and stronger fingers, they soon overtook him for speed, and it was no longer a competition – the story of his life.
So, without telling the older kids, I switched him and him only to a different solving method – CFOP, the method used by most speedcubers and world record holders – which requires the memorization of a minimum of dozens of algorithms – basically abstract strings of data – which I knew would give him the edge if he had the aptitude to learn it. His six year old fingers would have to do fewer turns, he could work slower but solve faster, and this would regain him the lead.
And that’s how I discovered my boy’s talent for abstract thought, for pattern recognition, problem solving, and the joy he gets in new discoveries and methods of his own invention. For that’s what this gives you. Yes, I really do believe that the Rubik’s Cube makes you smarter, because it forces you to approach problems a certain way, it encourages you to notice states and relationships and makes you sensitive to change and adaptation. If you get serious about this hobby, you’ll find yourself actively searching for new approaches and methodologies, and these are all disciplines that will benefit you in your lifetime of learning and your lifetime of living.
And yes, ultimately, it gave my boy what I wanted it to give him, which was a quiet confidence, a strong kind of stillness that people seem to have when they possess a deep knowledge about something. And we bonded as we learned together, we now get to travel to competitions together, and together with his sister we made tutorial videos for YouTube. Also, I’m happier that he keeps his hands busy with a tactile object and one that doesn’t have a screen.