by Carol Grise
Throughout the year, children can benefit from interacting with puzzles.
Puzzles develop problem solving, reasoning, and memory skills. While completing a puzzle, a child develops an early understanding of how small units make up a whole set. Puzzles assist a child in learning about colors, shapes, sizes, and matching. They develop an understanding of directional words, such as above, below, and beside. Theme puzzles, such as alphabet or vehicles, expand vocabulary. Assembling puzzles by sorting and fitting pieces reinforces hand-eye coordination and strengthens fine motor skills, the “pincher grasp” skill, which is a key for handwriting.
When children complete puzzles along with friends or family members, they develop social skills. Puzzles encourage cooperative play, working together to complete a shared task. When puzzle pieces do not fit together, young children learn to handle frustration by sticking to the task until it is successfully finished. Completing a puzzle encourages self-confidence, the “I can do it” feeling. With more complicated puzzles, a child learns problem solving skills, such as starting with the edges first.
When introducing puzzles, the age of the child needs to be considered. Most toddlers will enjoy five piece wood puzzles with knobbed pieces. Easy to recognize animals, shapes, or colors are good puzzle themes for toddlers. Many preschoolers, age 3-4 years, like 8-12 piece wood or foam puzzles on such themes as farm, transportation vehicles, and zoo animals. Preschoolers, ages 3-5 years, are usually excited about completing 24-48 piece floor puzzles with their peers or family members. These children can also begin to assemble simple, cardboard “jigsaw style” puzzles.
Older siblings and adult caregivers should give a child plenty of time to figure out where each puzzle piece goes before offering assistance. Help the child complete the puzzle when asked to do so or when you can see that the child is becoming very frustrated. Keep in mind, the more positive the puzzle experience, the greater the chance a child will ask for more and more challenging puzzles to complete.
The benefits of puzzles extend to school age children, too. Even in this electronic age, puzzles capture the interest of older children. For example, three dimensional puzzles of the pyramids, five layered puzzles featuring the major systems of the human body, or giant 100 piece floor puzzles with an ocean theme are educational and fun to assemble.
Puzzle activities aren’t just for children! Completing puzzles as a family activity encourages working together toward a common goal, increases family conversation on puzzle and non-puzzle topics, and provides the opportunity for the entire family to spend time together.
Begin your child’s puzzle experiences by visiting your local library. In the children’s area of the library, your preschooler can enjoy age-appropriate puzzles. Many area libraries have a jigsaw puzzle table where people of all ages are able to work together to complete the featured puzzle. If your library does not have a jigsaw puzzle table, ask your local librarian to create one.
Start a home puzzle collection by visiting garage or yard sales, thrift stores, or a Friends of the Library Bookstore. Used jigsaw puzzles may have a few missing pieces, but are great for families beginning a puzzle collection. Replace missing pieces using a small piece of cardboard or poster board and your creative talents. Encourage friends and family members to consider giving puzzles as gifts for holidays and birthdays.
Build your child’s learning skills with puzzles. From an early age, puzzles strengthen memory, thinking, and fine motor skills. Puzzles are entertaining, plus they encourage family and friends to work together toward a common goal. Puzzles are food for the brain. Feed your child’s brain. Give him a puzzle!