I have always been a huge fan of puzzles. I remember sitting around doing puzzles as a little girl and huge puzzle projects as a whole family. I even had a puzzle at hand when I went into labor as something to take my mind off the wonders in which my body was feeling. So it was no surprise to me when my daughter began to really get into puzzles. She started focusing in on puzzles at about two and a half years old. It became a family obsession. For several months there was no moment where a puzzle was not in the works on the table. My daughter began to rapidly improve her skills devouring puzzles of all shapes and sizes. She started with simple puzzles of ten pieces and quickly increased her ability to transform shapes. At four years old she can definately put together a seventy five piece puzzle.
Puzzle play is an incredible activity to get your child involved in for so many reasons. It is one of the most beneficial forms of learning you can introduce and is truly an inexpensive habit to develop (many of my puzzles come from the dollar store).
In toddlers, puzzle play enhances these skills:
1. Spacial Reasoning– When children have to determine where a piece belongs in a puzzle they are focusing in on the space missing and problem solving which piece will fill that spot perfectly. My son focuses in on Melissa and Doug puzzles where a star fish jams him up every time. He knows the star fish belongs in its specific spot, but it must be turned in the right direction to fit properly. He began by having a fit but soon realized that all he had to do was turn it for the star to fit.
2. STEM Skills (science, technology, engineering and math)– The University of Chicago conducted a study that found preschoolers who did puzzles several times a week had more highly developed STEM skills.
3. Concentration– When my daughter began to focus on puzzles she was able to sit for ten minutes on a puzzle. Determined to finish her puzzles in one sitting her stamina and concentration developed. She is now able to concentrate on a puzzle for a half hour to fourty five minutes. Puzzles are done less often because each one is a time investment, however when they are done everything else falls to the wayside until that puzzle is complete. My son will literally spend hours on his puzzles. He stacks them and puts them back in place, lines them up and puts them back in place, puts all the pieces in a pile and puts them back in place. I do not think I have the stamina or the concentration my son has to focus on his puzzles!
4. Language Development– When sitting with both my children I use guiding words to help them complete their puzzles. “This piece goes above the bird.”, “This piece has blue in it, where are the other pieces with blue?” By using very direct and specific words children begin to develop their understanding and vocabulary further.
5. Cognitive Concepts– Puzzle play enhances problem solving abilities and a child’s cause and effect responses. “If this puzzle piece has a window in it then it must go on the house.” Developing these cause and effect skills enables children to apply them to everyday situations and learning in different areas.
As if those five reasons were not enough, puzzles are a great way to spend quality time with your children. I truly enjoy sitting down to a puzzle and helping my children work through the puzzle process. Puzzles not only help my children learn but have brought my family closer together. I hope they can do the same for yours!
Below is a list of educational studies focusing on puzzle play:
Here are some free puzzle applications both my children loved:
Here are some Melissa and Doug puzzles my children play with:
Written by Nicole Rowley