Puzzles!!! I love them! They are probably one of my favorite past-times, so imagine my delight when I learned that this Thursday, January 29, is International Puzzle Day! The benefits of puzzles range from improved hand-eye coordination and fine motor development to problem solving and improved memory. But what if puzzles aren’t your thing? How do you help children engage in this great life-long activity without breaking down and just telling a 3 year old where a particular piece goes in the puzzle they are so intently assembling. Here are some helpful tips:
- Keep puzzles organized. Make sure pieces to a particular puzzle are together in the same bag or box and that all pieces are included. To avoid having to assemble puzzles to sort pieces that have become mixed mark the back of new puzzles with a unique symbol (i.e. orange star, purple circle).
- Replace worn puzzles whose pieces no long fit together or are missing with new puzzles, and rotate regularly to maintain interest.
- Have a variety available for different interests and skill levels. Consider different types such as puzzles with little knobs, large knobs, wooden, cardboard, floor, table or different images like familiar items, food groups, letters, numbers, people, places, nature, illustrated puzzles and photographs.
- Ask children open ended questions about the puzzles they are working to assemble. For example, if a child appears to be struggling, ask, “What would happen if…” and then add comments like “…turned the piece a different direction?” or “…tried the piece in a different spot?”
- Point out concepts to children about puzzles. Consider math concepts like “I see that the giraffe on this piece is bigger than the giraffe on this piece. Which hippo piece is bigger?” Puzzles also provide great opportunities to talk about colors, shapes, numbers, order as well as many other conversation starters.
- Create opportunities for two or three children to work together by setting a favorite puzzle at a table with only 2-3 chairs.
It can be difficult to keep track of puzzle pieces or to watch children appear to struggle with an activity that may require persistence they haven’t yet developed. But by providing a variety of puzzles for all skill levels and interests and supporting children’s play, puzzles can provide children with problem solving experiences that have benefits beyond which piece goes where.