My Little Sir loves puzzles. He always carries his dress-up bear puzzle around with him and rummages through a drawer to get more of his sister’s old ones. He tries hard to put a puzzle piece in to the corresponding slot and bites his lower lip in concentration, a family trait.
Let me tell you why puzzles are treasured among the toys we have.
What to Love
Puzzles are one of the best toys that we can give our children along with blocks, stacking or nesting cups, and simple balls. Like the quintessential wooden blocks, puzzles work on different levels of a child’s development. Let’s take a look.
Puzzles develop problem-solving skills
When toddlers are allowed to play with puzzles alone or undirected – you know, without mommy doing it for him because poor baby might get frustrated – they generally figure out for themselves what they are supposed to do. With practice, they think, strategize, try, and generally get better at thinking, strategizing, and trying.
Puzzles develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination
I love watching my Little Sir’s tiny hands as he gingerly picks up a puzzle piece. He is working on his fine motor skills as he does so, getting ready to do more tasks like fastening clothes, tying shoe laces, and eventually writing. When he tries to put a piece into the right space for it, he is making his hands and eyes work together.
This practice will serve him well as he tries to catch that basketball, pick up that book, hammer that nail, or try to do any other tasks with his hands.
Puzzles boost self-esteem
I will never forget the first time that Little Sir carefully carried a puzzle to me, beaming and saying in a sing-song voice: “Maaaa-maaaa, I finished my puu-uzzle. Loo-oook!” His ability to finish something “all by myself” boosts his confidence more than any words of praise that I can heap on him.
What and When To Give
I gave Little T and Little Sir one-piece wooden peg puzzles when they were 18 months old, and progressed to pegless ones as they turned two or so. My boy is currently enjoying the chunky Melissa & Doug puzzle set that we got for Little T before, the aforementioned dress-up bear puzzle that was first used by my now 11-year-old niece, some puzzles from Wonderworld, and more than a few hand-me-downs from my sister’s children.
When Little T was three to three-and-a-half, we started doing giant floor puzzles together, like the bus that we pretend to ride on and Noah’s Ark that we climb with the animals. I also introduced the tangram at that time, including the award-winning Mighty Mind.
Then at four, in conjunction with encouraging perseverance, I challenged her to finish jigsaw puzzles with more and more pieces, and increasing level of difficulty.
We might feel apprehensive sometimes, or wonder if our child is on track. But it is important to remember that a child naturally progresses and flourishes when we observe them, assess their capabilities, challenge, and encourage them.
Keeping Pieces Together
Some parents would balk at the idea of puzzles, thinking that their children would just make a mess and lose the pieces to boot. We keep that from happening by storing our puzzles in re-sealable bags and plastic envelopes, and asking the children to play with one puzzle at a time. It has worked so far and has kept our puzzles pieces intact and ready to be passed down to my younger nieces.
Do your kids play with puzzles? In this digital age where toddlers are easily handed tablets and other gadgets, it is so easy to forget the power of the humble puzzle. Remembering the benefits and the fact that classic toys are considered classic for a reason would go a long way in helping our children develop into thinking and confident people.