Puzzles give a child the opportunity to experience and manipulate the world around him/her. This contributes positively towards their brain development. WHY? Because putting puzzles together has a child actively engaged, manipulating his/her world. And the very important next step of that: Seeing what results from their actions.
Additionally, when children PLAY they typically develop skills and gain knowledge across more than one domain. As you’ll see below this is the case here too.
Benefits of Puzzle PLAY
Just think. What does it take to convert individual pieces into a completed puzzle?
• Eye-hand coordination
• Fine and gross motor skills
• Memory and
• Shape recognition for starters!
Jig-saw puzzles are made up of pieces. Children also develop a parts-to-whole skill when they PLAY with puzzles. Another skill that’s developed, and that will be utilized later with the parts-to-whole skill in mathematics, is spatial awareness.
Definition of Spatial Awareness…
An ability to be aware of oneself in space is a concise definition of spatial awareness. It is an organized knowledge of objects in relation to oneself in that given space. Spatial awareness also involves understanding the relationship of these objects when there is a change of position.
The development of proper spatial awareness involves two areas:
1 Gaining an understanding of how the human body moves; and
2 Understanding the basic functions of human body parts
Such an understanding is learned through movement and exploration. This begins in infancy when they discover their hands. Discovery of their hands is spatial awareness milestone.
Preschoolers (3-5yrs) need practice, practice, practice with arranging and rearranging objects to help them build spatial awareness. Puzzles let children experiment with position—rotating, sliding, flipping. With practice and experience they develop the ability to mentally manipulate the pieces. This is a valuable skill to develop! The ability to mentally transform shapes is an important predictor of STEM* interests and abilities in older children. Early puzzle PLAY may lay the groundwork for the development of this ability.
There’s a linguistic character to spatial awareness as well. An understanding of the positional words people use to define themselves in space is essential to spatial awareness. As children learn positional vocabulary, and use it with their bodies, they begin to develop an understanding of direction, distance, and location. Positional words are often seen and used in opposition. Word pairs such as: in and out, front and back, next to and between, left and right, near and far, or above and below create the beginnings of their spatial language. Given the opportunity, preschoolers will employ spatial details and enjoy giving directions to internalize what spatial awareness means and the words to describe it.
One last benefit is a boost to self-esteem. Puzzles can be difficult to solve. Persevering to solve a challenging puzzle lends itself to a sense of accomplishment and pride in oneself. As children begin to work, they will develop strategies for completion faster and more efficiently. They may begin by doing all the pieces on the edges or sort the pieces into colors and shapes. Puzzles enable children to achieve small goals while working towards a larger goal.
TYPES of PUZZLES
1. Knobbed Matching Puzzles:
A wonderful place for a young child to start is with knobbed, matching puzzles. Pictures on the puzzle pieces are matched to the picture underneath. When children use this type, they’re generally using their finger muscles to turn the piece as they hold the knob, developing fine motor skills. Start with puzzles that have 3 or 4 pieces to narrow down the number of options. This tends to make it less frustrating for younger children. After your child has mastered that, try one with more pieces and smaller knobs.
2.Non-knobbed Matching Puzzles:
Essentially just like the knobbed puzzles, but missing the knobs! Non-knobbed puzzles have to be turned by using the wrist, so this type exercises another group of fine motor muscles.
3. Outline Matching Puzzles:
These puzzles do not have knobs and do not have a picture to match underneath the puzzle piece either. With these children, match the picture piece to its shaped outline. Children get plenty of pincer-grasp practice. Playing with these also enhance their fine motor skills as they reach for, grab, and hold on to the non-knobbed pieces. Without pictures to match to corresponding puzzle pieces, children must look carefully and closely at the shape.
4. Jigsaw Puzzles:
It’s best to start out with 2 or 4 piece puzzles when children are starting. Jigsaw puzzles demonstrate the concept of parts of a whole. They help children see how connecting pieces (parts) together form a whole image or shape. As mentioned above, problem-solving and fine motor skills are developed. Tolerance to frustrations and perseverance are encourage when children continue to work towards completion even in the face of challenges. However, sometimes a little help is needed! So share the experience with a parent or friend! Working on it together promotes great teamwork skills. Jigsaw puzzles can be of the table-top variety or large floor puzzles.
One of the most common types for toddlers, shape-fitting puzzles come in a variety of forms that let your child match each shape to its correct opening. Wooden, shape-fitting boxes are the considered the classic of this type. Since these let your toddler solve each part individually, they’re ideal for beginners!
In addition to your child’s vision and hearing senses, with these their hearing comes into play. Sound puzzles can feature everyday objects or animals on a single flat board, or electronic game puzzles that require manipulating objects around the screen, using the sound as a clue. The sounds act as feedback because they only occur when your child places the pieces correctly. Hearing the sound also reinforces the link between the piece and the noise itself, such as a pig-shaped puzzle piece and an oinking sound.
In addition to the general skills puzzles develop in children, texture puzzles integrate the sense of touch to a puzzle’s solution. Doing this with a parent or older child/sibling, allows for enhanced language development–giving words to the child for various textures. Giving your child new words, increasing their vocabulary is an invaluable gift. This is important because vocabulary development during the preschool years is related to later reading skills and school success in general. Learn more about the Word Gap and what you can do.
How many of these has your kidlet tried? Do they have a preference? Did they struggle with one type more than another? Share yours and your kiddo’s experiences!
Yours in PLAY!
STEM* = Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)
Zequek Estradaz says
I found it fascinating to learn about how puzzles can help demonstrate to children the concept of ‘parts of a whole’. I was never a fan of puzzles when I was little. However, I’ve learned how relaxing they can be.
Karen Whittier says
Thanks–I’m glad you found the article interesting…my mother told me I wasn’t always the most patient with puzzles when I was a kidlet, but I do enjoy them now too!
Your post is valuable , thanks for the info
Karen Whittier says
Thanks so much for your comments Jack!