Puzzles: Piecing Together Important Lessons

Puzzles: Piecing Together Important Lessons

There are many tools for building skills and creativity that keep children engaged and entertained. In our house, puzzles have been front and center from toddler to teen and into adulthood. Everyone has their personal favorites and the entire house celebrates when we finish a competitive game of Scrabble or a challenging 1,000 piece puzzle. You may have a picture in your mind when you hear the word, but there are actually lots of different puzzles to choose from. And there is more than sheer fun to be had when you and your children partake.

Research shows puzzles are educational, especially in the area of mathematics, and they offer developmental support for both children and adults. When any child or adult works with puzzles, the right-brain and left-brain are both engaged, which is when our brains are most active. By working on and through puzzles, children and adults can gain and strengthen essential physical, cognitive, and even social skills that can pay off in other areas.

So, make it a point to take advantage of the opportunities that puzzles can bring to your entire family. Here are a few different types to check out. 

Board – This type of puzzle consists of larger pieces for toddlers and preschoolers. They have single pieces that fit into specific spaces and are great for teaching colors, shapes, and letters. Some also include manipulatives such as locks, latches, laces, etc.

Jigsaw – This is the traditional puzzle that might come to mind. Pieces range from 8 to 1,000+ and with the increased number comes an increase in difficulty. These puzzles are fun to do alone and as a group and can be a great way to pull children away from electronic devices. Younger children love floor-size puzzles. Online jigsaw puzzles are also available for free and allow for unlimited customization and challenge. 

Crossword – Crossword puzzles require a two-step thought process and are a great tool for older kids who can work independently. The first step is to think about the answer and the next is to correctly spell it and fit it to the space allotted. Newspapers and magazines usually contain advanced options. There are also free online tools to create your own puzzles.

Game Puzzles – There are a large number of game puzzles on the market for all ages and many can help build vocabulary, math skills, and cognition. Check out these favorites – Scrabble, Bananagrams, Sudoku, Rubik’s Cube, Yahtzee, and more – and make for a fun family game night!

Logic Puzzles – Chess, checkers, and math story problems are examples of logic puzzles that pack a nice brain work out. These are better suited for older children and adults. Younger children can enjoy Connect Four, tangrams, and even Lego building projects.

Word Search – Word searches can be geared toward any age level and are a great way to work on spelling. It is a scavenger hunt for words that are positioned vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. There are many places online to find them premade on a wide variety of topics or to even help you make your own.

In addition to being a fun way to spend time together as a family, puzzles can play an amazing role in your child’s development. Crucial skills that are developed and reinforced include:

1.  Hand-eye Coordination

Pieces will have to be closely examined for both color and content. They will have to be compared to other pieces, looking for similarities. Tiny fingers will have to pick up pieces and move them to position them in the right place. Word puzzles offer the same challenges only with writing, erasing, and finding a new word to fit.

2.  Fine Motor Development

Your child’s fine motor skills will get a workout, too. Exercising muscles and building strength in fingers will help with skills needed as the child grows – such as grasping a pencil or holding onto the handlebars of a bike – and in everyday life.

3.  Cognitive Skills

There is tremendous value in learning how to complete a task from start to finish. Puzzles help children learn how to follow step-by-step directions to accomplish a specific goal. Spatial, letter and color recognition, and memory skills are exercised with pieces and with words. Building vocabulary and working on spelling are also important skills to reinforce at various ages.

4.  Persistence

The definition of persistence is completing a task even though it is hard. Puzzles are a great way to gain practice in this area. With puzzles you can make mistakes and keep trying til you get it right. As long as the puzzles are age appropriate there should be lots of opportunity to encourage patience and persistence. As they are successful with finding pieces that fit or finding answers along the way, they will also gain confidence to push ahead. As the subject of the puzzle starts to take shape, there is the inherent benefit of completing the task as well.

5.  Social Skills

Many puzzles are best played with a partner or in a group. Games can encourage people to work and play together in a fun setting. Working as part of a team also requires learning to take turns and exercising patience. In proximity and without distractions, there is also increased opportunity for spontaneous communication and bonding.

6. Critical Thinking and Problem Solving

Critical thinking is the practice of examining a problem by gathering information, identifying alternative courses of action, and determining the best move toward a solution. Learning these skills is essential at every stage of development and these same skills are valuable into adulthood. When your child manipulates a puzzle piece, turning and testing it, they are critically thinking. When they realize that piece is not the right fit, they problem solve to find a better one. Younger children might need assistance along the way but over time these skills will continue to develop. Successfully completing a puzzle is a unique challenge that can also build self-confidence.

Share your favorite puzzles with family and friends. Check out new puzzles, too. Make solving puzzles together a family tradition that builds essential skills, strengthens the bonds between you, and creates a gazillion memories along the way.

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