"Let's do a puzzle."
Sounds kind of quaint, doesn't it? So many myriad other games and entertainments have come along to occupy children that plain old puzzles can seem downright antiquated.
And yet, teachers and developmental experts will tell you that there is still nothing as effective as puzzles in teaching a whole range of crucial pre-academic skills.
The puzzle-effect, as we'll call it, begins from the earliest age. As soon as sitting-up babies or toddlers can grasp a wooden peg or "chunky" puzzle piece, the fun is on. Manipulating forms and trying to fit them into place is amazing brain exercise for the littlest ones. These activities promote shape and size recognition, and also hand-eye coordination. Your toddler may know where the piece goes, but actually getting his own hand to cooperate and place it there is not easy! (Shape sorting toys perform the same function.)
When preschoolers get to the point of doing simple jigsaw puzzles, the same kinds of thinking are taken to the next level. Figuring out how to put pieces together stimulates matching ability, spatial relations and logical thinking. These are all fundamental pre-math skills, and just as essential as learning to count to twenty. Kids, of course, aren't worried about all that -- to them, doing puzzles is play, and that's precisely why they work.
In the later preschool years and kindergarten, kids can work their way up to 24 and then 60 piece puzzles. Children who do plenty of puzzles will start thinking strategically. When they start putting together the edges first, or sorting pieces by color, you know they are on to something. At this age, puzzles really help kids develop problem-solving skills, concentration and perseverance -- so, so important during the school years.
Though puzzles may fade away from the school curriculum during the later elementary years, they remain an absorbing and stimulating activity to do at home. Working together on a puzzle promotes lots of excellent cognitive abilities, but also cooperation and high-quality family time. As soon as you start doing puzzles with your kids, you'll remember how much fun it is. And let's face it, some of us grown-ups could use a little brushing up on our cognitive and concentration skills! Puzzles work for all ages.
The key to getting the most out of the "puzzle effect" is to match the puzzles' difficulty to your child's age and ability. Most puzzle-makers offer age guidelines, but it's important to pay attention to each child's individual pace and level. If a puzzle is too challenging, the child may be discouraged. If it's too easy, puzzles may seem boring. We advise keeping stocked with a range of puzzles of different levels, and moving from one to the next whenever seems right. Kids love to try new puzzles, so arranging puzzle swaps with friends is a fun way to get some variety without having all your shelf space be taken up with jigsaw boxes.
So, like we said before, "Let's do a puzzle!"
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