Puzzling out Puzzle Play

In any early childhood room, you will see a table dedicated to puzzles.

It is well known that puzzles can be used in a variety of ways and teach children a variety of life skills.

A teacher will put out puzzles for a specific purpose.

  • A table for collaborative thinking or working together
  • A quiet place for children to stop and take a breather
  • A spot for one on one attention with a teacher
  • Building resilience and perseverance
  • Perhaps to explore colours and matching of colours
  • Alternatively, looking at sides, corners and edges.

Puzzles come in a variety of levels and difficulties and often a puzzle with less pieces can be more challenging than a 100-piece puzzle. Some free form puzzles with no straight edge can indeed be challenging. We also use layered puzzles with increasingly more difficult levels.

Puzzles are a wonderful way for children to work their physical skills such as hand-eye coordination, fine and gross motor skills.

Within puzzle play, children use gross (or big) muscle movements to turn the boards and pick up the piece. Floor puzzle are particularly good at providing opportunities for children to use these muscles as the build a large puzzle on the floor.

Fine motor skills are worked with the turning of pieces, fitting pieces together and using a pincer grasp to place the pieces into the right spot.

Hand-eye coordination is developed as the brain is trained to look for the right shape or colour in a missing piece of the puzzle.

Through puzzle play, cognitive skills are also developed: concepts of shape recognition, sides, corners and peg puzzles with simple pictures to encourage language skills. Children use problem-solving skills to solve a puzzle. Either pieces fit together or they do not. Critically eliminating pieces is essential for their development.

Lastly, emotional skills within children are explored, enhanced and developed while completing puzzles. When doing puzzles, children need to consider the steps needed to complete the task. Process of elimination or building up sides and corners first to sorting colours that go together. Perhaps your child is one who builds the puzzle outside the frame before inserting into the board. Children will develop their own strategies to complete puzzles. Patience, tolerance and resilience are important, as puzzles are not completed quickly and as they get more difficult, require longer stays at the table to complete them.

There is no mistaking the benefits of puzzles. Give your child the opportunity to continue learning from simple shapes, to silhouettes, to jigsaw puzzles, to abstract shapes united by a mathematical concept. These are the joys of puzzle play.

by Kristin De Vos, ELC Co-Ordinator & Teacher

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