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Puzzled? That's a Good Thing...

By: Junior Kindergarten Teachers Mary Dryden Diane Vujnich Christie Castagno

January 27, 2017

Rossman’s Junior Kindergarten is proud of its play-based curriculum. Children learn so much from the opportunities presented in a fun, “playful” atmosphere. One activity that the children love is our “Puzzle Palooza.” A puzzle is the only activity each child can choose, and they can work alone, with a partner or in a small group. Many different puzzles are available, from simple wooden and board puzzles to more challenging freeform and one hundred piece puzzles. A child will typically choose a puzzle that appeals to their interest, as well as their ability. Why puzzles? There are so many benefits…  

In her article “Why Puzzles Are Good for Your Child’s Development,” Pam Myers, BSEd, tells us, “Psychologists have determined that a child’s brain development is influenced significantly when a child acts on or manipulates the world around him or her. Puzzles provide that key opportunity. Children learn to work directly with their environment and change its shape and appearance when they work with puzzles. The skill of effective problem solving is a valuable and important one. As a child looks at various pieces and figures out where they fit or don’t fit, he or she is developing this vital skill. A puzzle, after all, can’t be completed by cheating! It either works and fits or it doesn’t. So puzzles teach children to use their own minds to figure out how to solve problems and think in a logical way.”

In our world of too much screen time and fewer social interactions, puzzles can provide practice of these important and necessary skill sets. In her article, “The Benefits of Puzzles in Early Childhood Development,” Michelle Manno reminds us of the following developmental benefits of being alone with a puzzle:

Physical skills — from holding puzzle pieces and turning them until they fit

  • Hand-Eye Coordination — your child will develop a keen relationship between what their eyes see, what their hands do and what their brain relates to this information.

  • Gross Motor Skills — Larger puzzle pieces and stacking puzzle games can enhance the large movements of your child to the point where they can then work on their fine motor skills.

  • Fine Motor Skills — small and precise movements, such as the movement of fingers to get a puzzle piece in exactly the right spot, are built and can lead to better handwriting and typing skills.

Cognitive skills — as they solve the problems of a puzzle

  • Understanding the surrounding world — there is no better way for your child to gain an understanding of the world around them than by letting them literally manipulate the world around them.

  • Shape recognition — the first puzzles we use are simple shapes -- triangle, squares and circles. From there more complex shapes are used until the abstract jigsaw puzzles are used.

  • Memory — Your child has to remember the shape of pieces that don’t fit and when they will fit later on.

  • Problem solving — Either the puzzle piece fits or it does not. Your child uses critical thinking skills to solve the puzzle and, best of all, you can’t cheat a puzzle!

Emotional skills — they learn patience and are rewarded when they complete the puzzle

  • Setting goals — The first goal is to solve the puzzle, the next goal will be a series of strategies your child comes up with to solve the puzzle. Such as putting familiar shapes or colors in one pile for future reference.

  • Patience — Puzzles are not like sports, you can’t just step up to the plate and swing until you knock it out of the park. You must practice patience and slowly work through the puzzle before you reach the ending.

Children who choose to work a puzzle together must first agree, which one? Once agreed upon, the task begins with enthusiasm! Groups of children working together use encouraging words and help one another. They must share the pieces and take turns putting them together. It is a satisfying reward when the puzzle is complete and the goal is accomplished! Puzzles involve spatial skills, memory, shape recognition and visual tracking. It is a lifelong skill that can be practiced often. One idea is to have a designated table in a classroom or at home, where a puzzle is always in progress. It’s a great way to unplug and unwind at the end of the day, and an activity in which all family members can participate! It is a perfect time to talk with your child, allowing for conversation to flow in a natural way. With very little effort, valuable family time can be established and memories created that will last a lifetime.

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