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Enjoyment of puzzles, it strikes me, is one of a small group of play-like activities that span generations. From early childhood to late adulthood, there is just something about the way a jigsaw puzzle, crossword puzzle, or even Candy Crush challenges our thinking and exercises our minds, enticing and captivating us. In addition to being entertaining, puzzles are a valuable tool for young children in developing important cognitive and physical skills.
Puzzles increase mathematical awareness and problem-solving skills. A puzzle can teach a child how parts fit together to form a whole. Completing a puzzle, regardless of how complex or simple it may be, is a goal-oriented process. Accordingly, the person working on the puzzle, whether it’s an adult, child, or toddler, takes time to think and develop strategies on how to approach achieving this goal. This is complicated stuff that involves problem solving, reasoning skills, and developing solutions, all of which are higher level thinking and can later be transferred into their personal/adult life. As an added bonus, if your child likes doing puzzles and wants to do them (like many other things) again and again, the opportunity to practice a skill over and over again enhances problem-solving abilities.
Fine Motor Development
The control of fine muscle movements develops slowly and is dependent upon a great deal of practice. Puzzles are a fun way for children to develop and refine their fine motor skills. As they pick up, pinch, and grasp pieces and move them around, manipulating them into slots, sorting them and fitting them into the correct places, they are also strengthening the muscles they need to tie their shoes, button their coats, and write their names.
Similar to fine motor manipulation of puzzle pieces is hand-eye coordination. As a child looks at a puzzle, his brain is taking in that information and envisioning how the puzzle needs to look or what piece needs to be found and where to place it. Then the brain, eyes, and hands work together to find the piece, manipulate it accordingly, and fit it into the puzzle accurately. It never fails to amaze me how something that seems so simple is actually fairly complex.
Overcoming the challenges involved in solving a puzzle often provides children with a sense of achievement and pride within themselves, giving them a boost in self-confidence and self-esteem and preparing them for other challenges in life.
Children enjoy puzzle exploration with or without the help of an adult or another child. Very young children will enjoy putting in pieces and taking them back out just as much as they will enjoy fitting them into the right spot. As they grow and learn to rotate pieces to match holes and find pieces that fit, they can handle increasingly complex puzzles. Because most young children are tactile learners, the physical puzzles are especially good so that children can reap the learning benefits by manipulating the pieces in their hands. For all of us grown-ups, puzzles are a great challenge-driven learning opportunity. So the next time you are stuck inside on a rainy day, pull out the puzzles. Don’t have any or your kids have outgrown the ones you have? You can make your own! Print a family photo or grab that 2014 wall calendar that’s in your junk drawer, and cut the pictures into smaller pieces if you are looking for more of a challenge.