Puzzles are a popular and challenging activity for young children and adults alike. At any age, puzzles offer the chance to work toward a goal and, literally, piece together a story or narrative. With fun shapes and bright colors, large-piece puzzles are a favorite among small children, but they also offer an array of developmental benefits so children can learn new skills while they play.

Cognitive Development
Cognitive learning is characterized by comprehension, organizing ideas and applying knowledge through choice and evaluation. When children play with puzzles, they learn the power of choice and strategy as they begin to recognize and thoughtfully understand how pieces fit together to complete a larger picture. Children’s puzzles display themes and colorful pictures such as zoo animals, vehicles, numbers or alphabet letters. Playing with puzzles helps them to better understand how themes work together and fit into the world around them.

Fine Motor Development
Playing with puzzles requires children to grasp pieces of all shapes and sizes and manipulate them to fit exactly into a cutout shape or slot. This process can involve sorting and testing of various shapes until the right one is found. Through this task, children develop small muscle movements and dexterity in their hands and fingers.

Hand-Eye Coordination
While developing fine motor skills, playing with puzzles requires children to learn to make their eyes and hands work together to find the right piece. When using the process of “guess and check” to find the piece that fits, a child’s eyes, brain and hands are working to identify the piece, grasp it, work with it to make it fit and choose a new piece if that one isn’t right.

When working to complete a puzzle, children have to rely heavily on their ability to remember which shapes work together to complete the picture. If a piece doesn’t fit, the child will set it aside, but will still need to remember its shape and color in relation to the rest of the puzzle.

Puzzles are a fun and educational way to challenge children to think strategically while learning life skills. Jigsaw puzzles are available for all different ages and usually involve cut out shapes that fit into a base. These shapes may have pegs that are easier for very young children to grasp and fit in spots. Sliding puzzles, cases that hold pieces of a picture divided into squares with an empty space, can be more challenging and usually appeal to older children. There are also various forms of 3-D puzzles that either come together to make a standing structure or come in the form of an object with moving pieces, like a Rubik’s Cube.

What is your child’s favorite puzzle?

Sara Peronto is the Marketing Manager at Penfield Children’s Center and Editor of PenfieldBuildingBlocks.org.

“Why Puzzles are Good for Your Child’s Development.” Parenting Today. Child Development Institute. 2 November 2011. Web. 15 December 2013. .

“Why Puzzles are so Important for Kids Learning.” Learning4Kids. 21 February 2012. Web. 15 December 2013. .

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