My kids love putting together puzzles!
Much more than I do. I mean I’ll happily sit and do a 24 piece puzzle with one of my little kiddos. But, my idea of fun doesn’t include sitting and trying to focus on puzzles with 300, 500, or even more pieces.
Thankfully my husband enjoys putting puzzles together. He’ll sit with the kids and they’ll sometimes work at them for hours at a time.
Since Owen has Pica, we have to be careful with our puzzling. We keep a piece of counter top around as our puzzle base. The kids can move it around the house. Sometimes they’ll sit on a bed or the floor and work on it. Other times they’ll work on puzzles at the table during quiet time when Owen is in his room.
When it’s time to pick up, all the pieces can stay on the counter. Then we just move it to a location where Owen can’t get it.
Though I don’t love doing puzzles, I love what my kids are learning when they do them. Here’s a look at ten key skills puzzles promote.
1. Fine Motor Skills
You need some solid fine motor control to add and remove pieces to a puzzle. We start with the toddler puzzles with wooden handles (even Owen can play with those!).
The kids can practice their grasp as they pull puzzle pieces out. Then they have to try to hold on to the piece and turn it to make it fit.
After they graduate to regular pieces without the handles, the kids continue to build fine motor skills with puzzles. And since puzzles have multiple pieces, putting puzzles together offers repetition of this motion.
2. Observation Skills
Do you know how many shades of red make up Mario’s outfit? More than I knew! Here’s a picture for you to check out. It’s a puzzle my 8-year-old son bought with his birthday money last year. He’s put it together a couple of times since then.
Those subtle color differences are essential for actually getting the puzzle put together. You have to study the pieces and train your brain to pick out distinguishing features. Doing this makes you practice your observation skills.
These are crucial throughout life.
3. Ability to Plan
Sitting down with 500 pieces can be overwhelming. That’s why my kids make a plan of attack when they’re putting together a puzzle.
This planning stage is essential for being able to take what could be an overwhelming project and breaking it down into bite-sized chunks.
Here are some ways they’ve tackled puzzles before:
- Start with the edges
- Each person starts with a different part of the puzzle
- Sort the pieces into color groups
If you take little bites, it’s no longer as hard.
Puzzles offer a great way for kids to practice forming their own plans. They may get started one way and decide they need a new plan. Let them try to see if their plans work before you jump in.
4. Spatial Sense
This is why I don’t enjoy puzzles.
I’m not a spatial person. It’s always been my lowest form of IQ on every test I’ve ever taken.
Puzzles are all about building spatial awareness. You have to actually look at the pieces and try to see how the little parts fit together.
You have to notice the little gaps that scream, “You just shoved that piece in the wrong spot!” My kids are great at noticing that one when I help them put puzzles together.
“Mom! That piece doesn’t go there!”
Well, I thought it did. It sort of fit. You know, when I shoved it really hard! 😀
Actually, because of their ability to improve spatial sense, I should probably puzzle more…
But my kids are using their spatial sense every single time they work on a puzzle.
5. No Screens Involved
My kids watch a fair amount of television. They’re on the computer. And the iPad.
Screens are everywhere in today’s society!
So I love finding activities they enjoy that don’t involve a screen. I know our brains respond differently to stimuli on and off the screen, so I like to encourage them to take a screen break and do something real.
Yes, there are puzzle packs you can buy for all the devices. I’ve bought a couple. The kids love them.
But, it’s not the same as actually putting together a real puzzle. Tapping the screen to rotate a piece isn’t the same sensation as holding the piece in your hand and turning it.
Being screen less is one of my favorite benefits of putting puzzles together.
6. Understanding Systems
Puzzles really help kids stand back and look at the big picture.
They have to know what the end goal is. My kids usually leave the box top, with the completed picture, out where they can see it.
Then, they pull a piece from the board and look carefully at the box. They’re trying to see where that little piece fits in the bigger picture.
They know that all the pieces go together, but they have to use this skill to get everything in the right spot. This helps them get a sense of systems, and how all the pieces work together.
7. Social Skills
When you work on a puzzle with someone else, communication happens. Whether it’s, “Hey, you do this part and I’ll do this one” or even just shooting the breeze while working, puzzling together builds social skills.
They’re also a good way to teach little ones not to run over and grab a piece of the puzzle and shove it down the table crack. We’ve had some good conversations about using kind words to talk to our siblings during puzzle time.
If you aren’t organized, your puzzle pieces are going to end up on the floor, or in our house, eaten. When working on puzzles, kids must make some simple organizational decisions. They might decide to:
- Dump the pieces in a single location
- Sort by color
- Sort the edge pieces
- Turn everything the right way first
- Store the middle pieces in a zip bag until they’re needed
There’s not just a single way to do a puzzle. But no matter how they tackle it, your children will be subconsciously organizing while they play.
And no, those organizational skills may not magically transfer themselves to your child’s clothing drawers and closet (how sad!), but they are building an essential framework.
9. Stopping a Task and Starting it Again Later
Unless you’re dedicating hours to the task, many of these larger puzzles aren’t going to be completed in a single session.
That means your kids are learning how to stop working and come back to it again later.
Being able to walk away and then jump back in later is an important skill. Can you see the real life benefit of this one?
Some kids don’t handle stopping as well. They might need a bit of your guidance. You could suggest they work on the puzzle until a certain section is done and then take a break. Or set the timer for twenty minutes and then have them clean up and do a different activity.
You’ll be teaching them how to plan their work sessions and then take a break.
10. Trial and Error
Once you’ve figured out how to organize the puzzle pieces, and are actively working on the puzzle, your child will have to compare pieces.
They might have three or four that they’ve determined through observation and spatial awareness will fit. So now it’s time for some trial and error. Your child might pick the wrong piece at first.
And that’s okay! They’re learning to keep trying. To keep solving the problem.
Trial and error is a math skill I was taught back in pre-algebra. It works on puzzling too!
What Other Skills Have Your Kids Practiced While Putting Puzzles Together?
I know kids practice more than 10 skills doing puzzles. These ten are mostly soft skills, which are important in the world of STEM education.
Which other ones can you add to the list?