If you have a child in kindergarten or early primary school, their teacher has probably (at some point) advised for your child to do more jigsaw puzzles? Chances are, you have wondered why puzzles seem to play such an important role in a child’s development, and furthermore, how to get your own child doing puzzles regularly in the home? Then, this article may be just what you need to read.
Puzzle making will come more naturally to some children than others but it is a skill that is necessary for every child to become proficient in (whether they like it or not!) because the process of building a puzzle is beneficial for a child on so many levels. This activity should not be relegated to schools and day care centres alone; it also needs to be a part of a child’s home life.
Making puzzles with your child
- Firstly you need to get puzzles that are age appropriate! The younger your child is, the fewer the pieces. If the jigsaw puzzle is either too easy or too hard for your child, your child will lose interest very quickly and not benefit from the activity. From toddler stage, a child can start with 1-piece peg puzzles which can constitute of anything from clothing to vehicles, fruits to animals, shapes to numbers.When your child has mastered the one-piece puzzle, they can then move on to the jigsaw puzzle; from a 2-piece, to a 4-piece, to an 8-piece, to a 12piece, increasing the size as they master each stage. Go at the pace of your child and be consistent. You will know when they are ready to upgrade to the next level because of the speed and ease with which they build a puzzle they have mastered!
- Choose the right time and space for puzzle making! Your child will not get much done if they are too tired or distracted. The environment needs to be conducive for concentration.
- Have your child take a good look at the end result, the full picture, before they start. They can also reference the picture during the process of building the jigsaw puzzle during the initial stages of getting acquainted with the puzzle. But when they have become sufficiently familiar with the puzzle they need to move on to building the puzzle without making reference to the final picture.
- Show your child how to construct the puzzle. Children have different approaches to building puzzles. My children tend to build their puzzles by connecting the colours and details of the picture. They work from inwards going outwards. A standard guideline, however, would be for your child to start with the four corners of the puzzle, to then fill up the borders along the four sides of puzzle board and finally, to construct everything else within. This approach is a helpful guideline but a child will probably discover his/her own unique approach as they become more skilled at the activity.
Ways to make puzzle-making enjoyable
Puzzle-making is an activity that demands quite a lot from a child –like concentration, patience and problem solving. To a small child, such disciplines are WORK! If your children are anything like mine, they thrive on ‘having fun whilst learning’ and puzzles are no exception to this rule. So, here are some tips on funning-it-all-up from time to time.
1) Make puzzle-making one of your family quality time activities. You could even throw in some popcorn& fancy delights to snack on during the process. Puzzle making is also a great way of giving about 20-30mins of undivided attention to your child when you have come home from work and are too tired to jump around and rough ‘n’ tumble!
2) Time the activity. Once your child has got fairly acquainted with a puzzle, you can start timing them on how long they take to complete the puzzle. Each time they attempt to build the puzzle, the aim should be to beat their previous record
3) If you have more than one child or if your child has a friend or cousin who has come to visit, they can compete against one on taking the shortest time to build a puzzle. It doesn’t matter that they may be at different levels of puzzle-making, as long as each child is comfortable with his/her puzzle. You can also compete with your child!
4) Combine storytime with puzzle-making. Some books come with puzzles in them. Building a puzzle after the story is a great way for your child to consolidate the reading experience.
Where to find puzzles
In South Africa, puzzles can be found in almost any toy shop, several bookshops and regular supermarkets like Checkers, Pick ‘n’ Pay and Spar. I have however found Crazy Plastics and Plasticland to stock up on very reasonably priced wooden puzzles that are quite durable. They range from toddler stages right up to upper-primary levels.
There are also free online jigsaw puzzle sites that you can register on and make use of; two examples being www.thejigsawpuzzles.com and www.jigsawplanet.com. Online puzzle activity should however not be the only method used when developing a child’s puzzle making skills because it excludes the development of fine motor skills and to an extent, hand-eye coordination.