The humble jigsaw puzzle can be largely under rated but we absolutely love them in our house. As with all things the children go through phases with them, but I would say each child will complete at least one jigsaw puzzle a week. They help to develop such a wide range of skills and a blog I recently read suggests that the mental ability to change shapes is crucial for engineers, architects, designers and artists, they need to develop these skills early on and jigsaw puzzles are the perfect training material!
Jigsaw puzzles support children’s development in so many ways which I have listed below.
- Concentration – Children tend to have a short attention span, however I have noticed that when completing a jigsaw puzzle their attention is prolonged until the puzzle is complete. Charlie in particular will sit and concentrate on his puzzle until it is completed, even when he has to work through several problems. I find that initially they need to be supported by an adult to stay focused and demonstrate how to turn pieces, but once the puzzle has been completed a few times the children will enjoy the challenge of having a go themselves.
- Spatial awareness – The skills needed to complete a puzzle accurately are to turn puzzle pieces and match shapes and colours. There is also a process that is needed to go through such as finding all the edges and corners and knowing where to place them. These skills help to support mathematical thinking as well as technology and engineering. Sometimes it can be painful to watch children trying to work out which puzzle piece fits, especially when they have chosen the correct piece but disregard it instantly because they haven’t turned it around. My advice is to talk them through the process, this will support their positional language development but also to help them work out the process themselves, so the next time they will hopefully be able to compete it themselves.
- Problem solving- Completing a jigsaw puzzle makes children think about what they need to do to make the puzzle pieces they have in front of them become the picture on the box they are copying. The more experience they have with a range of puzzles helps them to practise this process repeatedly. The process is the same with every puzzle whether it is a 6 piece puzzle or a 100 piece puzzle and the skills they learn at aged 18 months to match the shapes and colours are the same skills that are used at every level.
- Turn taking- We often end up with all three children working together on one puzzle. In order to make it fair we split the puzzle pieces between the children and then they have a go at fixing their pieces into the bigger picture. Charlie needs help as the puzzle is usually harder than he is used to, but he wants to join in with his sisters and has an idea of the basic rules needed so can match the colours correctly and knows to turn the pieces around. By working on the puzzle together they are supporting their sharing and social skills, learning to wait until it is time to place their piece. They are able to communicate using mathematical language and support each other by co-operating.
- Fine motor control- Fitting the pieces together accurately supports children’s hand and eye co-ordination as well as their fine motor skills. These are important skills for young children especially those who are starting school.
- Having fun – Let’s not forget doing a puzzle is good fun, the immense satisfaction you get from completing a puzzle, especially a particularly challenging one is huge and one that children want to replicate again and again. The fun doesn’t stop when the puzzle is completed either as we then talk through the picture that we have made. E.g. can you find the butterflies? How many cats are there in the picture? What is the princess doing here? We are very lucky as Granny also loves doing puzzles. Whenever the children go around to her house they love going to her jigsaw table to see what puzzle she is working on at the moment and they all have a go at trying to put a piece in. She then saves the puzzle once it has been completed to show the children, they love looking at the pictures and talking through what they see.
Puzzles seem to be the perfect activity to support so many different areas. Here is a short film of Charlie practising all the skills above while he tries to work out how to complete a puzzle.