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Puzzle Play! Simple Activity with Amazing Developmental Benefits for Your Child

Back to school means back to homework, activities, and hectic schedules. It is hard to carve out time out of busy schedules to just wind-down with your kids and simply enjoy each other’s company.

Puzzles can be a great avenue for spending quality time with your children while helping them develop psychologically, emotionally, physically and academically. You would be amazed at what you can learn about your child while working with him and observing him as he completes a puzzle – the way he approaches and solves problems (does he get frustrated or does he keep searching for the right piece?), fine motor development (can he easily fit the pieces together or is it a challenge?), etc. With younger children, it is easier to sit down with them for 10-15 minutes to work a puzzle. However, older children may require more time. Even if you don’t have 30 minutes or more to spare on some of the more complicated puzzles, you can designate a special spot in your house for puzzles where you can leave it and come back to it when you have time. You might also be surprised to see your child gravitate to the puzzle without you on occasion, as she learns perseverance and the wonderful feeling of accomplishment when the puzzle is completed.

According to the Child Development Institute, there are so many reasons why puzzles are important to the development of your child.

  1. Hand-eye coordination
  2. Manipulating the world around him/her
  3. Developing fine motor skills
  4. Developing gross motor skills for younger kids through stacking blocks and larger puzzles
  5. Problem solving
  6. Shape recognition
  7. Memory
  8. Setting small goals
  9. Achieving a goal and increasing self-confidence

You can also use puzzles to encourage learning and creativity. For instance, if you are constructing a puzzle such as the Melissa & Doug’s Rainforest Puzzle with your preschooler, you can talk about the different animals that you might find in a rainforest and create a story using these animals as characters.  You can also try to recreate the animals on paper using the puzzle as a guide to further enhance their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination.

A great puzzle to do with all ages (ages 3 and up), although it’s not your traditional puzzle, is Pattern Play by Mindware. This set comes with pattern cards where the child has to figure out how to recreate the pattern using the multi-shaped and multi-colored pieces. Or, for younger children (ages 3-4), they can create their own patterns by fitting the pieces together on the board. This is a wonderful set to leave out on a table – my kids always gravitated toward this set when I left it out and recreated one pattern at a time.

Rotate your puzzles often to keep kids interested and engaged while bonding with their favorite person – you!

About the Author

Shannon McAfee is a mom of three girls in Glen Allen, VA. She is the Founder and Owner of TOYconomy, an online toy rental service for children. She is a huge advocate of play to enhance child development and strengthen the bonds and communication with children.



TOYplay Tips: Caterpillar Gears Toddler Toy by Melissa & Doug

My 2-year-old son, Jack, has been enjoying playing with the Melissa & Doug Rainbow Caterpillar.  He was immediately attracted to the vibrant colors and unique caterpillar shape.  Once I demonstrated the rotation of the gears, he instantaneously put his motor skills to work.  Jack quickly learned that he can take the gears on and off and change the direction of the rotation.

The next day, I used the colored gears to teach numbers.  We counted 1-6 with the gears on the caterpillar and then did the same removing them.  Before we put the caterpillar away, I reviewed colors as we were putting the gears back on.

Jack had a great time with this classic toy!

Developmental Areas: Motor skills, counting, cause and effect, and color recognition

Recommended Age : 18 months

Playtime:  10-15 minutes

Extension activities: use colored gears to reinforce counting, numbers, and colors

Tested and Reviewed by: Alyssa Chalifoux,  2-year-old son

TOYplay Tips: Letter Puzzles by Melissa & Doug

The Melissa & Doug Letter Puzzles set is a great educational toy for preschoolers or Kindergartners to teach letter recognition and

Self-Correcting Alphabet Letter Puzzles

letter sounds. Normally, when you think of puzzles, you think of a quiet activity. And, don’t get me wrong, these puzzles are great for a quiet, independent activity. But, on a cold and snowy afternoon, I discovered a fun way to use these puzzles to get my kids moving indoors and learning at the same time.

I divided the puzzle pieces into groups of four (the last two groups were 3 each).  My 3-year-old is still learning to recognize some of the letters, so it was important to do small groups at a time (and in sequence) so that she didn’t become overwhelmed.

We started with A, B, C, D. I separated the letter piece from the picture piece, but still had them side-by-side. We went down the line and I asked her to tell me the letter when I pointed. If she didn’t know it, I told her and asked her to repeat it. Then I asked her to say the name of each picture (note: the word is printed under the picture). We then went over the letter sounds – I asked her to repeat each sound after me as I pointed to the letter.

After we were done identifying the letters, pictures/words, and sounds, the fun and active part began! I took the 4 letter pieces and laid them on the floor about 10 feet from the picture pieces. I explained that, when I made the letter sound, she had to pick up the picture that started with that sound and run to find the matching letter piece. When she found the letter piece, she was supposed to shout the letter and fit the pieces together, then run back for the next “letter sound” hint. We did that, one-by-one, until all 4 sets were matched.She loved that it felt like a race (even though I wasn’t timing her) and she did a great job remembering the letter sounds and matching the correct picture piece to the letter piece.

We then started with another group of four (E, F, G, H) and continued until we reached the end of the alphabet. Well, almost the end – she became tired when we reached X, Y, Z, which was much further than I thought we’d get.

My 5-year-old was there too and, although she knew her letters and sounds, she had fun giving hints to my 3-year-old and helping with the activities. It also reinforced what she’s been learning in school and the words printed under the pictures served as a great word recognition activity for her.

Developmental areas: Letter recognition, letter sounds, early reading skills, motor development.

Recommended ages: 3-5 years

Play time: 30-45 minutes

Extension activities (suggested by Melissa & Doug on the back of the storage box):

Matching game, sorting activity, letter, sounds and word recognition activity, color recognition, memory game, grab bag game, pick the picture, and story time.

Tested and review written by:

Shannon McAfee (Founder/Owner of TOYconomy), 3 and 5-year-old daughters