Michelle Manno is an education writer and researcher living in NYC. Her interests include K-12 and teacher education, digital media as a teaching tool, and understanding the intersection of pop culture and pedagogy.
She is a recent graduate from Hunter College with her Master's in Education Psychology: Assessment, Research and Evaluation and currently works as a higher education editorial strategist. Bylines include Bright, Huffington Post, Teach for America, and the Association of American EducatorsM. She writes:
The three basics of what puzzles do for your child
When your child is alone with a puzzle you can expect three basic skills to be built:
• Physical skills From holding puzzle pieces and turning them until they fit
• Cognitive skills As they solve the problems of a puzzle
• Emotional skills They learn patience and are rewarded when they complete the puzzle
These three basic skills are the building blocks for a well rounded person. As Nancy Maldonado states, puzzles allow “an opportunity for young children to focus on an activity that has an ending,” completing the pleasing image.
In addition to these three basics, doing a puzzle with a friend or family member also allows for the growth of social skills as they work together and communicate about what fits where. This is a minor point as nearly any activity done with more than one person will have this benefit.
Looking at the specific skills behind the three basics
Each of the three basics break down further into specific skills that a puzzle can build for your child.
Hand-Eye Coordination Your child will develop a keen relationship between what their eyes see, what their hands do and what their brain relates to this information.
Gross Motor Skills Larger puzzle pieces and stacking puzzle games can enhance the large movements of your child to the point where they can then work on their fine motor skills.
Fine Motor Skills Small and precise movements, such as the movement of fingers to get a puzzle piece in exactly the right spot, are built and can lead to better handwriting and typing skills.
Understanding the surrounding world There is no better way for your child to gain an understanding of the world around them than by letting them literally manipulate the world around them.
Shape recognition The first puzzles we use are simple shapes -- triangle, squares and circles. From there more complex shapes are used until the abstract jigsaw puzzles are used.
Memory Your child has to remember the shape of pieces that don’t fit fir when they will fit later on.
Problem solving Either the puzzle piece fits or it does not. Your child uses critical thinking skills to solve the puzzle and, best of all, you can’t cheat a puzzle!
Setting goals The first goal is to solve the puzzle, the next goal will be a series of strategies your child comes up with to solve the puzzle. Such as putting familiar shapes or colors in one pile for future reference.
Patience Puzzles are not like sports, you can’t just step up to the plate and swing until you knock it out of the park. You must practice patience and slowly work through the puzzle before you reach the ending.
There is no mistaking the benefits of puzzles in childhood development. You used them, your parents used them and your children are using them now. All those skills are being practiced and tested when your child “plays with a puzzle.” Imagine what else is happening in their brain when they are encouraged and empowered at preschool!