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The Power of Problem Solving Play

2020-10-02 by Melissa & Doug
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This is the third in a series of blog posts on the skill-building power of different types of play.

One of the many cool things about play is that it helps kids learn to become problem solvers. Think about children building block towers, watching them fall down, then rebuilding with more stability. That’s a lesson in problem solving and resilience! The same holds true as kids play with puzzles, trying to fit the correct shape in the correct space. Puzzle play encourages logical thinking, goal setting, and patience.


Kids learn so many essential life skills through play with toys that promote problem solving. As the American Academy of Pediatrics points out in a recent study,

Problem solving through play with the “traditional favorites,” such as blocks and puzzles, can support fine motor skills and language and cognitive development and predicts both spatial and early mathematics skills.

The 10 Best Problem Solving Toys for Kids

These problem solving toys can help build kids’ hand-eye coordination, logical thinking, and so much more. We’ve included extra play ideas for each to keep the problem solving play going!

  1. Farm Animals Sound Puzzle

    Age: 2+
    Why it’s great: As kids place each of the eight pieces correctly in this wooden peg puzzle, the happy farm animal pictured “sounds off” in its own voice!
    Sweet detail: Puzzle has light-activated sensors. (Expose the sensor by removing a piece in a brightly lit room, then make the sound play by replacing the piece in the board.)
    Skills: Matching, listening, fine motor
    Countless Ways to Play: Play “what’s my sound?” by removing pieces, making one of the animal sounds, and challenging kids to find the correct piece and place it in the puzzle board.
  2. Deluxe Jumbo Cardboard Blocks

    Age: 2+
    Why it’s great: This 40-piece set of lightweight, yet durable, cardboard building blocks features three sizes of “bricks” for constructive imaginative play. Comes with easy instructions for folding the flat pieces into blocks in a flash!
    Sweet detail: Made of premium, extra-thick cardboard (the red blocks hold up to 150 pounds!)
    Skills: Gross motor, problem solving
    Countless Ways to Play: Blocks are great for building towers and walls and forts, but what else can kids build? The possibilities are endless! Suggest using the blocks to make a chair for a teddy bear, a table, a staircase, or a pyramid!
  3. Safari Chunky Puzzle

    Age: 2+
    Why it’s great: Wooden puzzles with chunky, easy-to-grasp pieces are the perfect “first puzzles” for 2- and 3-year-olds. Kids will enjoy learning about the colorful African animals featured on the puzzle.
    Sweet detail: The animal pieces stand upright for pretend play!
    Skills: Hand-eye coordination, fine motor
    Countless Ways to Play: Have kids make each animal’s sound as they place and remove the pieces from the puzzle board. What sound does the giraffe make when it eats?
  4. Beginner Pattern Blocks

    Age: 2+
    Why it’s great: This colorful activity gets kids manipulating and moving shapes to fit the spaces and complete the pictures. Five two-sided boards with ten recessed design templates are ready to fill with the brightly colored geometric shapes.
    Sweet detail: Everything stores neatly in the sturdy wooden storage box!
    Skills: Fine motor, sorting
    Countless Ways to Play: Encourage kids to make up their own designs and matching activities.
  5. Hammer & Saw Tool Bench

    Age: 3+
    Why it’s great: The 32 pieces in this wooden building set include nails to pound with the hammer, screws to turn with the screwdriver, and panels to connect and saw apart. Best of all, the tools and building supplies store neatly in a compact wooden workbench with measuring surface and C-clamp!
    Sweet detail: Little builders can follow the included “blueprints” to create an animal, house, robot, or boat, or create their own amazing structures!
    Skills: Fine motor, hand-eye coordination, problem solving
    Countless Ways to Play: Play “copycat construction” by connecting a few of the pieces (such as a bolt, block, and nut) and asking your child to copy your creation.
  6. Pets Jumbo Knob Puzzle

    Age: 12 months+
    Why it’s great: Three favorite pets live in this cozy blue house and are always ready for puzzle play! The jumbo wooden knobs make it easy for the youngest puzzlers to grasp and place the pieces.
    Sweet detail: Full-color, matching pictures appear underneath each piece!
    Skills: Fine motor, hand-eye coordination, visual perception
    Countless Ways to Play: Encourage kids to clap two pieces together, softly at first, then loudly, then in a pattern!
  7. Alphabet Nesting & Stacking Blocks

    Age: 2+
    Why it’s great: “A” is for an alligator eating an apple! Brightly colored animals and familiar objects illustrate the letters of the alphabet on these sturdy cardboard blocks that stack by letter, color, and size.
    Sweet detail: Nested, the 10 vibrant blocks fit into the included carrying case. Stacked, they form a tower nearly three feet high!br />
    Skills: Letters, language, problem solving
    Countless Ways to Play: Sing the alphabet song as you stack the blocks.
  8. Counting Shape Stacker

    Age: 2+
    Why it’s great: This sturdy wooden stacker appeals to a child’s natural curiosity about colors, shapes, and numbers! Encourage early math skills with the 55 shape pieces and 10 number tiles.
    Sweet detail: Shape names are printed on the board and numbers are spelled out on the back of tiles to help reinforce learning.
    Skills: Color, shape, and number recognition
    Countless Ways to Play: Mix all the shapes and number tiles together in a pile and have kids sort them by color. Then make a game of placing them in the correct spots as quickly as possible.
  9. See-Inside Numbers Peg Puzzle

    Age: 2+
    Why it’s great: Number concepts, zero through nine, are illustrated in this 10-piece peg puzzle.
    Sweet detail: A colorful picture under each piece shows the same number of items as the numeral on top of the piece, helping promote number recognition and counting skills!
    Skills: Fine motor, hand-eye coordination, number recognition
    Countless Ways to Play: Play “fix it” by placing pieces in numerical order except for a few numbers. Ask kids to “fix” the number line.
  10. Match & Build Soft Blocks

    Age: 9 months+
    Why it’s great: Kids can combine these 14 soft blocks in endless creative combinations, then topple them over and build again! . .Kid-friendly artwork on the coordinating cubes encourages matching activities, puzzling (complete the picture of a Ferris wheel!), and even sequential thinking and storytelling with before-and-after flaps on three of the blocks.
    Sweet detail: Matching activities pair numerals and quantities, animal halves, and everyday shapes.
    Skills: Fine and gross motor, sensory
    Countless Ways to Play: Name colors or patterns and ask kids to find the blocks that fit the description.

In its “Selecting Appropriate Toys for Young Children in the Digital Era” study, the AAP noted that “High-quality toys in each of these categories can facilitate caregiver-child interactions, peer play, and the growth of imagination”:

Pretend Play Activity centers, dolls, play food, cooking toys, role play sets, puppets, vehicles
Developmental Play Fine motor manipulatives, activity stations, sorters & stackers
Problem Solving Blocks, construction play, puzzles
Creativity Craft kits, coloring activities, painting & drawing
Language & Concepts Alphabet activities, number activities, games
Physical Activity Balls, tunnel, gardening & nature

Here are our product picks for the best toys in some of these pediatrician-recommended categories! More to come:

Read The Power of Pretend Play >
Read The Power of Developmental Play >
Read The Power of Numbers and Letters Play >

Read The Power of Puzzle Play >


Melissa & Doug

Our team of play experts occasionally enjoys sharing news about our company, new product launches, and some of the #CountlessWaysToPlay with our toys, crafts, and games. At Melissa & Doug, we’re on a mission to inspire the innovators of tomorrow through kid-powered play!

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