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5 Social Skills Learned from Puzzles

2014-09-29 by Dayna Abraham
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Everyone knows that social skills are essential to the happiness and success of any child. Good social skills enable any child to grow and develop into functioning members of society. Since social skills determine how children relate to one another and the adults surrounding them, it is imperative that we take the time to explicitly teach these important skills to children, starting a a very young age. But teaching these skills doesn’t have to be boring! In fact, Puzzle Play provides many opportunities to teach children about social skills while making learning fun!

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Whether social skills come naturally or are a struggle for your child, teaching these life skills can take time, patience, and understanding on your part. One of the simplest ways to do that is through play. In our home, we love to get our family collection of Melissa & Doug puzzles and work together to build positive relationships and model appropriate behaviors.

For as long as I can remember, I have owned Melissa & Doug puzzles. I’ve had them in every classroom from preschool to first grade. I had them when my boys were little, and we have them now that my boys are older. The truth is, puzzles are such an important part of our lives that I am not sure what we would do without them. The benefits of puzzles range from academic to social and everything in between. Today I am excited to share 5 Social Skills we teach with puzzles any time we get them out.

Pointing at Pieces

Problem Solving

Whether it’s a giant floor puzzle or a 500 piece puzzle, problem solving is needed when working through the task. Puzzles are a great activity to use with your children to practice and teach how to ask questions, ask for help, try new things, and stick with a project. In our house, my boys love to time themselves.

We start by building the puzzle together a few times, and then once they have had modeled practice with the puzzle, they set up the timer and try to beat their own scores. Playing against their own scores keeps the focus on their problem solving skills and less about the competition.

waiting your turn

Waiting Your Turn

I saw this problem in the classroom all the time. Honestly, it is no different in our home either. As soon as we bring out the puzzles, both boys run to the Giant Fire Truck Floor Puzzle and reach to play at the same time. It never fails. Instead of getting frustrated at this repeated battle, I like to use it as an opportunity to role play and practice taking turns.

We use phrases such as “when you are finished, I’d like…”, “Can I please use that when you are finished,” and ” I really like that puzzle, too. Can we work together?” Often times the boys will get distracted with another activity while they wait and not even notice the long wait. Other times, they are too excited to leave and end up cheering their sibling on as they problem solve where the pieces should fit.



I know, you are probably thinking “puzzles are a quiet activity, why would they help with listening?” With Melissa & Doug’s sound puzzles, you can work on listening skills while building those social skills. We love our new United States of America Sound Puzzle that tells you the capital and state as you cover the sensor. My boys have learned to listen carefully to the names being called out, so they can complete their puzzle in a faster time.

Even if you don’t have a sound puzzle, listening is still an important skill taught with puzzles. I can picture so many times sitting on the floor in the preschool room. I was surrounded by 5, sometimes 10 little bodies all trying to complete a floor puzzle together (they loved the butterfly puzzle). While we work together, children are shouting out demands, listening carefully for the requests and working together to complete their project.

good sportsmanship

Good Sportsmanship

“Good Job”, “way to go”, “that’s it”… do these phrases sound familiar? I know in our home, we have to teach our children how to be open and willing to using praise often. Puzzles are such a fun way to encourage children to treat their peers/siblings respectfully. While playing with our favorite puzzles, I try to remember the strategies to successfully teaching positive attitudes and sportsmanship.

Since puzzles are great for all ages (Melissa & Doug has over 200 puzzles to choose from), they can be a great tool for teaching teamwork and cooperation.

Attention Span

Attention Span

Nothing is more fun than working together on a collaborative puzzle for days. Our current favorite is our 500 piece Map of the United States puzzle. When it first arrived, everyone was ecstatic. Finishing such a large puzzle not only helped the boys feel more accomplished but also gave us chances as a family to work together.

If your child has difficulty with keeping focused for an entire puzzle this size, I would suggest breaking it up into different days. For example, we spent one session, just sorting out the edges. Another session was dedicated to the title, and so on and so on. Yes, this puzzle took 2 weeks to complete, but we were able to do the puzzle without any major meltdowns or frustrations (which is huge in our family).

I could go on and on about the social benefits of puzzles, but I will leave you with these 5 for today. What are some of the benefits you see with puzzle play? What are some ways you like to encourage social skill development through puzzles? We would love to hear more!

While learning social skills is part of everyday life, some children, like our oldest son, struggle with learning basic day-to-day social skills and need a little extra help. Over at Lemon Lime Adventures I am sharing my tips for teaching social skills to kids who don’t have any.

click here to read all about it


Dayna Abraham

Dayna is a National Board Certified teacher, with over 12 years of experience in early childhood education, who now homeschools her 3 children, one of which struggles with Sensory Processing Disorder. She is the author at Lemon Lime Adventures and owner of Project Sensory, where she is dedicated to sharing real life stories with parents and educators about the pretty and the not so pretty days involved in raising children. You can connect with Dayna over on FacebookTwitterInstagram, and G+!

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