January is National Puzzle Month. Here at Melissa & Doug, puzzles are very close to our hearts. It was the decision to create a simple puzzle that introduced us to the world of wood and the art of making wooden playthings.
That first puzzle was a brainstorm based on one of Melissa and Doug’s favorite childhood books, Pat the Bunny. They loved the tactile, sensory aspect of the book, and believed that incorporating texture into a puzzle would be appealing to young children. The Fuzzy Farm Puzzle (and a jungle themed one too) was born! Fun fact: at one point, we had over a dozen fuzzy puzzles, including fuzzy faces and fuzzy shapes puzzles! Nearly 30 years later, we have freshened up the graphics, but our jungle (zoo animal) tactile puzzle is still in the line!
We’d go on to create puzzles of all types, wooden ones, cardboard jigsaws, you name it. And we’d eventually branch out from just puzzles to wooden toys, pretend play, arts and crafts, and more. But it really all began with puzzles.
We’re convinced that every child can benefit from puzzle play as puzzles are one of the key building blocks to early learning. Here are a few ways puzzles can help with a child’s development:
- Fine Motor Skills. Manipulating the pieces of a puzzle develops the small hand muscles of children. Fine motor skills are so important, yet they take lots of practice and repetition to properly develop. Puzzles encourage this learning!
- Hand-Eye Coordination. Puzzles are also crucial for helping build hand-eye coordination. The need to use visual clues like color, shape, or pattern in order to fit pieces together helps develop this skill.
- Early Language & Math Concepts. Puzzles can also help teach and reinforce early identification and recognition of letters, numbers, shapes, colors, and animals, and help build vocabulary and descriptive skills.
- Kids love to master completing a puzzle, and then use their memory skills to engage in the repetition of putting the puzzle together faster and faster. Since puzzles are self-correcting and only fit together one way, kids get the “I can do it” satisfaction of putting the piece in the proper place. Completing the puzzle again and again gives children a tremendous sense of accomplishment and builds their confidence!
Convinced you want to add some puzzles to your child’s play options, but not sure which is the right kind? Here’s an age-by-age guide:
Babies & Young Toddlers
- Just a few large pieces with delightful artwork
- Easy-to-grasp knobs
- Pieces fit into distinct recessed spots
- Function as both puzzles and imaginative play sets
- Thick pieces can stand up, inspiring imaginative play off the puzzle board
- Pieces also pull double duty as great sorting and counting manipulatives
- Smaller handles require more precise grasp than Knob Puzzles
- Some have pairs of pieces that fit together in single space
- Pictures under pieces help guide each piece to its home
- Offer a delightful sensory cue when pieces are lifted or set in place
- Additional learning opportunities (animal and letter sounds, nursery rhymes, etc.)
- Help develop fine motor and auditory processing skills
Preschool & Up
- Like a “big kid” puzzle, but with limited piece count (12, 24, 48, or 96 pieces)
- Puzzle board helpfully defines boundaries
- No pictures under pieces for more of a challenge
- Good bridge from wooden puzzles to traditional cardboard jigsaws
- Big dimensions, big impact (24, 48, or 100 jumbo cardboard pieces)
- Great for teamwork and collaboration
NOTE: Some Sound Puzzles (see Older Toddlers) are also geared for the preschool set.
Big Kids & Families
- Piece size grows proportionately smaller with piece count
- Lots of themes to choose from
- 200-500 cardboard pieces
Hope this inspires you to spend some time on puzzle play this season. Winter is the perfect time to begin to piece it all together!