The Power of Problem Solving Play

Power Of Play

The Power of Problem Solving Play

January 17, 2023

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
Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play 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
Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play 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
Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play 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. Building Site Floor Puzzle - 48 Pieces

Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play Building Site Floor Puzzle

Age: 4+

Why it’s great: Constructive playtime awaits with this exciting cardboard floor puzzle featuring vehicles hard at work on a building site! The puzzle is an impressive 2 feet x 3 feet when assembled, and the 48 extra-thick pieces are durable and easy to clean, so they'll stay looking like new, use after use.

Sweet detail: Everything stores neatly in the sturdy wooden storage box!

Skills: Fine motor skills, sorting, problem-solving

Countless Ways to Play: Take turns alternating pieces to improve cooperation, or add a stopwatch to see how fast kids can complete the puzzle--and try to improve their best finish!

5. Wooden Doorbell House


Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play Wooden Doorbell House

Age: 3+

Why it’s great: Ding Dong! Fun is at the door of this soundly-built wooden doorbell house. Four electronic doorbell sounds, four unique locks with matching keys, and four pose-able play people are included with this charming cottage! 

Sweet detail: The keys are attached to the house so they won't get lost, and the sturdy handle allows this exciting house party to go wherever children go!

Skills: Fine motor, hand-eye coordination, problem solving, storytelling

Countless Ways to Play: Ask your kids to make up stories about the different characters and act out pretend play scenes.

6. Large Farm Jumbo Knob Puzzle - 8 Pieces


Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play Large Farm Jumbo Knob Puzzle

Age: 12 months+

Why it’s great: Seven favorite farm animals and a farmer stand out against the big red barn. This extra-thick wooden puzzle includes eight pieces, with jumbo wooden knobs that are easy for children to grasp. 

Sweet detail: Full-color matching pictures appear underneath each piece to help with matching.

Skills: Fine motor, hand-eye coordination, visual perception

Countless Ways to Play: Have kids sing along with "Old MacDonald" using the puzzle pieces to prompt each new verse!

7. Alphabet Nesting & Stacking Blocks
Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play Alphabet Nesting and 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. Shape Sorting Cube Classic Toy
Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play Blog Post Shape Sorting Cube

Age: 2+

Why it’s great: It's a beautifully constructed wooden toy with 12 brightly colored, easy-to-grip shapes.

Sweet detail: Kids will delight as they drop each shape into the cube, and hear it make a satisfying "clunk" sound. 

Skills: Color & shape recognition, problem-solving skills, fine motor skills

Countless Ways to Play: Don't have any musical instruments around for dance party time? Use the Shape Sorting Cube as a substitute shaker instrument—let your little one rattle the cube with the shapes inside!

9. Wooden Shape Sorting Grocery Cart


Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play Wooden Shape Sorting Grocery Cart

Age: 2+

Why it’s great: This cheery and sturdy wooden grocery cart is filled with fun skill-building activities! Adorable, diverse characters and a variety of fun shapes and textures encourage exploratory, skill-building play.Very young kids can sort colorful chunky wooden food shapes through holes in the sides of the cart, and place them in two wooden puzzle boards that store in the cart. Spin the built-in roller drum for sensory stimulation and matching games, and enhance imitative pretend play. 

Sweet detail: Realistic coffee cup with removable lid fits in a cup holder in the cart! 

Skills: Gross & fine motor, hand-eye coordination, sorting, shape recognition, problem-solving

Countless Ways to Play: As kids grow, using the cart as a push toy helps build motor skills and inspire imaginative play.

10. Rollables Treehouse Twirl


Melissa & Doug Power of Problem Solving Play Rollables Treehouse Twirl

Age: 9 months+

Why it’s great: Get playtime and developmental skills rolling with Rollables--adorably round characters that are firm enough to roll but soft enough to squeeze! Inspire imaginative forest adventures through kinetic play with this sturdy wooden treehouse tower and two Rollables with chimes: the rascally racoon and sly fox. Drop Rollables into the top of the tree, and watch them tumble down the branches. Adorable, diverse characters and a variety of fun shapes and textures encourage exploratory, skill-building play.  

Sweet detail: A built-in bead maze adds to the excitement and tactile experience for kids!

Skills: Cause and effect, sensory, fine motor, problem-solving skills

Countless Ways to Play: Kids can use the two Rollables characters for all sorts of pretend play fun away from the treehouse, too!

    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