Positive Puzzle Play

My little boy got some money for his birthday and do you know what he wanted to buy? A puzzle. They are his absolutely favourite thing to do at the moment and he keeps trying to challenge himself further and further.

The puzzle he wanted was one he spotted a couple of weeks ago and it made a big impression. It was 100 pieces and I was a little worried it would be a bit out of his league and put a dampener on his enthusiaism.

I had nothing to worry about, he did it in a couple of sittings. He is really proud of himself and he should be. It's proven to be a great boost for his self-esteem as well as providing the wonderful benefits doing puzzles provides.

Being able to do puzzles is quite a specific skill and I thought I would share with you some of the tips and ideas I use to encourage positive puzzle play.

1. Start young - the kids have both had puzzles since they were very young. Most baby puzzles are the kind with large knobs that involve the skill of matching shapes to a particular space. This is one particular skill, but the type of puzzle that involves putting a picture back together is a different skill again. It's great to get your hands on 2, 4 and then 6 piece puzzles where younger toddlers can work on recreating a picture to complement the "matching shape" type puzzles.

2. Don't have too many out at once - too many puzzles are confusing and messy. Try to have just one or two out for young children and three or four out for older children. That way children don't get confused for choice and the puzzles pieces don't get messed up. I tend to have the easier puzzles on an accessible shelf for everyday play and then harder ones put away for times when the kids are looking for something to do.

3. Give children time to do harder puzzles - it's great if you can leave harder puzzles set up somewhere undisturbed so that children can keep going back to it. Ed's puzzle was on his toybox in his room

4. Choose puzzles that have interesting pictures - I'm not a huge fan of "character" toys and branded items, but puzzles are one case where I make an exception. If kids are really interested and excited by the picture, they're far more likely to do the puzzle.

5. Try not to take over - Some of my more frustrating teacher moments have been whilst sitting at the puzzle table with a child attempting puzzles for the first time. It's so easy to take over, but it's really important to let them work it out for themselves.

Lots of kids will ask "Where does this piece go?", but it's great to encourage them to look at the pieces and see which ones look like they go together and start there. You can ask the child to look for all the pieces of a certain colour, or choose a particular part of the picture to re-create. I find this works really well and if children work on a small piece at a time, the puzzle ends up coming together.

I know as adults we tend to do the edges and corners first, but I find this is quite complicated for a young child to understand. It is possible to explain that some edges are smooth and others are bumpy, but I find the picture/colour technique works better.

Puzzles are great fun and work on spatial awareness, observation, perception, recall, memory and fine motor skills. They also provide opportunities for problem solving and language development.

Ed has his eye on a 300 piece puzzle his Dad had when he was a boy. It's a picture of a 1970's race car and the pieces are tiny. I'm not convinced he's quite ready for it, but I have been wrong before ............


  1. My eldest son loves to do puzzles. I like them too, I find them a great activity to do together one-on-one.

  2. We haven't bought any of the more advanced puzzles, mostly because my Nana buys us some, but always ones where they tray the pieces fit in fall apart quickly or, more especially, you can't see the image that you are trying to recreate, which is especially frustrating and quickly leads to a disgruntles little person.

    Perhaps I will give it a try again and actually buy some myself.

  3. CatWay - I absolutely agree. Puzzles are a great activity to do together.

    Amandab - You've gotta love a well-intentioned Nana, I have one of those myself. Would highly recommend giving puzzles another go. Maybe start simple with something they're really interested in. Would love to hear how you go

  4. Hmmm we've got a giant 300 piece puzzle my girls have been wanting to try but never quite getting there.

    I think my mistake may have been trying to get them to do the edges first. Will try the colour technique. Thank you.