Friday, April 15, 2011

Choosing puzzles

Working on puzzles is fantastic brain-work for your child. Doing puzzles builds colour and shape awareness, and sharpens visual skills such matching, sorting, and spatial reasoning These are skills that are invaluable for both math and reading. Additionally, working on puzzles encourage characteristics that children need to succeed at academics, such as persistence, on-task behaviour, and the ability to problem-solve.

I know puzzles have been criticized because they are a 'closed end toy' - there is only one right answer. The argument is that puzzles are not good because they do not encourage creative thought. If puzzles were the only plaything you provided, I could see how that might be a problem. However, if puzzle work is balanced with creative opportunities, they can enrich thought processes. After all, consider math, reading or spelling. There are many times where there is only one right answer.

Unfortunately, many children don't choose to play with puzzles, often because of a mismatch of puzzle difficulty to child ability. Think about it. If the puzzles in your home are too easy for you, they are boring to play with, and you won't pick them up. If the puzzles are too hard, you may just give up trying. The key is to please Goldilocks, by offering the puzzles to your child that are 'just right'. But how do you know which puzzles are right?

I will post about five kinds of puzzles, listed here from simplest to most complex:
  1. Single-inset or "peg" puzzles
  2. Multiple-component inset puzzles
  3. Frame puzzles
  4. Juxtapose puzzles
  5. Jigsaw puzzles
Most children can learn the skills they need to do all these kinds of puzzles just through exploration and experimenting. The key is to ensure that the puzzles they are exposed to increase in difficulty gradually - enough to challenge, but not so much as to discourage.

It is amazing how complex puzzle selection can be. When I am done, I am willing to bet you will never look at children's puzzles the same way again. Stay tuned!

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