Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Multiple-component inset puzzles

I look at the title of this post and think, "Boy! That's a mouthful!" And I bet you are all wondering what the heck I mean, too. Let me explain.

The peg puzzle we all know and love is also known as the single-component inset puzzle. The means a single piece fits in a single space in a board. The pieces are 'inset' in the board when the puzzle is assembled. The multiple-component puzzle just takes that difficulty level up a bit. Instead of a single piece per space in the board, there are multiple pieces that need to fit together in that space. And these pieces are not randomly divided, but are components of the whole. This piece is an arm, for example, and that piece is a leg.

With me so far?

This is really a case where a picture is worth a thousand words, so here is an example of what I'm talking about.

You can see how the pieces fit into a space in the puzzle board, like a peg puzzles, but the pieces all fit into the same inset space, instead of each having their own spot. The picture is broken apart in logical places, so that it is still fairly easy for the child to understand what each piece is - one piece is a leg, one piece is a head, etc.

Some of the ways to increase the difficulty of these puzzles are the same as for peg puzzles. A more difficult puzzle might have:
  • More pieces
  • Harder-to-fit pieces
  • More visually complex pieces or base
There are also a few new skills needed to do this type of puzzle. The first thing to consider, is that placed pieces are not obviously correct. Consider this: If you put a piece into a peg puzzle, it fits, or it doesn't, giving an immediate and concrete way to judge whether that piece is in the right spot. With a multiple component inset puzzle, you can put pieces into the board anywhere. Being able to fit them into the larger space is not proof that they are in the correct space.

For example, in the case of the 'Pooh' puzzle above, I might put an arm piece towards the bottom, leaving it in the space, but in the wrong spot. In order to determine if the piece has been placed correctly a measure of judgment has to come into play. You needs to start thinking about whether it looks right or makes sense, and this develops critical thinking skills.

Another new factor with multiple component puzzles is that the placed pieces will slide around until the puzzle is complete. It is easy to bump that first piece out of place when putting in the next piece. This adds a level of difficulty to the fine motor side of the task, and the child will learn to be more precise in their movements, a skill that will come very much into play when trying to line up the borders of jigsaw pieces down the road.

Multiple-component inset puzzles are excellent, but unfortunately they are much harder to find than the common peg puzzle. Fisher-Price made several in the 70s and 80s, so keep your eyes open at garage sales and thrift stores. That is where I have found all of mine!


If you can't find them, I know that Melissa and Doug make a few, but some are designed with speakers that play a noise when the puzzle is complete, which I personally find obnoxious. I have also seen puzzles of this type that are made of plastic in themes of popular children's tv characters (Barney, Blue's Clues, Disney characters, etc). A word of caution on the plastic puzzles - the pieces are quite light, and get bumped out of place VERY easily, which can be frustrating for a child who is learning. If you can, stick with wood, or at least introduce some wooden ones first, to avoid making it too hard, too fast.

Next post... Frame puzzles!

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