Most people grew up doing jigsaw puzzles. They’re fun, easy to do as a group, and are great for rainy days. But jigsaw puzzles are more than just a toy--they’re an excellent, child-friendly introduction to developing life skills.
How so? Consider what “life skills” actually are. A few of the big ones: communication, interaction, the ability to delegate, problem solving, breaking larger tasks in sets of smaller ones, confidence, and self-esteem. Jigsaw puzzles can contribute to the development of each of these.
Communication and Interaction - Working on a jigsaw puzzle with others requires communication. Different kids will be looking for different pieces, such as ones with a little blue sky, or the green ones that make up grass. Talking about the pieces, and passing them back and forth, helps children learn to communicate their needs (e.g. I need a blue one--have you seen any?). It also helps them learn to interact socially--no one wants to play with a greedy puzzler or one who throws the pieces around.
Delegation - Jigsaw puzzles can be solved section by section rather than piece by piece because puzzle images are usually made up of several sections. A good example is the Melissa & Doug puzzle, such as one of the larger 200 piece ones. It might be an ocean scene, so there’s a lot of blue for the ocean, and some purple for the octopus. With so many different sections and colors, it’s easy for the puzzle pieces to all blend together, and for the puzzlers to just give up. But, by breaking the task up and delegating such that each child works on a different section (you do the octopus while I do the starfish, okay?) children learn that it’s easier and more fun to work together.
Problem Solving – Some jigsaw puzzles are specially designed for their educational value, such as those from Melissa & Doug as well as some other brands. These educational puzzles are an excellent introduction to problem solving because they require breaking down a large task into smaller tasks. Putting a puzzle together requires several skills, such as learning to recognize certain shapes, and finding what fits with what. In younger children, this is usually achieved by trial and error, which is a valid, if inefficient, problem solving technique. In older children, however, puzzle pieces present the opportunity for deeper thought, such as identifying what’s needed, and working out the logical next step. Puzzlers can consider what is needed for each piece (hmm, it has two holes, so I must need a piece with two prongs), then set about finding it. Instead of looking at a big pile of puzzle pieces and feeling frustrated, children learn to start small. It’s hard to build a puzzle from scratch, so kids soon learn to start with the edge pieces, thereby outlining the problem. Sorting through the pieces might then reveal a lot of pink for a flower, or red for a sailboat. Kids solve the problem by first solving the smaller pictures until they get closer to the big picture.
Confidence and Self-Esteem - Children of all ages like jigsaw puzzles, but they can be challenging. Completing one successfully is quite an achievement for a child and a good example of reward through effort. Being able to say, “Look, mom, I did it” and receive praise is an important building block in fostering confidence and high self-esteem.
Jigsaw puzzles are an important part of childhood development. Working on challenging and high quality puzzles alone, with a group, or with a parent, is an excellent way to help children develop strong life skills.
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Joe Kanooga is a father of two kids, a successful business owner and the author of numerous articles about jigsaw puzzles. Click here to download our free Melissa & Doug guidebook filled with tips, ideas and information.
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