As a child, my summer memories always included puzzles.  My mother would purchase a 1000 piece puzzle and my mother, my sister and I would spend the summer completing it.  Now as an adult, one of my favorite and most peaceful activities that I enjoy is completing a 1000 piece puzzle.  I love the process of opening the package, sorting the pieces – first the edges get pulled out and then the remaining pieces get placed on trays surrounding my puzzle area.  Once the edge is complete I select a specific area of the puzzle to tackle. I look on all of the trays for the pieces associated with this area and work diligently until that specific task is complete.  Then I move on to another area.

I have a very systematic way of completing puzzles.  I think this is one of the reasons that I love the activity.  There is always a beginning, middle and end.  There is always an end to a puzzle.  It’s not an activity that continues to linger without ever coming to completion. And I get such a sense of accomplishment

As an Occupational Therapist, one of my favorite activities to engage in with children are puzzles.  Now of course I am not referring to 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles.  Rather I’m speaking of the wooden puzzles that have large chunky pieces, some with the large knobs.  I love to introduce these for a couple of reasons:

  • Puzzles work on Cognitive Development:
    • Puzzles come in a variety of themes which contribute to learning about shapes, colors, animals, letters, etc.
    • In addition they contribute to the development of organizing ideas and understanding spatial awareness and how things work together to complete a larger picture
  • Puzzles assist with the development of Hand-Eye Coordination
    • The eyes see the puzzle and the piece, – the eyes send a signal to the brain which begins to process and figure out where the piece should go – then the eyes, brain and hands work together to find the appropriate placements and manipulate the puzzle piece so that it fits
  • Puzzles work on Problem Solving, Patience and Persistence
    • You cannot cheat when you are completing a puzzle. There is always one correct placement – either the piece fits or it doesn’t. Puzzles teach a child to use their mind to help figure out where the piece should go.
    • In addition, it teaches them patience and frustration tolerance. Most kids are not able to place the piece correctly the first time.  Rather they must manipulate the piece to find the correct fit.  This takes patience and persistence.  Those with low frustration tolerance are likely to get angry and throw the piece. Sometime it takes hand-over-hand assistance to show them how to place the piece correctly.  Frustration may rear its ugly head, but it’s so wonderful to see the sense of accomplishment a child then feels when they successfully complete the puzzle.
  • Puzzles contribute to the development of Fine Motor skills
    • Our hands consist of small muscles that move in specialized ways. There is a series of fine motor development we all go through in order to manipulate puzzle pieces:
      • Large gross grasp around the entire piece to pick up and manipulate the piece
      • More refined gross grasp to manipulate a piece with a large knob on top of the piece
      • Pincer grasp to pick up and manipulate the piece with the small knob on top of the piece
      • Pincer grasp to pick up a jigsaw puzzle piece and in-hand manipulation to properly align the piece prior to setting it down.

Puzzles are really the developmental gift that keeps on giving.  They can always be challenging because there is always a more advanced level than the one you are working on.  Just ask my mom…she always reminds me of the 1000 piece puzzle my grandmother gave her when she was pregnant…it was all black 😊