“I didn’t realize that I was addicted to crosswords

but when I look back now, all the clues were there.”


A couple of years ago I wrote a post about puzzles and how as a child…and quite honestly an adult…I loved completing jigsaw puzzles. With Puzzle Day approaching on January 29th, I think I would like to look a different kind of puzzle.

Once again, I will take you back to my childhood for a moment. I will be the first to admit that when I was young, I was not an avid reader. If I am being honest, I did not read at all. I just did not like it. Instead, while my sister would sit and read a book, I would work on a crossword puzzle. I really enjoyed doing crossword puzzles. There was something about ‘solving the clue’ and making all the words fit together that provided me with a sense of calm and accomplishment.

Most kids improve and develop their vocabulary through reading. A child’s vocabulary unconsciously grows through the process of reading. They learn the meaning of words through the context of the sentence structure and the words surrounding them. I, on the other hand, expanded my vocabulary and understanding of the English language through completing crossword puzzles. I learned the meaning of the word by solving the clues give. Sure, it’s not the customary way to learn the meaning of a word, but it worked for me.

Now as an adult and occupational therapist, I look at crossword puzzles in a different way. To me they are still engaging and calming. But from a developmental standpoint, these kinds of puzzles work on a myriad of skills:

  • Crossword Puzzles can strengthen Vocabulary and Spelling:
    • Learning a new word is not always difficult. You are constantly learning the meaning of words through crossword puzzles. However, using that word correctly can be challenging. Understanding how and when to use a word may be a struggle for some. Solving crossword puzzles contributes to the enhancement of your vocabulary.
    • Spelling requires practice. In today’s world, most of the technology that we use autocorrects our spelling for us. But it is still important to learn how to spell. The more you practice spelling a word, the more attuned you will be to spelling it correctly.
  • Crossword Puzzles work on Cognitive Development:
    • Crossword puzzles assist in developing skills to learn and recall from memory by ‘exercising’ the brain. The more you use it, the more honed and efficient it can become.
    • Scientists have found that solvers will get the most cognitive befits of a crossword puzzle by consistently challenging themselves (think increase the size of the puzzle, difficulty of the puzzle, timing yourself completing the puzzle)
  • Crossword Puzzles work on Problem Solving, Patience and Persistence:
    • There are some crossword puzzles where you instantly know the answer, and others where you have to do some detective work to solve the clue. If you do not know the answer immediately, how can you find it? Do you use a dictionary or Google? Do you try to solve it based on the letters already present? All these approaches take patience and persistence. Those with low frustration tolerance are likely to get angry and push the puzzle away. Frustration may rear its ugly head, but it is so wonderful to see the sense of accomplishment a child then feels when they successfully complete the puzzle.
  • Crossword Puzzles contribute to the development of positive Self-Esteem:
    • It can often take a while to complete a crossword puzzle. Knowing that you have spent a lot of time and effort will likely lead to a positive sense of accomplishment. That sense of “I achieved something” can do wonders for a child’s self-esteem.
  • Crossword Puzzles may decrease Anxiety:
    • In a simple way, anxiety can be explained as having one foot in the past and the other in the future, causing you to miss the now. The act of mindfulness – being completely present in the current moment and not allowing external thoughts to distract you – is often used to combat anxiety. To solve a crossword puzzle, you need to fully apply yourself to the puzzle and engage in the task at hand.
    • Completing a crossword puzzle can alleviate anxiety. Placing all your focus and concentration on completing a task may redirect the nervous energy associated with anxiety to a task that requires problem solving.

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.  And, studies have found that crossword puzzles are good for brain health, perhaps delaying memory loss. So, there you have it…they’re not just fun, but they’re good for you 😉