Puzzles have occupied the minds and attention of adults and children for centuries. Though they first appeared in the form of riddles, like the riddle of the Sphynx, the puzzles today come in many shapes and forms. From riddles to crosswords, puzzles still capture the attention of people of all ages, especially children.
In today's article, we'll talk about the multiple benefits of puzzles for children. Our primary focus is the jigsaw puzzle, though we'll mention other types of puzzles, as well. In the later sections of our article, we'll briefly mention the steps beyond the jigsaw puzzle and all the puzzles' benefits for children.
What is a jigsaw puzzle?
Children are introduced to more simplistic puzzles from a very young age, some even during their stay at the day nursery and kindergarten. Young children usually start with the outlines of simple shapes that fit into the corresponding cutouts.
As the child progresses and develops its motoric and cognitive skills, it moves onto more complex shapes and objects that take more consideration. Finally, the children move onto jigsaw puzzles, which combine more complex shapes and imagery to form a puzzle, which gives out the same results.
But the jigsaw puzzles aren't a novelty; they were actually invented around 1760 as a teaching aid for geography classes. A famous British engraver and cartographer, John Spilsbury, glued a map onto a sheet of cardboard and cut out each country's outline on the map.
His teaching method took the educational system by storm, and the jigsaw puzzle became a primary teaching aid for many. Due to their effectiveness and benefits, jigsaw puzzles remained a popular teaching aid for the next 60 or so years, up until the 1820s.
Modern jigsaw puzzles follow the same principle they were first built upon. They're a tiling puzzle assembled of oddly shaped interlocking mosaic pieces, with a portion of the picture on each piece. When assembled, they offer a complete picture.
But jigsaw puzzles aren't the only commercially available puzzles on the market. Rubik's cube is another fantastic brain teaser for children that are as young as eight years old and provides great benefits. But what would be the benefits of puzzles for children, despite fun and occupation?
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The benefits of puzzles for children
Solving puzzles often require good deduction skills, recognition of patterns, and adherence to a particular kind of order. These skills improve with practice and provide children with a better foundation for learning other things later in life, like solving mathematical problems.
The three primary benefits of puzzles for children are:
- Physical skills benefits – by performing more refined movements often required for puzzle solving, your child will improve its gross and fine motor movement. This is particularly useful, as it paves the way for steadier hands and prettier handwriting.
- Cognitive skills benefits – Puzzles provide children with the opportunity to practice the trial-and-error method, piece manipulation, and early math skills.
- Emotional skills benefits – Your child will learn to follow directions and invest patience to complete a task. It's a great way to practice delayed gratification, patience, and staying forced on a bigger picture.
Besides the benefits of improving concentration, memory, and problem solving, jigsaw puzzles and puzzles, in general, are a great pass-time activity. You can solve puzzles together with your children, use that time to entertain yourself and them, and bond with them further.
With that said, it's time to dive deeper into all the benefits of puzzles for children. Each of the three basics skills breaks down into more specific skills your child can practice and benefit from.
Motor Skill Development Benefits
Rotating, flipping, moving, or manipulating puzzle pieces in different ways provides a fantastic workout for your child's fine motor skills.
Reaching to pick up a piece and putting or stacking them together significantly improves gross motor movement. Over time, significant improvements to larger movements will refine into finer, more fluent, and better-controlled movements.
Solving puzzles, especially the jigsaw variety, requires small and precise movements of fingers. These fine motor movements are improved by assembling puzzle pieces into the right spots, building a foundation for better handwriting and typing skills.
Hand-Eye Coordination Benefits
What hands reach for; eyes must see first. Solving puzzles improves hand-eye coordination, one of the most fundamental athletic skills in your body. Hand-eye coordination is also a vital part of any learning process, as it helps the child track the movements of their hands with their eyes.
The children who solve puzzles develop better hand-eye coordination and information processing related to that skill. This later translates into better reading skills and helps better and faster information processing by the brain.
Improved reading and learning aren't the only things affected by improving hand-eye coordination. The child's athletic abilities and spatial awareness are also greatly enhanced as hand-eye coordination improves.
Strengthen Cognitive and Problem-Solving Skills, and Memory
There's rarely a better way for a child to understand the world surrounding it than by manipulating the bits of that world. And puzzles allow them to do just that, rotate, flip, miss, and match the pieces that will or won't fit.
This leads to a better understanding of our physical world and promotes cognitive abilities benefits. You can see this with the very first puzzles children use: the pyramids, cubes, and balls that fit into triangle, square or circular cutouts. That way, the children learn which shapes match and which don't.
More importantly, most of those puzzles are color-coded, so they'll also learn to match colors. The best thing about these types of puzzles is that they're designed in a way in which a child can't cheat. A piece will either fit, or it won't. So, besides learning shape and color recognition, the child will also develop critical thinking.
Granted, jigsaw puzzles are a bit more complicated than simple puzzles for toddlers and younglings. That means it will take more time to solve them, relying on memory and concentration to solve them faster. This will improve those aspects of their cognition, allowing them to focus for hours later in life.
Patience is a virtue
Solving a jigsaw puzzle is challenging for adults, let alone children. Sure, jigsaw puzzles for children are appropriate to their age but still challenging enough to benefit their development.
By solving puzzles, children learn to set goals and invest the work to achieve them. However, finishing a puzzle is no easy task and often requires time and patience. In combination with improved memory, over time, your child will set goals and find better, faster, and more efficient ways to solve a puzzle.
But to achieve that, they'll have to practice and gradually work through the puzzle to solve it. This has proved to be very rewarding down the line since it teaches the chile that the work goes before the reward.
Other things and puzzles you should know about
Puzzles aren't just for children. There are different types of puzzles that are appropriate to different age groups. All puzzles are age-appropriate and should correspond to the age of your child.
It's good to introduce puzzles that offer multiple solutions, simple mathematical puzzles, and board-game puzzles at some point in a child's development. Introducing your child to a 2x2 or 3x3 Rubik’s cube at the age of 8 is a fantastic way to help them learn how an object translates into planar space.
Though you can't expect a child to solve such a puzzle within a week, it will improve their spatial awareness and object motion. This can be quite beneficial later in life, especially in applied sciences.
The benefits of puzzles for children and child development are evident from when the puzzles were first conceptualized. Nowadays, classical puzzles are still extensively employed in child entertainment and child development, despite technological advancement.
Sure, we can argue that smartphone puzzle apps are taking over the world, but rare things can compare to a child's joy of solving a real jigsaw puzzle.