Did your child receive a puzzle for Christmas? These wonderful little toys offer more possibilities than you may think at first. As your child determines where the piece should go, they are working on spacial awareness and problem solving. As your child manipulates the little pieces into place, they are practicing fine motor. When you work with your child on the puzzle activity, it becomes a wonderful communication and language learning experience.
But what do you do when they loose interest in the puzzle? What do you do when the challenge of knowing where the pieces go wears off? You add some variety to your puzzle play! These simple activities are best for chunky wooden toddler puzzles, not the more advanced cardboard pieces.
Peek A Book Photos
Take a simple shape puzzle and cut out family photos to place in the holes. Toddlers love peeking under the spots and finding their daddy’s face peeking at them. You can also quickly draw animals or cut out animals that you have printed to do a theme puzzle in the same way.
Hide the Pieces
Throw the pieces in a sensory bin or even a bin of water and let your child reach in and find the pieces before placing them on the puzzle. If you go with the water option, just be sure to dry them off after you are done with the activity so that you preserve the wood.
What’s in the Bag?
This one works best for puzzle pieces that have a specific shape, like animals or dinosaurs. Put the pieces into a non-see through bag. Have your child reach their hands in the bag and feel the puzzle piece to make a guess as to what it is before pulling it out of the bag. Older siblings can jump in on this game by playing with a letter puzzle set.
The Missing Piece
Place the puzzle pieces out in front of your child. Have them close or cover their eyes. Remove one of the pieces from the table. Then ask your child what piece is missing. This is a very intellectually challenging game for most toddlers, but such wonderful practice. You may want to just begin with three pieces and then slowly work up to more once they practice this skill.
Trace the Pieces
Puzzles make great tracing practice. Pull out some pencils or crayons, some paper and puzzle pieces and help them move their hands around each piece. Remember, that this is a skill to be practiced and will not be mastered until the child is older.
Create Your Own Puzzles
Cut up family photos into puzzle pieces. Children love photos of people that they know. You can also make puzzles by taking household items like forks, cups and socks, quickly tracing them on paper, then asking your child to match the object to the traced silhouette.
Stack the Pieces
Allow children to build and explore the shapes. Encourage stacking towers and making patterns with the colors.
Puzzles that are animal, house or people themed are great for character play. Toddlers love using chunky puzzle pieces as fantasy play props.
Most of you know that I am all for open-ended toys, so when I tell people that I think puzzles are a great toy, I am often questioned. Just like most objects though, it is all how you use them. If you insist that the child simply places the puzzle piece in the correct location, then the toy is closed. But if you allow opportunities for play and exploration, this simple wooden toy becomes a wonderful learning tool.
About the Author: Natasha Grogan, Founder of Playful by Design
Hello there. I am so glad that you have come into my playful, simplicity seeking space. I have always had an entrepreneur’s mind with an educator’s heart. I am a nature loving mama of a sweet little girl. I am also a lucky wife to my hard-working college sweetheart, Zach.
When I’m not playing with Lydia, I sneak in some work. You see, I’m a self proclaimed child development nerd. I love learning about developmental levels and how the activities and environment that we create effects our brain function. I believe that childhood should be cherished, dirt is meant to be played in and songs are meant to be sung.
I research, I consult and I pour my heart into helping others learn mindful ways to help their little ones play and grow. My focus is on helping families create a happy home through gentle habit formation, family rhythm and minimalism.
And just in case you were wondering… I can be bribed by black coffee, raspberries and salvage wood furniture.