A jigsaw puzzle can provide long-lasting entertainment and numerous benefits of promoting the cognitive development of children of all ages.
Puzzle solving activities can start at very early ages and continue as children get older. There are puzzles designed just for toddlers, with large wooden puzzle pieces or other durable puzzle games. For toddlers and preschool kids, solving a jigsaw puzzle helps improve basic skills such as hand-eye coordination because it requires the child to manipulate relatively small objects and to place those objects in specific places.
The benefits can continue into preteen, teen, and adult years with more challenging puzzles that require more advanced coordination as well as other benefits. As kids get older, they can advance to more challenging puzzles, which include a larger number of smaller pieces and more complex color patterns. For older kids, solving puzzle games can help develop analytical skills, communication and collaboration, logic and attention to details.
Puzzle games also improve a child’s spatial skills. Solving a jigsaw puzzle requires the child to visualize a puzzle piece, and then to mentally rotate the puzzle piece up to 360 degrees to find that piece’s accurate fit. This forces the child to move away from concrete thoughts and into a realm of abstract thoughts. He has to imagine the results of an action (in this case, the results of rotating a puzzle piece) not unlike a game of chess.
Puzzle solving improves a child’s problem-solving and reasoning skills. The child is repeatedly presented with a problem while solving a jigsaw puzzle: how to make a particular piece fit into the overall puzzle. He will have to evaluate the shape of the puzzle as well as any colors or patterns presented on the puzzle, relative to the other pieces on the game board. He may have to flip or rotate the piece to make it fit. In some cases, he may have to flip or rotate the piece several times before he finds its place in the puzzle. Successfully solving this problem can give children the confidence to attempt more challenging puzzles.
A less-often recognized cognitive benefit of jigsaw puzzles is the picture on the puzzle. For example, solving a puzzle with a picture of the United States will familiarize a child with the geography of the United States. Jigsaw puzzles can also familiarize a child with a scene from history or literature. There is a great variety of puzzles available today making it easier than ever to find ones with an educational theme that appeals to your child. Themes include horse breeds, astronomy, trains, bible stories and more. Even text printed over a puzzle picture is learned particularly well, as a child is often required to study and read the final picture and the individual pieces repeatedly in order to solve the puzzle.
Often, solving a jigsaw puzzle will spark an interest in other types of problem-solving tasks and puzzle games, such as crosswords or word puzzles. However, the cognitive benefits of jigsaws alone cannot be discounted. These skills will overlap into many other areas of the child’s life.