Puzzle are an essential tool in your child’s development and they are usually present in children’s rooms. Such success is linked to the fact that it is a goal activity, particularly beneficial for the awakening of toddlers. It develops children’s concentration, their patience but also works their fine motor skills. By manipulating puzzles, the child learns how to approach them. It becomes more and more intellectual and abstract: by observing the shapes, the child makes links with the sites intended to receive them. Children learn to work directly with their environment and change its shape and appearance when they work with puzzles. « The air of nothing », the child learns to use his/her mind and think.
In shops we find a wide range of different puzzles. Some of them are made of wood or cardboard. Some of them are 3D puzzles. And finally, some of them represent a landscape, animals or a superhero. You can even find sound puzzle or just simple jigsaws. How to find puzzles suitable for your child? Which size of puzzles to choose? How many pieces for what age? Today I share my daughter’s experience with puzzles. She has become a great fan of this activity.
Montessori puzzles for babies
I have always found that classic puzzles are not suitable for babies: too many pieces, complex shapes, grip buttons are too small. To introduce my daughter to puzzles, around the age of 8 months, I offered her 4 single shape Montessori puzzles with large pegs. She started with the big circle (the simplest), then manipulated the triangle and the square, respectively. Finally she assembled the small circle. On her play mat, sitting at her side, I slowly removed the different shapes from their insets, in a complete silence so that my daughter could observe my hand movements. Then I stopped for a moment and I put one shape in its inset. It was then her turn to assemble the puzzle. I let my daughter explore the puzzle alone, by trial and error, I only intervened when I heard a scream of annoyance.
Once each form was mastered, I proposed two and three shapes at the same time. Following this, I gave her the puzzle presenting a series of three circles in decreasing sizes.
Classic wooden puzzles with a peg
When my daughter was one year old and had understood the principle of placing the shape into its inset, I showed her the classic wooden puzzles with pegs that you can find in every toy store. To attract your child’s attention, I advise you to choose a puzzle related to the interests of your child (if he/she likes vehicles buy puzzles with vehicles). As far as we are concerned, I bought some puzzles with animals.
With this type of puzzles, the difficulty increases by one notch. The child must not only use precise hand movements to join the pieces but also find their meaning, their complementarity. My daughter started with Djeco Mum and Baby Duo puzzle. It is a two-piece puzzle that my daughter played with when she was 20 months old. Concerning this puzzle, I did not show her the hand movements to associate the two pieces straight away. I introduced it using a game of « Seek and Find ». In one column I lined up all the mums. Then, we had fun to find each baby that we placed next to his mother. Once she knew how to identify all the pairs, I showed her with slow hand movements how to assemble the mother and the baby puzzles together.
A week later, I noticed that my daughter was not interested in this puzzle anymore. But every time I went to fetch her from the nursery, I found her sitting at a table, manipulating puzzles that I thought were far too complicated for her. Then one day, I decided to increase the number of pieces and not to follow the indications of age marked on the puzzle box. I chose the Ravensburger brand for their quality, realism and wide selection of puzzles. And then, a big surprise: to lose interest meant surely to get bored easily. Here, she immediately found the desire to manipulate this puzzle. I increased the number of pieces gradually: first 4, then 6, then 12…
Today, my daughter is almost two years old and she can assemble puzzles of 40 pieces (recommended from 4 years of age) without any help.
Montessori Zoology Puzzles
In parallel to her progress on the classic cardboard Ravensburger puzzles, I presented my daughter with these specific Montessori puzzles that are part of the zoology practice. At the moment, we use three but the set contains five animals: a horse, a bird, a frog, a fish and a turtle. These puzzles are intended to present the characteristics of each group of vertebrates (mammals, birds, fish, reptiles and amphibians) and the main body parts of each animal.
Horse: forefeet, hind legs, tail, body, neck, mane, head.
Bird: head, wing, legs, tail, body.
Fish: head, dorsal fin, pelvic fin, anal fin, caudal fin, pectoral fin, body.
How did I introduce them to her?
Sitting next to her on a carpet, I removed the pieces of the puzzle by holding them by their pegs. I then put them one by one, very gently, on the carpet next to the frame with empty spaces. The puzzles were not touching each other. Then, I fitted the animals into their spaces and encouraged my daughter to do the same. I waited for her to master this action before naming each part of the animal’s body when she was placing the puzzles in their insets.
Finally, we have wonderful puzzles made by the German brand Grimm’s. The singularity of those puzzles is that they are excellent supports for games of imagination and construction. Indeed, the pieces can be diverted and used to create different worlds, to invent other figures or to play with the elements as with small cubes.
This short article provides you with an overview of our work with puzzles. If my daughter continues to be interested in them, I will buy her the botanical Montessori puzzles (the tree, the leaf and the flower petal – perfect for the coming beautiful spring weather) and the Melissa and Doug’s floor puzzles. And I cannot wait to give her the Miller Goodman puzzles that I find just beautiful; but for that, we have to wait a little longer!
When I watched my daughter’s progress, I remembered the words of Celine Alvarez: « The first thing that should alert us about the presence of a sensitive period is a marked interest of the young children in an element or activity, as well as the speed and ease of learning it shows. Therefore, when we see them very attentive, very fast in their learning, it is very likely that they go through a period of creation of a latent potential and that this potential needs to be nourished. »
The important thing is not to follow the indications of age on the toys but to observe our children’s needs and development. We need to offer them games or activities related to their capacity, and therefore support them in their development.
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