Child sitting on the floor, intently doing puzzle

What are the best toys for children? One is…. Jigsaw Puzzles.


In my role as a Parenting Consultant, parents and grandparents often ask me about buying toys for their children or grandchildren. They want to know what are the ‘best’ ones. Obviously the age and ability of the child is a consideration, but 2 of my favourites are jigsaw puzzles and board games.

Puzzles can be introduced to toddlers around age one, with a toy which has balls to drop into a hole. This starts to teach them to hold an object, to position it, and then to let it drop through. The easiest shape to insert is a circle, as it will fit which ever way you hold it!

Next comes a shape sorter toy. You hold the container and let baby select a shape. We know the circle is the easiest shape. With the other shapes, watch which shape the baby picks up and quickly rotate the container piece so that the matching hole they need is right in front of them. Little ones will get frustrated when the shape doesn’t fit easily and will lose interest in playing… that’s okay!

We then move on to wooden puzzle boards with about half a dozen shapes – often animals or vehicles, with small wooden knobs, which allow the child to easily pick it up. Over time they learn that the elephant shape goes in the top corner, or the blue car is in the bottom corner. However at this stage, they don’t have capacity to easily rotate their wrist which means that they often try to force the shape in, even if they have it the wrong way round.

I suggest giving the child one puzzle set at a time, till they know it really well. Then have a second one. Once they know that one, then have both puzzle boards and all the pieces, and see if they can identify which piece belongs on which board – the beginning of their understanding about sorting, and collections. They may be about 2 years old when this happens.

After ‘knob’ puzzles, they begin to move on to interlocking pieces, and this will take patience from you and them as they learn to lock the pices together. As always, they learn quickly when they have a calm teacher! Begin with a set with 6 or 9 pieces. Intially these will still be inserted into a wooden board frame, which helps the developing muscles, by holding the already inserted pieces steady.

Finally they move onto a puzzle, where there is no frame – the pieces just lock together, and they have a picture on the puzzle box which helps them to decide what to do next… just like puzzles we may do- although they may start with 16 or 25 pieces not 300 or 1,000!

Puzzles are so good for their development in the four domains:

  • Language – it teaches them words such as corners, straight edges, and colour words eg ‘Can you see the one with blue on it?’
  • Intellectual or Cognitive development – such as thinking about which piece will fit in, and using their eyes to scan the pieces they are looking for.
  • Social – learning to ask for help, or to take turns with you to position the pieces and
  • Motor Skills – being able to pick up the piece and to twist it to position it correctly.

Have a puzzling sort of week!

Happy Parenting

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