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Toddler Talk: Puzzles

Turn … turn … turn … click! “Mommy, wook!” My 24-month old son held up his wooden puzzle to show me that he had completed putting in all the pieces. “Good job!” I replied, handing him an animal puzzle. “Now let’s try this one.” He happily took it, dumped all the pieces loudly on the table and started to focus on the new challenge.

Puzzles are great learning toys. While doing puzzles, children can learn about colors, sizes, shapes, animals, vehicles, letters and numbers, dinosaurs, space and more.

Placing small objects together and learning how to orient them in the correct way requires use of fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. Your child needs to use his fingers to grab the pieces, hold it right side up, decide which space is the right one and then turn the piece in the right direction to insert it. It’s a complex process, and children learn how to do this as they grow.

A 9-month-old can pick up a puzzle piece, but is more likely to chew on the piece rather than put it in a puzzle.

A 15-month-old can pick up a puzzle piece and understand that it belongs in the puzzle. However, she may not be able to orient the piece the right way and may choose to just play with it. She can successfully use simple shape sorters, putting a square block into a square hole. However, she may have trouble with putting a wooden dog-shaped piece into a dog-shaped space.

A 2-year-old can usually place the piece in the right place for simple puzzles, but may have some difficulty turning the piece in the right direction. At this age, my son would try for a little while, but get bored after few tries. He was happy to leave the piece sitting on top of the appropriate space without needing to put it in correctly.

At 3 years old, a child can successfully put the pieces in correctly and start to manage more complex puzzles where she has to put pieces together in an empty frame. From that point, she can do puzzles with a larger number of pieces.

Social skills also evolve when a child works with others on a puzzle. Taking turns, sharing pieces, celebrating accomplishments and managing frustration are important psychosocial skills that result from working on puzzles with others.

I reached over and took a piece to help my son with the puzzle I gave him. He grabbed the puzzle piece from my hand and told me emphatically, “My do it!” Oh, and did I mention that puzzles also teach self confidence?

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