Saturday, May 05, 2007

The Magic of Puzzles

Puzzle 001
Originally uploaded by Hoover Family Photos.
My son, 3 and a half, loves puzzles. I'm not talking those chubby-handled baby puzzles, but the 100-piece floor puzzles with lots of bright colors. In his case, the puzzle also has to have as many animals as the manufacturers could fit in a, let's say, 3X3 feet puzzle. Brandon loves animals. Any kind, any habitat, as long as it's an animal. I got him a 100-piece giant floor puzzle from Melissa & Doug for Christmas. As he just turned three a few months earlier, Dad and Grandma were both skeptical that he would take to it. Well, he did, in a big way.

Brandon doesn't just like actual puzzle completing. He enjoys the camaraderie that it brings. Spending quality time with Mama or Daddy turning around pieces, seeing if they fit. He revels in seeing how the colors could be grouped together and patterns form to complete an area. He feels a sense of satisfaction in finding a piece that fits. After we're done, he's proud of a job well done, and he gets to see all the animals that make up the puzzle. Sometimes he learns about new animals in the process.

When we complete the puzzle his job is not done. By himself now, he'll sit for hours and dismantle the puzzle and start all over again. He keeps and eye out for the patterns, colors and animals he sees as he turns the pieces around to fit.

I watch him in fascination, delighted that my intuitive idea of buying him a giant puzzle of his favorite subject worked out in more ways than I'd imagined. Brandon doesn't know that puzzles improve his small motor skills, hand-eye coordination, pattern recognition, lays down frameworks for reading skills and grows his cognitive skills. He doesn't know either that they teach him the value of working towards a goal. To him it's just fun.

Is your child not interested in puzzles? Don't fret. I can tell you that I'm especially happy with my son's interest in puzzles because I was never interested in them as a child. The key when trying to encourage an interest is to find something the child finds irresistible. In Brandon's case it's animals. In your child's case it could be cars, princesses, castles, dragons, a character, etc. etc. There are always puzzles that will hold the child's interest. Further, if she's not ready now, she may find it great fun in a couple of months. Children grow and change all the time. Sometimes the toy they passed over just weeks ago will now be their favorite. Just put it away and take it out again in a month or two. You may be surprised. It also helps to first introduce your child to it by playing with him. They love playing and interacting with their favorite people in the whole world. What better way to build relationships and enhance quality time by finishing a puzzle together? You may be surprised to find yourself enjoying yourself and be challenged as well. I know I was.