There’s a reason why every preschool has stacks and stacks of chunky wooden puzzles: piecing a puzzle together is beneficial for your child’s growing body and mind in so many ways. Determining which shapes and colors match and joining them together to create a coherent whole enhances the following skills for young kids:
- Hand-eye coordination
- Fine motor skills
- Gross motor skills
- Problem solving
- Shape recognition
Working on a puzzle with a parent or friend also enhances their social skills, and finishing a puzzle is a boon to their self-esteem (“I did it myself!”).
The benefits don’t stop as kids grow, either: the challenge of solving an even more complex puzzle and showing off their work is that much more satisfying. And puzzles are great for teaching additional skills – for instance, the first jigsaw puzzle was invented to teach world geography! You can find tons of map puzzles online, but there’s nothing quite like laying out the entire country on your bedroom floor!
Studies also show that solving a puzzle is a great way to relax: it puts your brain in a sort of meditative state because you’re focusing so tightly on the image in front of you.
And then, of course, there’s the fun of working on a large puzzle with other members of the family: it’s an ideal activity for parents and kids to do together, and a great activity for kids to enjoy with their grandparents. You can even find specialized “family puzzles” that include three sizes of pieces, so the littlest kids can work exclusively with the largest pieces! And if you can’t bear to take it apart afterwards or want to preserve the memory, you can stick it all together with Mod Podge puzzle glue.
Our selection of puzzles starts with the basics for preschoolers, with plenty of challenges for older kids to enjoy as well. Here are some of our favorites!
For toddlers and preschoolers, keep it simple: puzzle pieces should be chunky, with knobs or pegs for easy manipulation. The earliest puzzles will simply involve matching shapes to slots, like the super-adorable Lilo 3D Relief Wooden Puzzle from Djeco (12 months and up). Those cute critters are also great for pretend play! The Green Toys 3D puzzles are also great for babies and toddlers, with big chunky 3D pieces that are easy to match up with the appropriate slots.
By age 2, kids will start enjoying themed puzzles like the Djeco Duo Habitat Puzzles: instead of lining up shapes, they’ll match colors and make logical connections (the owl lives in the tree, the cow lives in the pen, and the cat sleeps in her kitty bed!). Melissa & Doug Sound Puzzles are a simple matching test with an excellent reward: with the Musical Instruments Sound Puzzle, when kids put a guitar or a xylophone into the correct slot, they’ll get to hear what it sounds like!
And then there are the earliest jigsaw puzzles: Melissa & Doug Chunky Puzzles make it easy for kids to construct farm animals, pets, vehicles, and more with a minimum of effort, and they can work one puzzle at a time or dump out all of the pieces when they feel ready for a tougher challenge.
By this point, kids will still need fairly simple, chunky puzzles, but they’ll be able to start putting together more complex pictures like the Crocodile Creek Little Princess Mini Puzzle, which depicts an adorable princess and her castle, filled with pets and friends (and of course a winged unicorn, because every princess has one of those, obviously). It also comes in an unbearably charming shaped box that will make a big impact as a birthday or holiday gift!
Puzzles that teach numbers and letters are also great for this age: the Very Hungry Caterpillar Counting Floor Puzzle grabs your child’s attention with a familiar character, demonstrates counting the numbers 1-20, and is an impressive 10 feet long when completed! No small child could fail to be impressed. And, the BeginAgain Animal Parade Wooden Puzzle introduces alphabetical order with a rowdy jumble of animals with letters on them (Alligator, Bear, Cat, Dolphin, etc), and the charming 3D wooden animals can also be used for pretend play, extending the play value.
For the earliest readers, the Melissa & Doug See & Spell Learning Toy also packs a big educational punch: each of the eight two-sided cutout boards has a picture of an item (fish, bus, etc) and slots for the appropriate letters, so kids can practice simple three-and-four-letter sight words.
AGES 5 AND UP
With greater hand-eye coordination and patience comes more complex puzzling challenges: your little Frozen fan will love piecing together the Frozen Elsa’s Snowflake Puzzle, which is a glittery delight for kids as young as age 5. Tangoes Jr. from Rex Games also is suitable for 5 and up, with lots of different difficulty levels and play patterns built into one package: kids can play the simple version with pictures of shapes or the hard version without, and they can play alone or with a friend, creating pictures and patterns with magnetic shapes.
And then there’s the geography puzzles (I really love them – they’re such great learning tools!). Build a world map in two dimensions with the Crocodile Creek World Puzzle (ages 6 and up), which comes with a poster, or get really crazy and build it in three dimensions with the Ravensburger XXL Children’s Globe Puzzle Ball (ages 7 and up)! Or, teach your little sports fan American geography with the Crocodile Creek Baseball America Puzzle & Poster Set (ages 6 and up).
Not sure which puzzle in our assortment will be the right birthday gift or holiday gift for the kids on your list? Ask us! Our toy whizzes love making recommendations almost as much as we love hearing how much your kid LOVED their present. (That’s the best part, of course!)