The American Academy of Pediatrics defines early childhood as ages one to five years, spanning the toddler and preschool periods. Early childhood development happens rapidly and is widely recognized as extremely important in laying the foundation for future learning, including the social, cognitive, and motor skills necessary to handle the demands of preschool and kindergarten. During these formative years, parents and other caring people in their lives have the ability to enhance this development by wisely choosing activities that stimulate and challenge their minds.
While there are a plethora of references on the benefits of reading books, playing games, etc., this article focuses on the value of wooden puzzles as a catalyst for early childhood learning. Even with the many gadgets and electronic gadgets, often children are drawn to simple things like a bouncy ball, an interesting book, and well designed and intriguing puzzles.
The benefits of puzzles can be grouped into the two periods of early childhood, toddler (1-3 years) and preschool (3-5 years).
Young children should be given puzzles that have large pieces and simple content. As the simpler ones are mastered, caregivers can introduce puzzles with more complexity and more/smaller pieces. As a result, these youth will receive the following benefits:
- Hand-eye coordination when grasping and placing puzzle pieces.
- Knowledge of various shapes and sizes.
- Problem solving skills when they master the assembly of each puzzle.
- Sense of pride in a job well done, improves self-confidence/self-image
- Enhanced memory abilities, as they remember what they did and learned
- An understanding of the concept of sequencing in the placement of puzzle pieces.
- Recognition of various colors.
- Identification of objects, animals and other puzzle content
Additionally, puzzles offer opportunities for parent/caregiver interaction with a young child, especially when a new puzzle is presented. While it’s a valuable bonding experience, it’s also an opportunity to assess the appropriateness of each puzzle, even if they’re too difficult or too simple, which could frustrate the young child. Also, by having more than one puzzle available, other children can be included in this quiet time activity, providing an excellent opportunity for social interaction.
Preschoolers will continue to benefit from puzzles, with an increasing number of pieces and more complex/challenging content. As they build on what they learned as young children, they will receive the following additional benefits:
- Recognition of geometric shapes, such as squares, triangles, circles, etc.
- Familiarization with the letters of the alphabet and the concept of spelling.
- Ability to recognize and spell their names as well as simple words.
- Identification of basic numbers and the concept of counting
- Knowledge of more complex elements in puzzles; eg, shape of the USA and its regions/states, dinosaurs, birds, marine life, etc.
To ensure that the above benefits are maximized, it is very important that parents, or anyone else considering “gifting” a wooden puzzle, keep in mind the purchase considerations outlined in the following “checklist “:
- Age appropriateness to provide the right level of challenge
- educational value
- Vivid and varied colors
- Lead-free paints (Note: Made in the USA suggested)
- No sharp edges and size pieces to prevent choking hazard, especially with small children.
- Excellent quality and durability; paints/colors should not fade or crack and puzzle pieces and frames should not break from frequent and hard use over time; quality wooden puzzles are generally much better at meeting this criteria
- Solid reputation of craftsmen; How long have they been in business? Check a number of testimonials/references for consistent customer satisfaction. Are you willing to refund or replace the product if you are not completely satisfied?