Have you ever tried to put together a jigsaw puzzle? Puzzle play, at no matter what age, not only is entertaining, but can also provide a variety of learning opportunities.
Puzzles exercise memory. Notice how a child delights in remembering how to put together a familiar puzzle. Children will often verbalize or talk about how pieces go together. The use of verbalization with themselves or a play partner is a way to aid with memory skills. Zbigniew and Matthew Michalewicz in their book, Puzzle -Based Learning: An introduction to critical thinking, mathematics and problem solving, categorize this type of learning as the "Eureka factor."
Puzzles help develop fine muscle movements. The control of fine muscle movements develops slowly and is dependent upon a great deal of practice. Fine muscle skills aid in such activities as writing, self-dressing, using a keyboard, etc. Puzzle pieces should be large enough to accommodate small hands.
Puzzles help eye-hand coordination. Children look for visual cues such as patterns and colors to help match pieces together. This strengthens the coordination of the eyes with the hands and thoughts with actions.
Puzzles increase mathematical awareness and problem-solving skills. A puzzle can teach a child how parts fit together to form a whole. Problem-solving skills can be supported by using verbal directions such as, "All the red pieces go here" or "This piece is curved." The opportunity to practice a skill over and over again enhances problem-solving abilities. The problem solver may feel a sense of reward for solving the puzzle.
Children enjoy puzzle exploration with or without the help of an adult or another child. Very young children will enjoy putting in pieces and taking them back out just as much as they will enjoy fitting them into the right spot. As they grow and learn to rotate pieces to match holes and find pieces that fit, they can handle increasingly complex puzzles. Because most young children are tactile learners, the physical puzzles are especially good so that children can reap the learning benefits by manipulating the pieces in their hands. For all of us grown-ups, puzzles are a great challenge-driven learning opportunity. Try this one; you may recognize your favorite children's museum once completed! (Hint: Be sure and give this puzzle a few minutes to load on your computer.)