I Love to use puzzles to teach. They offer so many teachable moments. Puzzles develop eye-hand skills as the child turns the piece to fit the open slot, puzzles develop problem solving skills as the child works through frustration to find the correct solution and puzzles develop part to whole perceptual skills as the child learns that similar pieces go together.
Jigsaw puzzles have been around a long time. John Spilsbury, a mapmaker supposedly developed the first puzzle around 1760. He used puzzles to teach geography. My favorite type of puzzle is the 25 piece board puzzle. I like to use ones with specific objects the kids are familiar with. The one pictured is one I am constantly replacing due to the times I pull it out for centers.
When I first introduce a child to any puzzle, I make sure the child is familiar with all the pictured objects. We talk about each objects (each animal in the pic). We talk about what it looks like, its color and any other details I might notice. I then remove only one or two pieces that are clearly a part of a pictured object. Then I ask the child about the missing pieces. Point to the open slot and say “Oh no, the skunk is missing its tail! Give me the skunk tail.” The puzzle in the picture has seven distinct animals. This allows me to remove up to seven distinct pieces. Initially, I place the piece as the child gets the piece I request. Then I have the child work on eye-hand skills and fine motor skills as they rotate the pieces into the correct slot. I also work on expressive language as they request and I place. I.e. “Ms April, get the skunk tail, it goes here” (child pointing)
Puzzles are a great way to teach preplanning. You need to think and then act. You need to make a decision and then act on that decision. How do I use puzzles in this way? No trial and error, no shoving without a plan. The child can either look at the puzzle pieces and find one ie the bears ear, then he can tell me where it goes i.e. “Ms. April, put the bear’s ear right here.” Or, I point out an open slot i.e. the skunk tail and ask the child to find the skunk tail in the puzzle pile.
As the child progresses, I take out more and more pieces. I might take our two skunk pieces, two bear, two lion, two beaver and so forth. This progresses as he or she competes 7, then 9, then 11 and then 14 pieces of the 24 piece puzzle. I do not even worry about teaching about the edge pieces until the child can place around 14 of the 24 pieces.
Another skill I love to teach with puzzles is directional concepts. In the pictured puzzle, the bear is on the top and the right. The skunk on the left and in the center. A six to seven-year old is learning directional concepts and can tell you where to put each piece. ie “Ms April, put the bear arm on the top and on the right”. The child never touches the pieces. The child is learning to give directions. The child is learning to be patient when Ms April tries to put the piece in the wrong slot. Silly Ms April. 🙂
Puzzles, I love puzzles. I love to do puzzles as a group or sit and give a child some much-needed personal time. Conversation just seems easier when young hands are busy. Not only do I use puzzles in my classroom. I also bring them home.
Puzzles are a great way to bring kids of all ages to a table. Puzzles were always one the first requested tasks when we had no screen family time. When puzzles were brought to the table, I would give each child a task depending on their age and skill level. One finds all the blue pieces, one finds all the edges or one finds all of a certain object. I think I need to get a puzzle out tonight. Such great memories.