The Puzzle of Childhood Development

Phil McInnes

With all of their developmental attributes, it’s no wonder puzzles remain a popular choice for parents and teachers! The benefits of puzzles extend to well beyond the preschool years, setting up the foundation for reading, arithmetic and problem solving.


Physically, puzzles assist in hand eye coordination and encourage fine motor dexterity as the child holds and rotates pieces into place. Entry level puzzles, such as those with knobs, are also fantastic for developing a pincer grip, which will aid in pencil holding and writing later on.


Emotionally, puzzles provide a stimulating and engaging challenge for children, who respond well to the reward of completing a task. Puzzles require children to set goals and practise patience to achieve them. Finishing a puzzle can help boost self confidence in problem solving and more generally help develop esteem as a competent individual.


Puzzles offer a countless cognitive advantages. A child learns concepts such as classifying, comparing and sorting, which provide a great foundation for maths and problem solving. Memory is needed to remember what end image is needed to complete the puzzle, different shapes and which pieces have been used. Detailed puzzle pictures offer the opportunity to extend vocabulary and create a platform for verbal interaction with your child. Play games such as ‘I spy’ before the child starts the puzzle to help them take note of the whole picture.  As all parents and teachers know, young children need to assert themselves and effect the world around them, and puzzles can be great at helping satisfy that need as they are quite literally manipulating pieces into a picture.  


Some of the earliest puzzles children engage with are knob puzzles, which offer a great platform from which to learn shapes and colours. A good quality knob puzzle can stretch and develop little minds for years and here are a couple of fun games you can play with a child you may have thought had outgrown them:

  • Which piece is missing?

Let the child study all the pieces. Now is a good time to chat about anything eye catching or simply note colours, shapes and pictures. Remove one of the pieces without the child looking and see if they can tell you which one is missing.

  • Colour and feature spotting

Study the puzzle together and ask the child to remove all pieces with a particular colour. Most knob puzzles are themed, which gives you a great opportunity to chat about what interests your child. Ask them to remove all pieces that contain certain features, for example, if the puzzle is themed around summer, ask them to remove all pieces with flowers on them.

  • Counting

Having set aside pieces containing a specific colour, ask the child to count the pieces.

Puzzles are a great brain exerciser that have been used since our grandparents were children! They have endless cognitive, emotional and physical benefits that help immediate learning and set up sound foundations from which other learning can take place


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