Last night, I took down an old favorite, the ABCFloorPuzzlefrom Mudpuppy Press, to play with my 22-month-old. The puzzle is made up of 24 big 8″ square pieces that fit easily together and are easily manouverable by a little tyke. The box says 3+, but he enjoyed seeing the picture come together and was pretty darn happy when he could fit one piece to another. And I found it sufficiently stimulating to enjoy spending seven or eight minutes down on the floor with it. Check out Mudpuppy’s other puzzles, too – they are well made and designed, and they come in boxes that make storage easy.
There is something zen about putting a puzzle together. It has no real productive purpose and is therefore very effective at driving Type A family members up the wall, though I’ve seen obsessive-compulsives unable to focus on anything else until every last piece was put in the puzzle. Me, I like it because I think it focuses the brain on colors and shapes and their inter-relationship. With Brain Awareness Week in March, it’s a good time to think of incorporating puzzles to stimulate neural pathway development (in your child) and maintenance (for you, old codger).
A good puzzle is a great way to spend time with your kids. Here’s a rough guide for puzzle size, though kids will vary greatly:
Ages 1-3: Verysimpleblockpuzzles will help the child understand relationships between colors and shape.
Age 2-4: 20-35piecetraditionaljigsaw puzzles are appropriate.
Ages 4-7: 60piecetraditionaljigsaw puzzles are perfect for most 5 year olds. Keep in mind not only the size but the time, patience, and focus required.
Age 5-10: 100piecepuzzles areusually just right for ages 5-10.
Age 8-11: 200piecepuzzles.
Age10-12: 300+piecepuzzleswill match the skill level of 10-12 year olds.
My daughter (age 6) and I often put together a 40 piece puzzle before bedtime. It’s quick, fun, and gives us a chance to wind down before the pre-bed routine.
Recently, we also tried the highly recommended GlobalPuzzle. With 600 pieces and dimensions measuring three feet wide and 18 inches tall, it’s a big, big puzzle. But it’s also a fun learning tool. Except for the oceans, most of the puzzle is made of pieces in the shape of the countries they represent. The puzzle is somewhat fragile that way, since most countries do not naturally interlock with their neighbors. Some of the pieces are very small, though very tiny countries and US states are conglomerated into pieces that don’t require a pair of tweezers to manipulate. My daughter, still at six, was a bit young to do more than fit together big pieces of land in the same color (Antartica), but her grandmother and I spent two days trying to figure out where to put Cameroon and Madagascar.
For a slightly older child (the box says nine years, but could go younger depending on the child), and for most American adults, this puzzle is a great exercise in humility as you realize you can’t even get Canada or Latin America in the right order. It’s also sold by the National Geographic on-line store. Highly recommended.
– Paul Banas
Founder / Editor