About 18 months old, my son was interested in jigsaw puzzles. It first began with two piece, three piece, and four piece jigsaw puzzles. Now 3 years old, he has an enormous collection of jigsaw puzzles and is able to do a little over 60 pieces by himself. With 100 piece puzzles, it takes a mommy-son team working together.
Before doing anything with putting the pieces together, I put the two piece, three piece, and four piece jigsaw puzzles together and took a picture of each of them. Then I printed out each picture and placed it in a plastic cover sleeve. The purpose was to help my son identify what the completed puzzle should look like…to see the ultimate goal.
First rule that I shared with him was to take all the puzzle pieces out of the box. The second rule was to make sure that all the pieces were picture up. I personally believe that even if you cannot see the way that the puzzle is put together, that your brain is ultimately working everything out behind the scenes. Sounds odd, but that is how I worked out math problems in high school and in college; put everything out in front of you so that your brain can start processing and putting the pieces together.
Coming right back to my then 18 month old, I showed him the picture and asked him how the pieces might fit together. We would talk about how gaps between two pieces will form if they really do not fit together. We talked about the different shapes we saw on the edges of the puzzle pieces. This was done more often as we worked on jigsaw puzzle with more pieces. If he was thinking for a longer period of time, I asked him to look at the picture again to see where the puzzle piece would go.
Believe me, there was a lot of trial and error. This is the time to tell your child that it is okay to feel frustrated. Share with your child how you have felt frustrated and how you dealt with it without becoming too upset about it. However, it is our job as the parent to stop and take a break if our child is reaching the level of being overly frustrated.
After doing this each week, my son was hooked on jigsaw puzzles. To make things more cost effective, the dollar store was my place to look for puzzles. As I looked for puzzles, I wanted to make sure that the puzzle pieces were not a choking hazard, of course, and also that the size of the pieces was not too small. At our local used book store, there were floor puzzles that were perfect for little hands to hold on to.
Understanding how interested my son was in jigsaw puzzles, I used this as a way to teach him other things. Between 18 months and 2 years old, to teach him about shapes, numbers, and the alphabet, he worked on jigsaw puzzles with shapes, one about numbers, and one about the alphabet. He also did this for one about colors. For about four dollars, he learned about four different topics.
When he was 2 years old, he liked cars and dinosaurs. When it was time to read about dinosaurs, we read a book and then worked on a puzzle. It was not until he was three years old that he started asking about the parts of the body and about bones. Going back to our local used bookstore, we were able to find a jigsaw puzzle that had the skeletal system on one side and the nervous system on the other side. The same happened for the different states on a map. We were also able to find a puzzle from the store of the map of the United States.
How does this all fit in learning about mathematics? Working with jigsaw puzzles helps the child with spatial relationships. Spatial relationships are really, in a nutshell, how shapes work in a certain area. Just as someone is able to look at room and figure out how to reorganize or reposition the furniture, this is the same as someone looking at a jigsaw puzzle and figuring out how all the pieces fit together. Remember Tetris? Aha!….spatial reasoning.
Working on a jigsaw puzzle is a great way to teach your child about problem solving and using critical thinking skills. Think of it this way, if your older child accidentally breaks a vase, a plate, or flower pot, this would be the time to get out the glue and work out this real life puzzle together.
In time, this will be the way to work on tangrams and other puzzles to come.
Where does this fit into the Schedule of Activities 18 months-3 years old?
1) Mondays under Math
2) Tuesdays under Math
Something to Think About:
After reading this, you may think that your 18 month old or even 3 year old could not possibly be ready to work on jigsaw puzzles. My suggestion to you is to try it. Our children are capable of doing a lot more than we give them credit. Trust me, I know you give your child a lot of credit for doing things, but your child can do more. If not now, then soon. Remember, learning is not a race. It’s not who gets there first, it’s that you actually get there.