Puzzle sessions are our family’s go-to rainy day activity. There’s just something about sitting around a table together, rain beating down on the windows, veggie soup bubbling away in the crockpot, that makes us feel all cozy and comfortable and close.
But puzzles do so much more than facilitate solid family time. They’re also incredibly beneficial for your kids, imparting plenty of lessons and teachable moments that will stand them in good stead for years to come.
Starting from 12 months, children develop their cognitive, fine and gross motor skills by building puzzles. They learn about spatial awareness and problem-solving, strategic thinking and patience. They get to exercise their reasoning, and practice focus and concentration.
If they complete puzzles with others, they learn social skills, like taking turns, making suggestions and working together to overcome challenges. And they feel a tremendous sense of satisfaction and self-confidence once a puzzle is completed.
Given the enormous selection out there, here’s an at-a-glance guide to some of the more popular puzzle types for younger children, with handy advice on what you should look out for:
Best first puzzles
Chunky Exotic Safari Puzzle, 18 months+ ($12.99)
Professor Poplar’s Chunky Barnyard Helpers, 18 months+ ($12.99)
Kids usually tackle their first puzzle when they’re about 12 months old. And while they aren’t able to work interlocking jigsaw pieces yet, they will enjoy the 1-piece, 1-slot type of puzzle. These are usually wooden and chunky for chubby little hands, have around 3 pieces to place – often with a large wooden knob – and ideally have the picture reference underneath for easy matching.
Jumbo Professor Poplar’s People Movers Peg Puzzle, 3 years+ ($14.98)
From 2 years and up, kids have better fine motor skills and are transitioning to puzzles with smaller knobs and more pieces. Choose those that have reference pictures underneath for matching, and look for themed puzzles that spark their interest, such as farm puzzles or safari animals, vehicles or dinosaurs.
Gregory Grows Up Layered Jigsaw, 24 months+ ($9.99)
Nesting puzzles are more about getting the sizes right, rather than shapes. Usually wooden, these puzzles require children to stack puzzle pieces on top of one another inside a frame, ordering pieces from smallest to largest.
Preschoolers love the interactive challenge of a magnetic puzzle. Not only do they have to place the right pieces in the right slots, but they have to do so using a magnetic wand, which goes a long way in developing their motor skills and dexterity, and encouraging patience (and learning about magnets!).
Busy Barnyard Inset Jigsaw Puzzle, 3 years+ ($9.99)
As the name suggests, frame puzzles have a raised outer border which helps kids as they navigate more complicated puzzles with interlocking jigsaw pieces. Ideal for preschoolers, look for puzzles that range from 13 to 100 pieces.
24-Piece Jumbo Fire Engine Floor Puzzle, 3 years+ ($11.99)
A different type of puzzle that definitely has the wow factor, floor puzzles are usually huge and enormously fun to do together. But remember to put it together on a hard floor, as there’s little as frustrating as trying to get pieces to stay together on a shaggy or high pile carpet.
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