As an early years teacher, I have curated quite the selection of puzzles for my own little learners. This week, I’ve put together a video sharing some of our favourite puzzles for babies, toddlers and preschoolers!
One of the most frequently asked questions I received around puzzles was What age should I introduce puzzles? How do I know what type to begin with? There are so many amazing puzzles out there…so where do you begin?
Audrey was probably only about 7 or 8 months old when we presented her first puzzle. They were actually the Montessori Shape Puzzles from Educating Kids (pictured below) and they come in a pack of four different shapes. I love them because we could just put one puzzle out to start with so we started with the big circle puzzle.
As she got more confident, we’d add another puzzle. So we might have put the circle and the square together – we just started there nice and simple. Of course when she started, all she could do was take the puzzle piece out. We would just show her how to put it back in – it was really about exploring the puzzle and how the pieces fit together. If you looked on her shelf right now, you’d see she still has them on her shelf at nearly 2 years old. We just change up some of the pictures inside the puzzle.
As Audrey got older, we introduced a simple 6 shape puzzle like the Shape Puzzle from Growing Kind* pictured below. it really got her to think about which pieces went where. This was a step up from the individual shape puzzles and she was probably about 12 months when we put this out for her. And of course again, all she’d do was pull out all the puzzles but she eventually started trying to fit them into the right spot again. This came with time the more she explored the pieces. Sometimes we’d lay them all out on the floor in front of the puzzle so she could match them up easily!
Now at 12 months, you could also move to your standard peg puzzle like the Easy Grip Puzzles you can get at Kmart. These ones feature all different animals with the little pegs on them which helps them to be able to pick up and put the pieces in with the peg. We haven’t actually used this type of puzzle with Audrey though. We did with our other kids, but we don’t have many now.
The latest puzzle we’ve introduced is the Montessori Circle Puzzle* from Growing Kind. The pieces are all different size circles which really helps her develop her visual discrimination skills. She can do this one really easily now so it’s not really a challenge, but it’s something that she still comes back to over and over because she loves it so much!
After we move from the peg puzzles, we move to something like the two-part puzzles we got at Aldi (also available on Amazon*). I really like this style because they are a traditional jigsaw where they have to actually manipulate the pieces to put them together. When you’re introducing a jigsaw style puzzle, I like to start with simple two-part puzzles like these with a traditional jigsaw edge (rather than two flat sides that just sit side by side).
Audrey will sit on the floor and she’ll put one piece down, and then we see her trying to hook the second piece on. Then she uses her hand to flatten it to secure it together. They’re a bit trickier than a peg puzzle because they have to manipulate the pieces in a different way. These two-part animal puzzles are a favourite with her at the moment! We just put a couple of animals in a little container for her. So at the moment she’s actually only got three animals on her shelf. If we put out the whole lot, that would just be overwhelming for her.
Audrey isn’t quite at the stage where she can sort the pieces to find the one that she needs. We will often find the matches for her and place them next to each other so she can connect them together.
Once we move on from the simple two-part puzzles that connect together, I really like the Beginner Puzzles by Petit Collage which are available from Playdreamers. I really like these because they’re a simple step up from the two-part puzzles. Each box comes with a 3, 4, 5 and 6 piece puzzle so they build in difficulty really nicely.
When we used these with Elliot, we started with the three piece puzzle and once he was confident with that, we moved to the four pieces, and then eventually we could put out the whole set for him. I actually take a photo just from Google, and I print that off so that they can see how the puzzle is supposed to look. We just pop the pieces in a basket with the laminated picture which keeps the box in good condition!
Next, we would move to a simple 9 piece jigsaw and then build up to 12 or 24 pieces. We really love the wooden Melissa and Doug puzzles because they come with a nice tray to keep the puzzles in. Elliot will still come to these puzzles at 4 years of age and he can do them completely independently.
Once they’re confident with the simple 24 piece jigsaws, we move to a more complex jigsaw with more pieces. I love the Ravensburger brand! Personally, I’d say a puzzle is a good fit for the child if it is a little bit tricky, because it really builds their resilience and their ability to problem solve as well. You don’t want all of their puzzles to be too easy – you want to give them a little bit of a challenge as well.
I also really like the large Petit Collage jijsaws as well. They’re really good for independent play because the pieces are so big and easy to manipulate. At the moment, Elliot also really loves the Mudpuppy puzzles from Playdreamers as well. They’re 60 pieces but you see they’re quite challenging because the pictures are very detailed. He’ll normally start with the outside edges and then work on the inside part of the puzzle. This is a really good strategy to teach them when they’re younger!
We absolutely love using puzzles with our little learners. not only are they wonderful for developing their fine motor skills, they’re also great for developing their problem-solving skills, hand-eye coordination and the skill of visual discrimination.
I hope you found this blog post and video useful! If you’d like some suggestions of puzzles for different age ranges, feel free to pop a comment below and I will help you out with that!