Over the past 15 years I have studied the effects of media on children, and I continue to work to help create good content for children, both on and off screen. But as a mother of three children, I understand at a deeper level that digital screen media are growing in prominence in the lives of children – at all ages. And with the plethora of screen media options occupying more and more available downtime for kids, I have begun to appreciate even more those activities that are not tied to a screen. Puzzles are one such activity.
So what is it about puzzling that is educational, and what skills can be learned from such activities? Well, puzzling can build skills at every developmental stage. As children attempt to solve a puzzle, they learn to feel a sense of mastery. It also teaches them to persist in order to accomplish a goal. Each type of puzzle brings with it some specific skills that can be learned. Here are just a few:
Distinguish Differences in Visual Images. Hidden Pictures® puzzles develop the ability to distinguish differences in visual images. This skill helps children pay attention to details and understand subtle differences between similar-looking objects. This is especially important as children learn to read and distinguish letters such as b, d, p, and q. Children also learn how objects correspond in shape, size, color or design. As they work on these pictures, children begin to understand and identify the properties of objects, and they learn that objects that change in form and/or appearance are still the same object.
Develop Coordination and Visual Discrimination. Completing mazes takes coordination of small muscle movement and hand-eye coordination. Children also learn visual discrimination through determining how to reach an end-goal by using their sight to follow a path to reach the finish. These skills can help children both with handwriting skills as well as visual tracking skills needed to learn to read. In addition, it can help with more obvious hand-eye coordination skills such as catching a ball or hitting a ball with a bat.
Developing Matching Ability. Matching games allow children to practice important skills such as matching shapes and patterns (a pre-math skill), and then letters and words (a pre-reading skill). This, in turn, will give them one-to-one correspondence skills where they will be able to match one set with a member of another set (for example one sock with one shoe), which is important for learning properties of objects and how things can go together in different categories.
When possible, sit down with your child and puzzle together. Not only will it be a bonding experience, but your puzzling skills can model effective solving strategies for your child.
January 29 is National Puzzle Day!