Teaching Puzzles To Your Child

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Use these tips for teaching puzzles to children who need help getting started and figuring out how to complete a puzzle. If your child can't do puzzles, then I hope you will find this page useful in coming alongside your child and helping them master puzzles.

This page deals with puzzles that are a little harder than toddler puzzles - about 24 pieces and up.

If your child is younger than that, and is still trying to master 4 and 8 piece puzzles, then perhaps take a look at my page for helping younger kids with puzzles first.

Getting Started With Teaching Puzzles

If your child struggles to do jigsaw puzzles, try to start with puzzles that have simple, uncluttered pictures.

Avoid puzzles that are too busy, or that have too many similar colored items.

Help and tips for kids who can't do puzzles

The first step in teaching puzzles to kids is always to turn over all the pieces and study the picture on the box.

Then you can choose one of these 2 methods:

I would say that neither way is “better” than the other, but if your child is used to doing the puzzle using one method, it would be good to challenge your child to do it “the other way” occasionally, in order to stretch and develop visual perceptual and planning skills.

Method 1: Outside Edge First

Step 1:

Sort out the puzzle pieces into those with straight edges and those without a straight edge.

Teach kids how to do puzzles: step 1Find the edge pieces

Step 2:

Find the corners and place them correctly, using the picture on the box for reference.

Teach kids how to do puzzles: step 2Place the corner pieces

Step 3:

Build the outside edge of the puzzle first, before the inside. Show your child how to look for pieces with similar colors to match them up.

Teach kids how to do puzzles: step 3Build the outside edge

This uses visual discrimination skills, as well as figure-ground perception (looking for a specific piece in a sea of pieces).

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Method 2: Building in Sections

This method works well when the puzzle contains a number of clearly differentiated characters or objects.

You can sort out the pieces into different sections first (eg place all the red pieces together, all the grass pieces together), or look for one specific section as you go along, (eg look for all the pieces that make up the red car).

Step 1:

Group similarly colored pieces together and build one section at a time.

For example, in this Winnie-the-Pooh puzzle, the child found the Eeyore pieces and built Eeyore first.

How to help a child who can't do puzzles - step 1Find specific pieces and build the object

Step 2:

Now build the next section of the puzzle. For example, I pointed out the piece of Tigger behind Eeyore, so my child could find all the Tigger pieces and build Tigger, and so on. 

How to help a child who can't do puzzles - step 2Now do the next object

Once different sections of the puzzle have been built, your child can fill in the gaps, including the outside edges.

Most children who are familiar with puzzles will use a combination of the two methods.

Use what works for your child to foster a sense of accomplishment! And most of all, have fun!

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Why A Child May Avoid Puzzles

When a child avoids or "can’t do" jigsaw puzzles, there could be a number of different reasons.

  • poor visual discrimination skills – has not yet learned to pay attention to detail
  • poor figure-ground perception – they can’t find the detail they are looking for in the sea of pieces
  • poor visual closure skills – unable to see what piece would complete the piece of the puzzle they are looking at
  • poor motor planning skills – the child simply does not know where to start. This child needs help to systematically work through the steps of doing a puzzle, as described on this page.
  • lack of exposure to the concept of building puzzles (deprived backgrounds)

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Helping Your Child

If you are in any way concerned about your child's abilities, please ask an occupational therapist for an evaluation. This website is not a substitute for occupational therapy! However, the tips below are designed to empower parents to help their kids be the best they can be!

  • Choose good quality puzzles that can be used over and over again. Ravensburger puzzles#Ad are my favorite as each piece is unique and fits together perfectly. Why not swap puzzles with a friend every month?

  • If your child is very young, or comes from a very deprived background, then visit my page on teaching puzzles to toddlers first, and then come back here once your child has mastered up to 12 piece puzzles.

  • If you have an older child or teenager who avoids doing puzzles, take a look at my tips and strategies for older kids over here.
tips for doing jigsaw puzzles with teensDoing puzzles with teens

Try some simple visual perception activities from the pages below, to build your child's visual perceptual skills.

I hope this helps! Why not sign up for my occasional newsletter to stay in touch with new activities and resources?

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