How do you help your child transition from doing simple inset-puzzles (the kind where the pieces fit into cutout shapes on a board) to bigger, 12-24+ piece jigsaw puzzles?
Here is how I did it with both of my boys, with good (in my opinion) results. My oldest was doing 60+ piece puzzles around age three, and my youngest (just turned two) is already getting progressively better in doing 12-piece puzzles with less and less help.
At what age to begin?
I always move onto jigsaw puzzles when inset puzzles become to easy for them. You will know they are too easy because your child will be able to do them effortlessly and will loose interest.
My youngest lost interest in the simple inset puzzles at around 18-19 months old, and then I got out some new, more detailed inset puzzles at 20 months. Those kept his interest for a while, then I finally introduced simple jigsaw puzzles at around 23 months old. He probably was ready sooner, I just didn’t really think about it much until then!
Here is how I introduced them:
1. Align puzzle pieces. I lay out the puzzles pieces in their proper alignment, loosely next to each other.
In the beginning stages I put them quite close together and lay out almost all of them at once. For young toddlers, this is great because:
- It is still a challenge and works their small motor muscles to get the pieces fitted together.
- Putting the pieces close together makes it more obvious where each ones goes, but the child still has to use visual discrimination to match the correct pieces. Sometimes in the beginning they will still try and put the wrong ones together, even when the pieces are right next to each other.
- They are learning the basics of how jigsaw puzzles work and developing the skills necessary to complete them.
2. Give your child verbal or pointing cues as necessary in the beginning.
If your child has had a lot of success with inset puzzles (see “readiness” notes above), he will probably catch onto the concept of jigsaw puzzles quite quickly.
- In the beginning, it is ok to say, “Look, this one goes here. Try to fit it in here!” as he catches more onto the concept of putting the puzzle together.
- Always try and let him figure it out by himself, but give the necessary help in the beginning so that he can feel successful and not frustrated and defeated.
- As he becomes more skilled, try and give less help, or when you do give help, make it more vague, and only verbal, not pointing or positioning: “Try wiggling it” or “Turn it a little” or “I don’t think that one goes there. Where else do you think it could go? Look at picture, see that leg? Where is the rest of his body?”
3. Give less and less help in aligning the pieces and verbal cues
Damien (currently age 24 months) wants to do his Mickey Mouse puzzle (pictured) over and over and over again.
As your child becomes more skilled, of course, give less help.
- Align less pieces and align them more loosely, eventually not aligning any pieces at all and letting your child assemble it on their own.
- Give as few verbal cues as possible, eventually not giving any at all, even if they are struggling a bit. In the beginning you want to make sure they are successful right away so they enjoy it and get the concept, but once they understand the process, a little bit of frustration is ok (and even good, actually). Just make sure it stays enjoyable – kids love a challenge, but not to be frustrated to the point of exasperation and defeat.
Do you enjoy doing puzzles with your child? Do you like to help them by scaffolding (as described in this article) or take a more hands-off approach, letting them figure it out on their own when they’re older?