Are Jigsaw Puzzles good for Toddlers?

are jigsaw puzzles good for toddlers

In this age of smart phones, tablets and the omnipresent app you could be forgiven for thinking that the only way your child is going to learn is via an electronic gadget!

However, there is a wealth of research that highlights that spending some simple quality time with your child and the humble jigsaw puzzle is hugely beneficial.

So are jigsaw puzzles good for toddlers?  To answer this question it is perhaps worth considering the evidence.

Jigsaw puzzles are a great tool for boosting core skills such as problem solving and logical reasoning.

It is perhaps an understatement to say that jigsaw puzzles require an ability to problem solve.

To solve a jigsaw puzzle a child needs to recognise how certain shapes fit together.  But as we have all found, when solving jigsaw puzzles, some shapes fit together. However, despite the shapes fitting together, the jigsaw puzzle isn’t solved.  That is because, as well as shape, the jigsaw puzzle is forcing the child to think about the context.

What do I mean by context?

With respect to the jigsaw puzzle we mean – does the picture look right when the pieces are put together.  After all I am sure that we have all seen children trying to push pieces together because they appear to fit.  However, they then look on puzzled when it doesn’t look right.

It is the combination of shape and the context that makes jigsaw puzzles such an ideal learning tool for children.

Jigsaw Puzzles and Spatial Ability

Of course we all know that jigsaw puzzles are very good at teaching shape recognition and spatial awareness.  But a study published in 2012 demonstrated just how important this is in developing toddlers.

The study “Early puzzle play: a predictor of pre-schoolers’ spatial transformation skill” demonstrated that early interaction with jigsaw puzzles was of benefit to children.

The study took a group of children and observed them at home for 90 minutes every 4 months between the ages of 2 and 4 years. When the children were aged 4 years and 6 months they were tested on how well they completed a spatial task involving mental transformation of 2 dimensional shapes.

They found that those children who had been exposed to jigsaw puzzles performed better at these tasks than the children who were not exposed to jigsaw puzzles.

Now this may well not turn our children into the next Einstein.  But spatial awareness has been linked to improved mathematical performance and eventual expertise in the areas of science, technology and engineering.

In an article “Why do spatial abilities predict mathematical performance” published in 2014, in the journal Developmental Science, researchers found that “spatial skills have also been shown to rely on neuronal networks partially shared with mathematics”.

In essence neural networks are created when a skilled is learned.  The researchers found that the neural networks formed when learning spatial skills are the shared with the neural networks for mathematical learning.

Therefore if spatial ability helps to predict mathematical performance and exposure to puzzles at an early age helps improve spatial ability the evidence is clear – Puzzles and especially jigsaw puzzles are good for the developing brain.

Jigsaw Puzzles teach patience and perseverance

A key set of skills that children acquire when solving jigsaw puzzles is patience and perseverance.  Solving a jigsaw puzzle is not easy.  Especially if you are a very young toddler.

They require patience and, in many cases, a degree of perseverance to solve.  If you have ever watched a young child do a jigsaw puzzle it can be a frustrating experience.

Moving the pieces require fine motor skills.  Putting the correct pieces together requires an understanding of shape and recognition of the picture of the jigsaw puzzle.  We as adults can see how the pieces fit together.  But by allowing the child to slowly solve the jigsaw puzzle is a valuable lesson in patience and perseverance which will stand them in good stead for the future.

Jigsaw puzzles help to improve memory and concentration

A strategy that we all employ to solve jigsaw puzzles is to remember how the pieces fit together.  There is also the memory of the picture of the finished puzzle and how the pieces will ultimately fit together to complete that picture.  Jigsaw puzzles therefore help to boost memory.

Jigsaw puzzles can take time to complete.  Therefore to complete a jigsaw puzzle your child needs to have the ability to focus for a prolonged period of time.  This prolonged focus helps to foster skills of concentration which are invaluable as your child grows up.

Conclusion – Are jigsaw puzzles good for toddlers?

In this internet age the humble jigsaw puzzle could be seen as an historic artefact from a slower, bygone age.  However, all the evidence would suggest that exposing your toddler to a jigsaw puzzle will supercharge their learning.

Are jigsaw puzzles good for toddlers?  Well, we would have to conclude that yes they are!