Do you remember doing jigsaw puzzles as a child? I was born in the 1970s and raised in the 80s, so Super Mario Bros. and MTV certainly had my attention. But I also remember the fun, challenge, and pride experienced from doing unplugged activities. Puzzles, paper mâché, playing cards… I have rediscovered this simple joy as I unplug the iPad and reconnect with my childhood vicariously through my own children.
So why puzzle-based learning? As fun as puzzles inherently are, they also develop critical thinking and problem solving skills. Many students do not learn how to think about solving problems in general. Throughout their education they are often constrained to concentrate on textbook questions at the end of each chapter, solved using material discussed earlier in the chapter. This constrained form of “problem solving” is not sufficient preparation for addressing real-world problems—on entering the real world, students find that problems do not come with instructions or guidebooks (Michalewicz , Falkner, and Sooriamurthi, 2010).
Puzzles are Memory Builders
It amazes me how my children will do the same puzzles over, and over, and over again. In addition to the satisfaction they experience from confidently completing the puzzle, they also enjoy explaining how they fit the pieces together. The aforementioned authors call this the “Eureka Moment.”
Puzzles Develop Fine Motor Skills
It takes a lot of practice to develop the hand strength and coordination required for so many life skills. Puzzles are a fun way to prepare children for writing, typing, or cutting with scissors. For toddlers and preschool children, try using puzzles with knobs in both large and small sizes.
Puzzles Develop Eye-Hand Coordination
Learning with puzzles teaches children to use visual cues like patterns, colors, or shapes to fit pieces together. There is subsequently a connection between thoughts and actions, eyes and hands.
So moms and dads out there, the challenge has been sent. Unplug you 21st century digital child and go old school! Call your mother-in-law that refuses to throw anything away and ask for some of your spouse’s childhood puzzles. Trust me – she has them! Did you notice the puzzle my daughter was holding in the picture at the top of this post? Circa 1984… Awesome.