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Teach your kid puzzle solving strategies

     One of the most gratifying activities, no matter your age, is finding the successful solution to putting together a jigsaw puzzle. There is something inherently rewarding in taking an assortment of puzzle pieces and attaching them in such a way that a picture is formed. Children in particular can learn many valuable skills when solving puzzles, such as patience, perseverance, recognizing patterns and shapes, concentration, and a sense of achievement.

Of course, most puzzles are designed to be challenging. This is excellent in terms of skill development, but it can also lead to frustration for children in trying to assemble many unfamiliar-looking puzzle pieces to create a whole picture. Without sensible strategies for solving puzzles, some children may become overwhelmed, give up, and not experience the satisfaction or lifelong passion that jigsaw puzzles can inspire.

To help avoid puzzle-solving frustration, here are some strategies for puzzle solving that will benefit both kids and adults in attaining their puzzle goals!

1. Transfer all puzzle pieces to the floor

Jigsaw puzzles require a large, flat, stable surface for assembly. In most homes, the best place to assemble a puzzle is the floor! Not only does the floor typically provide enough room to put a puzzle together, it also allows for more movement and points of view than sitting at a table—especially for little children. 

Kids may decide that part of the fun in getting the puzzle pieces to the floor is to dump the box. Depending on the number of pieces, this may be counterproductive. Parents can explain that it’s better to gently pour the puzzle pieces in a calm pile on the floor, to avoid stray pieces scattering, becoming lost, and leaving the puzzle unfinished.


2.Flip all pieces to the “picture” side

Once the puzzle pieces are transferred to the floor, the next strategy is to flip them all to the “picture” side. This is helpful for children in many ways. They can begin to recognize certain patterns and colors in individual pieces that make up the puzzle picture as a whole. In addition, it’s a great opportunity to develop fine motor skills in turning each individual piece. Depending on the scope of the puzzle, parents can make the process even more fun by counting the number of pieces being flipped or singing a song or two while working at this strategy.

3. Segregate all the border pieces and inner pieces

Once all the pieces are flipped to the picture side, it’s important to segregate the border pieces from the inner pieces. Border puzzle pieces have one or more flat sides with a smooth edge (no connector tabs or open connector spaces on that side). This is a great way for kids to recognize subtle differences and details in the pieces as well as build their concentration skills. 

Once the border pieces are segregated, they can be further sorted into corner pieces. Each rectangular puzzle features four corner pieces with two adjoining sides that are flat and smooth. Puzzle-solvers can look at the puzzle picture to try to match which corner piece goes where: top left or right, or bottom left or right.

Children can decide the section of the floor designated for the border pieces. Parents can encourage their children to persist with this strategy by asking for their “expert” advice as to whether a certain puzzle piece belongs in the border pile or inner pile. If an inner piece is accidentally placed in the border pile, it’s important to acknowledge that mistakes are easy to make and, in the case of puzzles, easy to fix—back it goes into the inner pile!

4.Assemble the border pieces

Once the border pieces are separated, they can be put together to form the frame of the puzzle. This is a rewarding step for children and adults, as assembling the border helps puzzle solvers to visualize the picture and anticipate how the inside will look once the puzzle is complete. It’s also a welcome break from sorting and separating individual puzzle pieces!

If there is one or more border piece missing, this is a great opportunity to reinforce perseverance and trying again for something that may have been overlooked. Parents can compare finding the remaining border piece(s) to a treasure hunt or solving a mystery.

5.Organize the inner pieces

Once the border pieces are put together, the inner pieces can be organized and then found by “connector” need (in terms of whether a piece requires a side connector or top / bottom connector). These pieces can also be organized and found by “design” (in terms of their color, pattern, etc.). Though this takes time initially, organizing the inner pieces is a great strategy for learning steps in goal setting. Most puzzles designed for kids feature inner pieces of 3 or 4 types. Children can get a sense of how the overall puzzle will come together and look without being overwhelmed by studying each individual piece and trying to find its match to fit together.

Of course, these puzzle-solving strategies do take time, and the process may try the patience of some children at first. However, if parents can make each strategy fun and productive, kids will soon realize that having a methodology to assembling a puzzle is almost as rewarding as finishing the final product. In fact, it may be fun to take pictures of each step so that children can see how the strategies and organization methods lead to the accomplished work!

So even if it takes a while, it’s essential for adults to reinforce that flipping all the pieces to the picture side, sorting the border pieces, and organizing the inner pieces are key to solving the puzzle—and they even improve the overall solving time! Keep in mind as well that it’s fine to take a break from puzzle solving and return with a fresh perspective and readiness to continue.

Ultimately, solving a jigsaw puzzle can be a fun activity for independent play and for family members to work together. Parents can start with the thoughtfully designed and unique puzzles offered by Cognisprings. Our puzzles are challenging and rewarding for children and their families, providing opportunities for learning and togetherness as well as developing lifelong skills and joyful memories.