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Puzzles for children: Developing life skills one block at a time
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Puzzles for children: Developing life skills one block at a time

Besides being a fun activity, puzzles also provide an avenue for children to acquire skills that help them navigate the world

 

Benefits of puzzles include improved memory and concentration, enhanced fine motor skills, improved hand-eye coordination and increased spatial awareness
Ahalya introduced her daughter Prakrithi to puzzles when she was two years old.

Puzzles, while being an excellent recreational activity for children, have several benefits that far exceed their fun quotient. They act as a gateway for a child to acquire skills for navigating the world, seamlessly intertwining learning with fun.

Ahalya Praveen, an influencer and a mother from Ernakulam, Kerala, introduced her four-year-old daughter Prakrithi to puzzles when she was two. She began by selecting two-piece puzzles, gradually opting for more complex ones as Prakrithi grew older. “I started off with simple puzzles that offered the right amount of challenge,” says Ahalya. “This ensured she got a sense of accomplishment, which would further engage her in the activity.” By the age of three, Prakrithi would solve six-piece puzzles, graduating to a level where she can now solve up to 12-piece ones.

Benefits of puzzles for children

According to experts, some of the major benefits of solving puzzles include:

♦ Fine motor development

Solving puzzles helps children exercise their fine motor skills, which is a key developmental milestone. “Grasping the puzzle pieces hones their pincer grip, an important fine motor skill where the child learns to bring together their thumb and index finger to pinch and hold objects,” says Latha Rao, director, Indian Montessori Training Courses, Bangalore.

She adds that there are knobs fitted on the puzzle pieces whose dimensions are similar to those of writing instruments like a pencil. The development of the pincer grip paves the way for performing a wide range of actions like writing, eating, buttoning, etc.

♦ Improved hand-eye coordination

“Playing puzzle games sharpens hand-eye coordination, a cognitive skill that facilitates everyday functions like driving, eating, typing, etc.,” says Dr Prerna Goenka, consultant, pediatrics and neonatology, Manipal Hospitals, Salt Lake, Kolkata.

Hand-eye coordination involves a complex mechanism where the eyes send visual cues to the brain. The brain then uses this information to guide the hands in carrying out an activity.

♦ Increased spatial awareness

Solving puzzles involves visualizing the images and understanding how things fit together in space — an ability known as spatial reasoning.

“The child develops awareness that a triangular puzzle piece will fit in a triangular socket,” says Dr Goenka. “The benefits of puzzles for children also include gauging depth and distance.”

♦ Enhanced memory and concentration

Deciphering a puzzle is nothing short of a mental workout. The process of dismantling the pieces and putting them back together enhances neural connections and boosts memory.

Puzzles exercise the sensory memory, which stores information derived through the five senses. “When a child is solving a puzzle, they have a mental picture of the resulting image that serves as the reference point. This is their visual memory at play,” says Rao, adding that there are puzzles that also engage their haptic or touch memory, where they solve the puzzle with their eyes shut.

Solving puzzles requires single-minded focus and the ability to keep away distractions, enabling children to concentrate for a long period of time. This translates to improved concentration in different areas of life,” says Dr Goenka.

♦ Inculcation of life skills

Ahalya feels that puzzle games have enabled her daughter to gain key life skills like patience, perseverance and problem-solving abilities.

“The process of trial and error teaches the child to learn from failure and keep trying until they succeed,” she shares. “It also acts as a testament to the fact that there’s a solution if one is ready to tweak their approach toward the problem.”

How to engage children in puzzle games?

In this tech-savvy generation, children are usually more inclined toward gadgets, which poses a challenge for parents to engage them in puzzles.

Dr Goenka informs that children learn vicariously by observing and imitating their parents. Hence, they must serve as positive role models. Ahalya recalls that she’d actively involve herself in the game. “In the beginning, I’d guide her by showing the complete image and fixing the puzzle for her. Now, I encourage her while she solves it herself,” she shares.

“Choosing the right level of difficulty is crucial for ensuring engagement. The child shouldn’t find it too easy or challenging,” points out Rao. The difficulty needs to be tailored based on the child’s capabilities.

Puzzles can cause choking

Doctors caution that children can swallow the tiny puzzle pieces, which can lead to suffocation.

Dr Goenka says children shouldn’t be left unsupervised with puzzles, as it could potentially be a choking hazard. She also recommends using puzzles made of materials like cardboard instead of plastic.

Takeaways

Puzzles are a fun activity for children that come with numerous benefits like improved memory and concentration, enhanced fine motor skills, improved hand-eye coordination and increased spatial awareness. Parents must lead by example and involve themselves in the activity, as children learn vicariously by observing and imitating them. The level of difficulty should be tailored according to the child’s capabilities. Experts advise parents to not leave their children unsupervised, as the puzzle pieces can be a choking hazard.

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