In order to solve a puzzle of any kind, your child needs to stop and think about how to go about reaching her goal. When using a board puzzle, she develops a strategy on how she will try to place each piece in the correct space in order to make all of the pieces fit. She uses her problem-solving skills by developing solutions in order to accomplish completing her goal, just as she will use these skills during the course of her adult life.
Puzzles can help a preschooler develop important cognitive skills. Your child will be asked to take step-by-step directions during his impending school career, and puzzles help him develop the ability to accomplish goals one step at a time and to understand why certain tasks need to be done in this manner. They can also help your preschooler develop visual spatial awareness because of the many colors, shapes and themes they come in.
Fine Motor Skills
Puzzles teach children to develop fine motor skills important to daily life. They learn to grasp large and small pieces, pick them up and to place them where they belong by manipulation. Some puzzles involve twisting knobs in order to be able to fit a piece into its slot. Others require your preschooler to hammer the piece into place. Some puzzles involve sliding a small door open or even untying a ribbon in order to find the correct placement of a piece.
Playing with puzzles requires your preschooler to manipulate the pieces in order to place them in the correct order, or slot. She sees a piece, picks it up and attempts to make it fit. If it doesn't, she puts that piece aside and starts the process over again until she has chosen the correct one. She learns to use her eyes to see an object, and her hands and fingers to pick it up, coordinating the two skills together.
Puzzles can be enjoyed as a solitary activity, but they also give a preschooler an opportunity to learn about cooperative play. Your child might share the puzzle with a partner, taking turns trying to solve it. He and his friend could discuss where a piece might belong, practice patience when are one of them is a bit slow about making a decision and learn how to control their tempers if things aren't going smoothly. He and his partner can share in the celebration of solving the puzzle successfully, as well.
Examine the puzzle and check for moving parts. Determine whether the cube is made of a single, solid piece of wood or if it has joints or seams. Look especially for hidden or concealed seams.
Manipulate any moving parts to get a feel for how they are designed to move. For many puzzles of this type, such as a 12-piece caged ball puzzle, the solution will require moving the parts around using the trial-and-error method. Use a systematic approach to make sure you don’t miss possible combinations of moves.
Check joints and seams in the wood for trick parts such as concealed doors, hidden magnetic latches, or spring-loaded sides. For example, the secret to the metal Alcatraz puzzle is a trick bar, secured by a magnet, that can be removed; a wooden puzzle may have a similar solution, especially if it has no obvious moving parts.
Consider whether the wood itself has any properties that might be the key to the solution. For example, a classic solution to certain wooden puzzles, published at least as far back as 1931 in the magazine "Popular Science," requires soaking the wood in hot water to make it expand and become more flexible. A previously entrapped object or section can then be removed.
Remember that some “puzzles” of this type may actually be tricks or novelties that have no solution. For example, a skilled woodworker can carve out a ball trapped in a cube-shaped cage from a single block of wood, with no way to remove the ball without cutting the cage.
Many wooden puzzles are sold along with printed instructions containing the puzzle solution. If you cannot solve your puzzle and it does not include the printed solution, try contacting the puzzle creator or manufacturer.
Puzzles are intended to encourage creative thinking, so no article can cover all possible solutions. Use “lateral thinking” strategies to brainstorm new approaches to a wooden puzzle that is stumping you.
Tangram puzzles can be done electronically or with plastic shapes. Each puzzle contains a finished outline or shape along with several shapes, including triangles, hexagons and quadrangles. The goal is to arrange the triangles to construct the outlined shape. The variation of this game for younger children typically includes a large quantity of a single shape, such as triangles, with a final picture-shape of something along the lines of a duck or a heart. More complex tangrams have a more diverse group of shapes and require more trial and error. Manipulating the shapes builds an understanding of symmetry, opposites, rotation and geometry, according to Illuminations, a resource for math instruction.
Puzzles such as KenKen and sudoku requires students to order numbers in a series of boxes so they reach a particular sum while maintaining a certain order within the boxes themselves. For example, in KenKen each row and column must contain each number exactly one time. These puzzles build arithmetic skills, and an understanding of sequencing and logic, according to Illuminations.
While jigsaw puzzles might not seem inherently math related, in fact, they employ many important elements found in mathematics, including making combinations, working systemically, along with visualizing defining shapes and their combined product, according to Cambridge University's Center for Math Enrichment. Jigsaw puzzles are also helpful for young children who might not be old enough to recognize, write or understand the concept of numbers. Additionally, jigsaw puzzles come in a variety of kid-friendly sizes, from four to 400 pieces.
Tower of Hanoi
The Tower of Hanoi is an ancient puzzle that teaches children in grade school about computation and algorithms, according to Cut the Knot, a children's educational website for math. Using three rods and a series of circles, kids must move the circles from the central rod to the two outer rods following a set of limitations, such as never moving a larger one on a smaller disk and never moving more than one disk at a time.