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Grandparent's column: Puzzles good for indoor fun, learning

7:53 AM, Nov. 21, 2012  |  Comments
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Children of all ages need lots of exercise and fun outdoor play but there are times when quieter indoor play is on the schedule. Reading with your children is always a very enjoyable and important activity. Another source of quiet fun and activity are puzzles. Available in all shapes and sizes, they instill interest and learning for children as young as six months. Working together with an adult to complete the picture goal provides the individual attention children crave as well as the opportunity for skill development.

What to do

Puzzles come in many types, sizes, scenes and degrees of difficulty. For the very young child, large wooden jigsaw puzzles with easy to handle pieces are just right to develop hand muscles. Look for a matching picture on the frame, easy or geometric shapes, or a sound effect when the right piece is placed. Pictures of animals, toys or foods are often the subjects. For somewhat older children, more complex and large floor puzzles provide the right amount of challenge. There are also foam puzzles that feature animals, shapes or letters. All are great gifts.

When working with children show them strategies for turning and sliding the puzzle pieces so they fit. That is a state math skill actually tested in school. Computer based puzzles in jigsaw form are easy to find on the web. These are appropriate for school-age children who can manage the computer mouse and screen. Many libraries allow puzzle checkout.

Make easy puzzles

Gather colored pictures, glue and heavy paper. Glue the picture on heavy paper. When dry, cut the picture into a few pieces like squares, triangles and rectangles. Leave a frame around the picture so it is easier to find the correct place for each piece. Teach children how to sort similar colors and put edge pieces together first.

Another puzzle uses tongue depressors. Gather tape, wooded tongue or craft sticks and markers.

Tape seven craft sticks together to make a rectangle. On the other side, your children can make a big simple picture with colored markers. Then, remove the tape and scramble the pieces. Reassemble the sticks to show the picture again.

How will this help my child?

Puzzles help youngsters develop visual and spatial relationships. Manipulating the pieces helps to build observation skills, small muscle control and eye-hand coordination. In addition, they help young children develop thinking strategies, and encourage problem solving and exploration. Completing the puzzle fosters persistence and working toward a goal.

Important Note: Puzzles are most rewarding and most effective learning tools when children work together with a caregiver who can sit close and help with strategies, encouragement and hints.

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If you've ever answered "Who has the ball?" with "It's halftime," you might recognize The Airhead. Check out the characters in our cartoon gallery of oddball fans.

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