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Monday, November 29, 2010

Rediscovering the Many Benefits of Puzzles

I remember as a child that my parents would erect the card table in the living room and have a puzzle laid out during the colder months of the year.  It was always a great distraction from the normal every day activities and it was a thrill to see it come together as we worked as a family.  

Dad and Mom would usually put on some great music (on the record player of course!) and we would sit there hunched over the pieces to see which area of the puzzle we could finish during that particular sitting.  Puzzles are "addictive" - but in a good way!

This past weekend, my husband and I rediscovered the joy of doing puzzles!  Our girls found puzzles in the cupboard at my parents’ house and the next thing we knew, we had a puzzle going each day we were there for the holiday.  I think we completed two puzzles and ½ of another from Thursday to Sunday. 

The girls were more interested than I thought they would be!  It just goes to show that the simpler things in life can still catch the interest of our young people despite the electronic age in which we live.   

At any given time, there were three or four of us working on a puzzle together – my husband, my Mom, Dad, the girls and me.  It brought back sweet memories of my childhood, and the time together with my parents created brand new memories with a new generation – our girls.    

Did you know?
 ·        Puzzles increase fine motor skills – even young children can grasp onto puzzle pieces, sometimes even prior to being able to hold a crayon properly.
·        Hand-eye coordination is enhanced when putting a puzzle together – it takes both hand and eye coordination to figure out what puzzle piece fits where in the big scheme of the puzzle.
·        Puzzles are excellent for improving cognitive skills – the very process of putting together a puzzle naturally teaches a child or adult how to reason and how to solve problems. 
·        Puzzles strengthen social skills and relationships – they’re just down right fun!  Children and adults can learn how to work with others while putting together a puzzle – asking where a piece might go, finding pieces together, and fitting together a scene or part of the puzzle as a team.

We have discovered that the benefits of puzzles go far beyond just the educational aspects.  A puzzle brings us together in one place.  We’re all focused on the same project, working toward one goal, and we find that we talk quite a bit while we work together.  It’s a quiet time when we all slow down and spend time together.

My husband and I talked over the weekend and we have decided to keep our eyes open for a craft table over the holidays (hoping to find a great sale!).  Once we find one, we are going to set it up in the living room and keep it up throughout the winter.  We’re interested to see how many puzzles we can start and finish in six months or so! 

Sources for Puzzles

Of course you can purchase puzzles brand new and admittedly that’s the best way to ensure that all the puzzle pieces are present and accounted for, but even new puzzles can have pieces missing.

We like to scour thrift stores and garage sales for puzzles at great prices.  Garage sale season is over in our area, so I am going to head to the thrift store to see what I can find.  The last time I searched our local thrift stores, I found several puzzles of 500 pieces or more and the prices ranged from 29 cents to 69 cents each.  Now that’s a deal!  And, surprisingly, all the pieces were included!

Types of Puzzles

There are entire stores dedicated to just puzzles, so if you have one of those in your area, go take a look at the many styles and types of puzzles that are available!  It will inspire you!

Here are some types to look for:
·        Wood puzzles
·        Floor puzzles – huge pieces
·        Chunky puzzles
·        Jigsaw puzzles – pieces range from 25 to thousands of pieces
·        Layered puzzles
·        Sensory puzzles – these have different textures within the same puzzle
·        Peg puzzles
·        Foam puzzles

Choose age appropriate puzzles for your children, but try to challenge them as they grow up too.  The more experience they get, the harder the puzzles should become to continue challenging them to sharpen their cognitive and reasoning skills.

Above all, enjoy the process!  Put on some music, brew some coffee or make some hot chocolate, and just enjoy watching the puzzle come together.