The Benefits of Solving Jigsaw Puzzles

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Jigsaw puzzles is an activity that should form part of your home practice with your child. Completing a jigsaw puzzle works the brain in many ways:

  • Visual perception – recognizing objects, patterns, and orientation of lines
  • Constructional praxis – integrating visual and motor information to assemble pieces
  • Mental rotation – mentally rotating piece’s orientation to fit them to other pieces
  • Cognitive speed and visual scanning – sorting puzzle pieces
  • Cognitive flexibility – switching attention between different strategies, between different puzzle pieces, and between puzzle shape, image, and color
  • Perceptual reasoning – integrating different perceptual information to develop strategies and plans how to solve the puzzle
  • Working and episodic memory – keeping the association between spatial location and visual patterns/images of puzzle pieces in working memory and long-term memory

In order to maximise the benefits of playing jigsaw puzzles, the puzzle must be sufficiently challenging. Bear this in mind when choosing a puzzle for your child. It should be difficult enough to be challenging but not so far beyond your child’s abilities that it leads to frustration.

Benefits of Playing with Jigsaw Puzzles

Playing with jigsaw puzzles helps children develop the following skills:

  • Hand-Eye Coordination – Kids have to use their coordination in order to get the pieces to fit together.
  • Language Skills – By working with others, kids discuss shapes and ask for certain pieces.
  • Fine Motor Skill – Maneuvering puzzle pieces around can really build up the tiny muscles!
  • Cognitive Skills – Children practice their memory skills while completing puzzles.  They are also working on following directions.
  • Problem Solving Skills – Every puzzle allows a kid to solve a problem, one piece at a time.
  • Math Skills – Kids identify patterns and shapes while working on puzzles.
  • Spatial Skills – Many studies have found kids who work on puzzles at a young age do better on spatial reasoning as they grow older.  It shouldn’t be a big surprise since puzzles have kids flipping, sliding, and turning to find the right fit.
  • Social Skills – Puzzles often bring groups together.  Kids can talk, ask questions, and share with each other while working as a group.
  • Confidence – Maybe most importantly, finishing a puzzle can bring a kid a great sense of accomplishment and something they can be proud of themselves for!

Jigsaw Puzzles Develops Visual-Spatial Ability

People who do jigsaw puzzles show greater spatial ability.

Sherry Willis of Pennsylvania State University, psychologist.

In a study of 4 year old children, researchers found that those who played with puzzles performed better at spatial transformation tasks. The more they played with puzzles, the better they were at the spatial task.

When children were 4 years 6 months old, they completed a spatial task involving mental transformations of 2-dimensional shapes. Children who were observed playing with puzzles performed better on this task than those who did not. Among those children who played with puzzles, frequency of puzzle play predicted performance on the spatial transformation task.

American Psychological Association

According to another study, researchers found that spatial training could improve a child’s mathematical ability. Playing with jigsaw puzzles can be a form of spatial training.

We tested whether mental rotation training improved math performance in 6- to 8-year-olds. Children were pretested on a range of number and math skills. Then one group received a single session of mental rotation training using an object completion task that had previously improved spatial ability in children this age. The remaining children completed crossword puzzles instead. Children’s post-test scores revealed that those in the spatial training group improved significantly on calculation problems. In contrast, children in the control group did not improve on any math tasks. Further analyses revealed that the spatial training group’s improvement was largely due to better performance on missing term problems (e.g., 4 + ____ = 11).

Chang & Mix (2104) – Journal of Cognitive Development

Why is Visual-Spatial Intelligence Important?

Spatial ability is the capacity to understand and remember the spatial relations among objects.

John Hopkins University

Many tasks in everyday life require visual-spatial skills to help us solve them, for example:

  • using a map to navigate through an unfamiliar city
  • driving a car – being able to switch lanes, parking the car
  • packing – how many items can fit into a certain box

Visual spatial ability is also important in certain areas of study, such as science, mathematics, and engineering. Here are some examples of how it is used in the real world:

  • Architects and engineers design buildings.
  • Chemists work with the three-dimensional structure of a molecule.
  • Surgeons navigate the human body during their surgical procedures.
  • Sculptors visualise the end result of a sculpture trapped inside a matrix of stone.

Educational Jigsaw Puzzles

Looking to extend the benefits of playing with jigsaw puzzles? Try these educational jigsaw puzzles by Eurographics available from Amazon. They are 1000 piece puzzles so they should be reserved for older children.

For younger kids – you can try the kids educational series from Eurographics. These puzzles are 100 and 200 piece puzzles.

Published by Shen-Li

SHEN-LI LEE is the author of “Brainchild: Secrets to Unlocking Your Child’s Potential”. She is also the founder of Figur8.net (a website on parenting, education, child development) and RightBrainChild.com (a website on Right Brain Education, cognitive development, and maximising potentials). In her spare time, she blogs on Forty, Fit & Fed, and Back to Basics.

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