Puzzles and games are entertaining ways to teach kids basic skills such as matching, visual discrimination, vocabulary and beginning reading. Here are several skill-strengthening puzzles for children at every stage of early development.
Toddler: 1–3 years
Chunky wooden puzzles
These simple, wooden puzzles come in themes ranging from farm animals to cars and trucks to basic shapes. The thick pieces are perfect for small hands and fit into matching spaces on fun, colorful boards. The pieces often are designed to stand upright for additional play. These fun games are perfect starter puzzles for toddlers.
Progressive collage puzzles
Progressive puzzle sets include multiple puzzles with three, four, five and six pieces. When assembled, the puzzles form familiar objects such as fruits or veggies. As your toddler masters the three-piece puzzle she can move on to the more challenging four-piece and five-piece puzzles. The individual pieces are durable and large enough to be easily manipulated. Look for sets made with kid-safe materials such as vegetable-based inks or paints.
Preschooler: 4–6 years
These fun and challenging puzzles are completed by arranging blocks to create recognizable images such as vehicles, sea animals, or pets. Each puzzle is six puzzles in one, with a different image for each side of the cubes.
Picture matching games
These games are excellent for vocabulary and beginner reading. By matching cards — one with an image of an object and a word, its mate with a scene containing the same object — kids learn to decipher words based on the associated pictures. With varying levels of difficulty, and whimsical pictures, picture matching games are fun and educational for beginners or more advanced players.
School-age: 6–13 years
Classic jigsaw Puzzles
Once children have reached school age, they may be ready for more advanced interlocking puzzles with more pieces. Look for 50- or 60-piece puzzles that create pictures tuned to your child’s interests. Sports, fairy tales and cartoon characters are all popular themes.
United States map puzzle
A fun way for kids to learn basic geography, map puzzles develop matching and fine motor skills, and, depending on the puzzle, can also develop vocabulary. Association is reinforced with pictures of popular landmarks or attributes for each state, such as the Golden Gate Bridge for California or a cowboy boot for Texas. For a more interactive experience, find a puzzle that will say aloud the names of the states and their capitals.
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