How To Do a Puzzle: 4 Puzzle Tricks for Kids

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We received a collection of great books from Barefoot Books to review within the EverythingMom Kid’s Book Review section. I love Barefoot Books for it’s cultural stories and colourful illustrations. One of the items sent along was the Port Side Pirates! 2 In A Box puzzles. I thought what fun for my 4-year old. The box came with two puzzles: a 12-piece larger shaped puzzle and a 24-piece slightly smaller shaped puzzle.

While working in the office I opened one of the puzzles (the 24-piece one) and let my daughter work on it. Having done many preschool puzzles before and even some larger floor puzzles, I felt pretty confident my daughter knew how to do a puzzle.  I thought this would be fun for her.

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Ten-minutes into doing her puzzle she decided she was done. She was only able to put two pieces together and found the whole puzzle too hard to complete. Then I realized perhaps she needed help, perhaps she didn’t know how to do a puzzle after all. Without helping my daughter do the actual puzzle, as I knew she could do this on her own, I instead helped her understand how to do a puzzle or rather how I do a puzzle.

I love doing puzzles. When I get started it can sometimes be hard to stop. I have one of those puzzle mats to store larger puzzles on when I’m not finished but can’t leave it lying on the dining table either. I think I like doing puzzles because of a few tricks I use to help me. I have a short attention span too which seems like a bit of a contradiction when it comes to my love of puzzling. My short attention span is more about when things don’t progress. If I feel I’m progressing with a puzzle, getting elements of it put together, I can sit at it for hours.

So maybe my daughter just needed to learn some of these tricks:

  1. Separate the edge pieces from the inside pieces. This enables me to build the frame of the puzzle first. The number of pieces for the frame are less than the pieces used within the inside of the puzzle. Plus, I like to know the space I’m working within for my puzzle.
  2. Use the box image as a reference. Some people just blindly try to build a puzzle based on how pieces go together; I need a visual reference. A large sky on a puzzle can seem intimidating but elements within that sky (colour changes, clouds, birds) can you to break it down and work on these elements that stand out. Then you can fill in the sky around it. Looking at the box art also tells you where elements go within your puzzle border.
  3. Group like colours or elements. If a puzzle has a red boat, collect all those pieces together in a pile. If the puzzle has a blue sky, collect all of those pieces in one area. This goes for all major elements within a puzzle. With most of the pieces for the red boat in one area, I can now focus on building that one element. Then using the box art, I can see where that element fits within the whole puzzle.
  4. Work in chunks. Sometimes looking at all of the pieces of a puzzle can seem overwhelming. Instead, look at the puzzle in chunks: the red boat, the palm trees, the birds on the fence. Grouping like elements, as mentioned in point 3, makes it easier to build these smaller pieces. So instead of working on a large puzzle you’re actually working on a bunch of little puzzles (great for my short attention span too). With all my little inside puzzles together then all I have to do is fill in the surrounding pieces to pull the whole puzzle together.

I agree, these steps aren’t earth shattering, many seem kind of obvious, but to a four-year old they might not be. After I walked her through some of these tricks she was able to do the puzzle on her own, the one she said was too hard, in a short period of time. Feeling confident with her puzzle skills, she tacked the second puzzle without my assistance at all.

Some skills we have learned, like how to do a puzzle, might be more of a habit, something we do without really thinking about it too much. But our kids have yet to learn these skills or figure out tricks to improve them. Sometimes they learn through trial and error but sometimes getting guidance from someone who has done it before can be just as helpful, if not more helpful.

Now that my daughter knows how to do a puzzle, maybe she can help me on that 2000 piece Christmas puzzle sitting in my puzzle tube. Okay, maybe we’ll start off a little smaller. What tricks do you use to help you put a puzzle together?

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