Best Wood Puzzles for Toddlers

by Tara_W

How to choose the best wood puzzles for toddlers. Select the best type of wooden puzzle for your toddler's developmental stage that will keep them challenged but not frustrated.

Children go through huge developmental changes between the ages of one and three. Their mental development and dexterity grows astronomically during this time so it is important to choose the best wood puzzles for toddlers in order to keep them challenged and entertained. There are many different types of wooden jigsaw puzzles perfect for every stage of toddler development.

I'm a mom who thoroughly believes in challenging my child and I tend to offer toys geared for slightly older children provided there is no safety hazard. In this article you'll find the progression my toddler has gone through with puzzles and my age recommendations as well as some of our favorite puzzles. These have been chosen to encourage her development, keep her challenged yet not overwhelm her.

I hope this guide helps you to choose the perfect wooden puzzle gift for the toddler in your life.

Intro Photo: Melissa and Doug African Plains 24 Piece Wooden Toddler Puzzle (available for purchase at the end).

Wood Puzzles vs Puzzle Apps

Let me start by saying that my daughter does do puzzles on the iPad and iPhone. But there is a huge difference between doing electronic puzzles and a physical jigsaw puzzle. You cannot substitute the experience of putting together a wooden puzzle with your own two hands.

With an app, your toddler just has to get the puzzle piece in the general area and the app will pop it into place for your child. But with a physical puzzle your toddler has to rotate and manipulate the piece to fit it into place. With jigsaw puzzles there is a three-dimensional element and he or she will have to lift some pieces to slide the tab of another into place. This does so much for the development of a child's fine motor skills. 

Toddler's First Puzzle

Wooden Knob Puzzles

One year olds are learning to use their hands and developing their fine motor skills. Knob puzzles are the perfect first puzzles for them because they are much easier for them to grasp and manipulate than chunky puzzles or jigsaw puzzles. 

The First Shapes puzzle by Melissa and Doug is an excellent beginner puzzle because it helps toddlers learn their shapes and there aren't too many pieces to overwhelm your child.

When your little one has mastered the First Shapes puzzle then they can move on to the Farm Animals wood knob puzzle with eight pieces of varying sizes.

When your toddler can put these types of puzzles together then they are ready for chunky puzzles. 

Chunky Wood Puzzles for Toddlers: The Next Stage

Perfect for toddlers 18 months to 24 months

Although chunky puzzles are listed for toddlers aged two and up you can totally start introducing your child to these puzzles at 18 months (provided the pieces aren't too small). 

Chunky wood puzzles feature puzzle pieces that need to be fitted into their correct slot on the board. There is a picture for each piece in the slot to help aid your toddler. At first this will be a big challenge but your toddler will enjoy matching up the pieces with the correct picture and over time will develop the coordination to rotate the pieces and fit them correctly into place.

Many of the Melissa and Doug chunky puzzle pieces stand up on their own so your child can use them for make believe play as well. 

Cardboard vs Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles for Toddlers?

Both are important for developing skills

I've used a combination of wood and cardboard puzzles for my toddler and I think both are important.

Wood puzzles are generally more durable and can handle more abuse than their cardboard counterparts. But, when you move away from knob and chunky puzzles and graduate to jigsaw puzzles, wooden jigsaw puzzles can be challenging. The reason for this is the way they fit together. They are not quite as snug as a well-made cardboard puzzle and therefore have some 'give' between each piece. This can make it very hard for toddlers new to jigsaw puzzles and they may be easily discouraged thinking they aren't doing it right.

A few well made cardboard jigsaw puzzles are the perfect intermediate step to help toddlers two and up hone their skills, develop coordination and confidence in their abilities.

We bought and loved the ones from Orchard Toys and the Learning Journey. The pieces are nice and thick and fit very well together. We have one of the double sided dinosaur puzzles and it was an excellent learning puzzle for my 2 year old. It was a challenge at first but after a few months it was way too easy and time to move on to the next stage.

Excellent Quality Cardboard Jigsaw Puzzles for Toddlers 2 and Up

Orchard Toys and The Learning Journey Toddler Puzzles
Orchard reversible puzzle toy dinosaur [] Bonerundo (japa...
The Learning Journey My First Puzzle Set 4-In-A-Box! Farm

What to Look For: Best Wood Puzzles for Toddlers

Toddlers Aged 2.5 and Up

Once your little one has mastered the skill of putting together a simple jigsaw puzzle they are up for the next challenge, a more complex wooden puzzle.

The first thing to consider is the number of pieces. The 12 piece puzzles are labelled for kids 3 and up. For a child new to puzzles then this is accurate. But, if your child has been doing puzzles for a while then a 12 piece puzzle will be way too easy. 24 and 48 piece puzzles are perfect and challenging for toddlers 2.5 years and up. They will need some help and encouragement at first but before you know it they will be doing them on their own (and taking great pride in their accomplishment).

The Colors of the Puzzle. It's easy to obsess over the number of pieces per puzzle but I think the number of colors present in the puzzle plays a more important role in determining difficulty. A 24 piece puzzle with a variety of distinct colors separated into different areas will be much easier for a toddler than a 12 piece puzzle with varying shades of the same color.

We've recently purchased the Melissa and Doug 48 piece butterfly puzzle (shown below) for my 2.5 year old and she loves it. She's not yet able to complete it on her own but she enjoys putting it together and it makes for a fun family activity. I bet she'll have this puzzle mastered before she turns three.

Updated: 05/27/2014, Tara_W
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