How to Choose Jigsaw Puzzles for Toddlers

by SusanM

Do you know how to choose the right jigsaw puzzle for a toddler?

Jigsaw puzzles are excellent to help teach your child thinking and problem solving skills. But when we think of buying a jigsaw puzzle for a child we instantly think of the ones for preschool or school age children.

But how do you pick the right jigsaw puzzle for a toddler?

First Jigsaw Puzzles for Toddlers

When we think of a jigsaw puzzle we think of ones with classic jigsaw pieces. But these flat pieces can be tricky to pick up and move into place for little kids.

Toddlers don't have the coordination to use jigsaw pieces like this yet. So a classic jigsaw puzzle at this age can be frustrating for your  toddler. Toys that are frustrating to move around are usually left in the toy box unused. Your toddler needs a little help to make the pieces easy to pick up and put into place. This means jigsaw pieces with knobs to hold are best for any first jigsaw puzzle. 

The number of pieces in the jigsaw is also important. For an adult or older child a 24 piece jigsaw puzzle might not seem hard. But it would be too hard for a toddler. Puzzles with only a few pieces are best for your toddler.

Picture: Barnyard Animals Jumbo Knob Puzzle - available at Amazon

How Many Pieces?

The very first jigsaw needs to have only 3 or 4 pieces. Then your toddler will be able to focus on the concept of problem solving. Being able to focus will help them learn quicker than with a harder puzzle. Once they know what is to be done you can move on to harder puzzles. But it's best if the next puzzles you give them have between 5 and 8 pieces. These are best for toddlers because they are well suited to a toddler's shorter attention span. 

Exactly how many pieces should the puzzles have? This depends on your toddler. Some might do best with a challenge (so 8 pieces). Some might like something that helps them to focus more (so 5 pieces). Other toddlers might do best with a mixture making it best have a collection of different jigsaw puzzles with 5, 6, 7 and 8 pieces. This means it's you'll need to watch how your toddler plays with jigsaw puzzles so you know if the ones they have are too hard and frustrating, too easy or just right. 

Touch and Feel Jigsaw Puzzles are good for "whole child" learning because they engage your toddler through feeling, thinking and looking more than other puzzles.

Any Touch and Feel Jigsaw Puzzle you buy should have either knobs or raised pieces to make them easy to hold and put into place. 

Because they generally have 5 pieces they are also best for the second style of puzzle you give your toddler. At the time when they are ready for puzzles harder than the very first 3 piece jigsaw puzzles.

Good Harder Puzzle for Toddlers

This farm puzzle is a good example of a harder puzzle for your toddler.

It has the maximum number of pieces for a toddler puzzle. The puzzle is bright and fun looking. The pieces are also easy to pick up and put into place with knobs to grab. 

"Bigger and Smaller" Puzzles

Your toddler learns about the world by "doing" and "playing". This means progression jigsaw puzzles are a good way to teach your toddler about size. Not only about the idea of big and small. But also about small, smaller, smallest and big, bigger and biggest.

This gives them a good start to understanding more difficult math ideas later on. 

(These also have knobs to make them easy for your toddler to play with.)

The Step Before Classic Puzzles

The next step in jigsaw puzzles are the ones with two classic style pieces. This type of jigsaw puzzle is for older toddlers (nearly preschoolers) who have had lots of playtime with the first and second toddler puzzle styles. 

So why are these jigsaw puzzles hard for toddlers? 

1. They are in the classic style. So they have flat pieces that don't have knobs. This means they are trickier to fit together. 

2. There is no jigsaw puzzle board for the pieces to fit into. This means there are no hints your toddler can use. (That shaped space in jigsaw puzzle boards help guide your toddler into working out what piece goes where. They are also the easiest for coordination than putting to classic jigsaw puzzle pieces together.) All the first and second style puzzle have puzzles boards to make them good for young toddlers. 

3. These puzzles need more logical thinking. Rather than needing to think "What shape do I need to fit into this hole?" your toddler needs to think "What does the tail of a monkey look like?" or "What sort of head goes with this tail?". This is more advanced problem solving.

So when picking this type of puzzle look for ones like the two I've featured here. They are both  collections of easy puzzles that only have two puzzle pieces that your toddler needs to fit together. Like a monkey head with monkey tail. 

Some children will not be ready for easy floor puzzles until they are in preschool. Floor puzzles are better to give before more classic puzzles because they have big pieces. This means your child will find it easier to fit all those jigsaw puzzle pieces together. 

This pig puzzle is a good choice for a first floor puzzle. But your toddler will probably need some grown up help to put this together the first few times. 

More Good Puzzles for Toddlers

Don't forget about these 3D puzzles for your toddler. Egg-Shape Sorters are a classic toy. I remember them from my own childhood. They help with learning about colors, shapes and logical thinking. 

Block puzzles are also good but are tricky for toddlers. So it's usually best to leave these until they have had some experience with 5 piece puzzles. 

Updated: 09/02/2012, SusanM
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