Thursday, March 9, 2017

Therapy Tip: Why Puzzles Are Great for Toddlers

It's Thursday! That means it is time for another tip based upon my experience as a pediatric speech-language pathologist and a mother of a child with special needs. Today's tip is:

Why Puzzles Are Great for Toddlers

I love using puzzles in my speech therapy sessions. One reason why a puzzle is such a great therapy tool is that it targets many skills in different areas of development.

Puzzles work on:
-hand-eye coordination
-problem solving skills
-fine-motor abilities as the child uses their fingers to place pieces in
-vocabulary/concepts as the child can learn these through the subject matter of the puzzle
-memory as the child sifts through the pieces and tries to place them correctly
-task completion since there is a beginning and a definite end to the task
-matching or shape recognition

The cognitive, motor, and language benefits are all there when a toddler is completing a puzzle. The key to success is finding a puzzle that is on the toddler's developmental age. To help you discover where this is...

Here are some things I think about when I am choosing puzzles for toddlers.

-Number of pieces:  The number of pieces is pretty self explanatory. The fewer the pieces; the easier the puzzle will be to complete. I typically start with a puzzle that has 10 pieces or less with a toddler. If a child is closer to 12 months old, I usually start at the chunky 3 piece puzzles.

6 Piece Chunky puzzle from Melissa & Doug with no pegs

-Pegs Versus chunky pieces: Some puzzles have chunky pieces so that the toddler can easily grip the piece. Other puzzles like the one below have a tiny piece of plastic or wood in the center which the child can grasp. The pegs can make the puzzle a little more challenging as the child is forced to use a pincer grasp instead of using their whole hand to manipulate the piece. A word of caution with pegs: I have noticed that some children, especially those with autism, can get too distracted by using the peg to twist and spin the pieces instead of completing the puzzle.
9 Piece Peg Puzzle from Melissa & Doug with Pictures to Match Under the Shape

-Picture cues underneath: Some beginning puzzles have pictures underneath the piece that allows the child to match pictures to complete it. The shape puzzle above is an example of one that helps the child see what piece should go in each spot by providing a picture. Those that do not have pictures underneath are more difficult since the child has to do shape recognition to find the right piece rather than simple picture matching.

Simple Scene Puzzle from Melissa & Doug

-A scene puzzle Versus individual pictures: The shape puzzle (2nd picture above) is an example of a puzzle with one theme but individual pictures. These type of puzzles are much easier than scene based ones. The other two puzzles pictured here are examples of scene based puzzles. These are visually more distracting since the child has to look through and decipher where the piece goes in the scene. The bear puzzle pictured above is a more difficult scene picture because for it to be completed, pieces must be placed in a specific order to make the next one fit.

Overall, puzzles for toddlers can have a range of possibilities and options. Sometimes, parents will buy a puzzle for their child and discover that it is too difficult for them. They may not understand why. I hope by explaining the 4 main things I look at when choosing puzzles, you will be able to select a puzzle that is most appropriate for your child or understand why one puzzle might be harder for your child than another.

All puzzles pictured here can be purchased from School Specialty.

Therapy Thursday is for educational purposes only and not intended as therapeutic advice.

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