Puzzles: Why Old-Fashioned Toys Never Go Out of Style

Filed under: Activities: Toddlers & Preschoolers, Activities: Big Kids

Sleepy days spent indoors: All parents who stay home with their children know these days well. Cabin Fever is right here, right now. Deep in the clutches of winter. We're snowed in, our senses dulled by lack of sunlight, our motivation to burst into the outdoors hampered by the many steps escape requires: the boots, the lost mitten, the child lying on the floor refusing to move, the sibling stepping upon her hand, the last-minute emergency diaper change, the potty-trainer who won't go until he's zipped into his snowsuit, and on and on and on.

Not every day is a sleepy day, mind you. We're going skating tomorrow, sledding the next day. But today? Today we're staying in.

Truth be told, the sleepy day indoors can be -- for all participants, though perhaps most acutely for the grownups -- maddening, dull, lonely, crabby; but within the slow hush of its hours, there is also room and time to do activities that are almost old-fashioned in their pace and simplicity.

Take puzzles, for example.

Infants excepted, virtually any age can do a puzzle. For the smallest hands, there are wooden puzzles with large pieces that fit into a grooved board. There are 3D puzzles made of wood or pliable plastic. Fans of unicorns, race cars, and forest animals can find puzzles featuring their favourite subject, in all sizes and degrees of difficulty.
But there's more to puzzling than meets the eye.

One winter, my two eldest children and I put together the same 100-piece puzzle over and over and over again. We never did it more than once a day, but we often did it every day during the same week. This could take us the better part of an hour. The puzzle had been found at a secondhand store, and featured Donald and Daisy Duck, Goofy, and other cartoon characters dressed up as cowboys and cowgirls. Yup, it was corny.

My children were then aged two and three. We would clear a space on the wood floor in our living-room, dump out the box, set up the picture as a reference, and share out the pieces. Each of us had a task: a particular section we would work on. If we found a piece that belonged to someone else's portion, we passed it on. This prevented the inevitable grabbing and wailing that accompanies toddlers-forced-to-share. Slowly but surely, the familiar picture would emerge, until, finally, we would slide together the separate parts to make the whole.

Now, I learned several unexpected things from this exercise. I learned that children as young as two and three can focus deeply for sustained periods of time, if given a task that is simultaneously challenging and do-able. I learned that play teaches children how to work together--with appropriate adult guidance.

And I learned that my children were twice as patient as I was.

This last lesson was perhaps the hardest. My two-year-old could take a puzzle piece and attempt to place it, here, there, turning it, trying again; inside I was squirming. My fingers itched to show her: Here! Like this! And though sometimes I couldn't resist, and sometimes my expertise was called upon, more often than not, the child figured it out on her own. And what satisfaction that brought!

In a sense, doing a puzzle is a form of meditation. It busies the hands and occupies the mind without taxing either. It is an activity that can wait for a quiet moment. There is nothing urgent about it. It lends itself well to teamwork, yet it is also an individual pursuit. It soothes. Time passes.

So on your next sleepy day indoors, why not put together a few pieces? What you'll make might surprise you, too.

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AdviceMama Says:
Start by teaching him that it is safe to do so.