First Puzzles for a Child under Two Years

pictrue of galison mudpuppy zip and zoom puzzle boxpicture of Galisson Mudpuppy First Puzzles, Baby Animals

  • First Puzzles

I got these jigsaw puzzles for Amie when she was about 16 months old (they are the Galison Mudpuppy First Puzzles). Each puzzle (of which there are 4 to a box) contains 4 pieces that are sturdy and large enough for little hands, and their fit is just tight and forgiving enough so that the pieces won’t come undone but aren’t too difficult to assemble either.

  • Touch first

The pieces are all very different in shape and size, so each fit is unique. That’s necessary for very young children, who solve puzzles like these as much on touch as by visual experience.

In fact, after some practice, Amie started putting them together purely by how well they fit – so she could have solved them blank face up. She got the hang of how tight the fit should be. Too loose: it’s the wrong piece, on to the next one.

What I like most about these particular puzzles is that some of them have a little extra difficulty: you can only attach the giraffe’s head to its rump (the biggest piece) if you attach the neck piece first – it’s just a little added challenge.

  • Visuals second

Next, I think, she started looking at the pieces, but not at the image of the animal or vehicle. I believe what she looked for was the shape, the outline of the piece, and how that would fit the other piece. So she wasn’t looking at the picture, and would still frequently try to fit the giraffe’s head straight onto its body, foregoing the neck, simply because by their outlines, those two pieces seemed to fit.

  • Memory last

In the next stage, visual memory kicked in and she could just do one of those puzzles in 1 minute. In the following video you can see her solve both boxes, 8 puzzles, one after the other (it’s sped up to two times the speed: she wasn’t that fast!). This was in February 2007, when she was 18 months old:

You can see the same issues at work in this Youtube video of a 19-month-old solving a larger jigsaw puzzle.

As for Amie, I believe she solved these puzzles so easily and so fast because she had simply memorized them. It was time to move on to the next thing.

  • Encouraging the visual

The next two puzzles were less challenging for her motor control (peg puzzles) but more challenging for her visual recognition skills. They were two Melissa and Doug Mix ‘n Match peg puzzles (*):

picture of a Melissa and Doug Mix and Match puzzle picture of Melissa and Doug Mix n Match Zoo peg puzzle

The trick with these is that all the pieces – basically the animals’ hindquarters – are the same shape and size. The only thing that distinguishes them and link them to the right animals on the board is the pattern.

She immediately did each of them, no problem. Soon she did both puzzles – 16 pieces, 2 boards – in one go. So she had grasped the need for visually approaching these puzzles.

Still, she had a lot more trouble when these two kinds of puzzle were combined: jigsaw (not fit in) puzzles with same-shape pieces. I think she couldn’t yet combine the tactile (more motor-control demanding pieces) and the purely visual (i.e., looking at the image on the piece, not the shape) in one game.

  • New ways of playing old games

Then we lost track of the puzzles for a while. She just wasn’t very interested in them anymore. She had played them to bits, bumped up against the limits of her puzzling capabilities (and what was the use of pushing her?),  and was eager to move on to drawing and pretend play.

Just a week ago I gave her the old First Puzzles, the ones you see her solve with such ease in the video. She hadn’t seen them in 4 months, so I doubt she remembered them. She can’t make them so easily anymore, and some of the puzzles truly stump her. Something happened in her brain: in the intervening months it got, literally, rewired, and she will have to find new ways of approaching old puzzles.

(*) as always, I only include links to for information: if you can, please buy local.

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Want an update on Amie’s puzzling at 24 months? Read here.

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