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Sunday, July 7, 2013

How Puzzles Teach Key Learning Skills

Puzzles are a great way to improve fine motor skills and enhance focus in our children. I've watched both my sons be motivated to complete puzzles - in an ever-increasingly independent capacity - with success and happiness. Whether at home with your own children or in a school-setting as an educator, try incorporating puzzles as a way of providing yet another authentic learning opportunity that will play on the kinesthetic/tactile learning skill sets.

Here's how to get started:

1. Choose a puzzle that you feel is just a little out of reach for your child. You should already have a good idea what they can handle - when it comes to an independent task and managing their level of attention - and aim just a little 'higher.'

2. Avoid the urge to jump in and help them with the puzzle when they're stuck. They will prevail and learn much more from the struggle and problem-solving skills, then the realization that you will step in whenever things become difficult.

3. Know when your support is genuinely needed. Now, in the previous tip, my intention is not to abandon the child in their greatest time of need. In fact, doing this will almost certainly lead to a complete 'shut down' and no chance of puzzles ever catching on as a 'fun' thing to do. Rather, gauge when the need for support and your collaborative efforts is required. By intervening at the right time, you are providing the scaffolding needed as an opportunity to develop their skills and comfort through the 'balanced model' of learning you are using (model=>shared=>guided=>independent).

4. Celebrate the finished product. Focus all your positive attention and energy on them when they triumphantly place that final piece and announce to the room that they did it! Take pictures, show other family members or classmates and showcase their incredible effort and success. This is their moment to shine!

5. Re-frame the puzzle challenge with a new twist. "Ok. Now that we know you can do this puzzle. How can you put it together this time, so it gets finished faster?" 

  • What about starting with the outside border first? 
  • What about starting by turning over all the pieces first, so they face up? 
  • What if you chose the biggest objects in the puzzle and put them together first? 
  • What if you chose a colour to begin with and only pieced together those pieces?
By having this guided conversation, you are modeling problem-solving strategies, goal setting, and possibly even, fostering meta-cognitive awareness.

At any rate, puzzles are a great way to reach children of all abilities in a way that supports independence and can help in the building of a positive self-concept. Your children, or even students, will love the opportunity to show their stuff and be successful.

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