If you are looking for a way to challenge your child's critical and logical thinking muscles and fine tune motor skills, try a puzzle. A study from researchers at the University of Chicago found that young children that play with puzzles have better spatial skills (understanding the relationships between physical shapes and forms) then those who don't. When purchasing a puzzle game, remember that you want to challenge your child, not frustrate them. Don't start off with a 100-piece puzzle just because it features a character your preschooler likes. Start small and build up gradually.
This five-layer puzzle features 29 pieces, all detailing various parts and systems of the human body. The puzzles start with a fully-clothed boy or girl and works down through the body with layers featuring skin, muscles, organs and finally a skeleton. The puzzle does a great job of taking a difficult-to-understand subject and presenting it in a way so young children will comprehend fully. It is particularly useful if your child has ever suffered an injury -- with this puzzle you will be able to help them understand what exactly got hurt and where in their body it is located.
Even if your preschooler isn't reading yet, they can still benefit from being introduced to basic sight words. With this puzzle from Melissa & Doug, little ones can practice putting together the letters of 20 three-and-four-letter words. By matching the words to the pictures, your child will get visual reinforcement of what the word should look like and help them figure out letter sounds. As your child gets more adept at completing the puzzle (fine motor skills) put the words together to make basic sentences.
A great way to help your child build their ever-growing vocabulary and practice their burgeoning speech skills is to work on sequencing or proper, logical order. With these 14 three-piece puzzles, your child has to figure out comes first, second and last in a series of events -- the pieces will only fit if the answer is correct. No reading required, but they are a great for pre-readers who can learn about the basic elements of storytelling.
The concept of time can be a difficult one for a small child to understand. This puzzle from Educo helps teach little ones about time from the perspective of hours and minutes in a very basic format. Even if your preschooler doesn't start telling and understand time for a few years (generally around age six), the puzzle will set the stage, helping them to learn about the sequence of the numbers, the two hands of a clock and the basic layout.
While most puzzles have definitive places where the pieces need to go, this Mix & Match puzzle from P'kolino lets kids change how the puzzle looks each time they put it together. Free form play like this encourages both logical and creative thinking -- while there is some choice involved with putting the pieces down, there needs to be an understanding of how everything fits together so they can go together properly. The colors on these puzzles (similar ones include bugs and robots) are bright and visually pleasing, it's something they'll want to play with again and again.
This 50-piece puzzle from Learning Journey is dual-sided, allowing twice the fun and learning. First, kids can put together a puzzle featuring a full-color alphabet. On the other side is a black-and-white version, complete with crayons that encourage preschoolers to color, write and complete the activities.
This 30-piece puzzle from Infantino asks kids to match number and shapes to a train car. With so many things to look for and do, this puzzle is great for developing number recognition, counting and shape sorting. It can be slightly complex making younger preschoolers feel frustrated, but with a little help from a grown-up, it should be fine. The pictures are interesting to look at -- it's likely your child will find something new every time she completes it.