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Jigsaws: the overlooked friend.

If you’ve ever struggled at times to think of a fun and engaging activity that your child or family can enjoy that is clean, safe and relatively mess-free then it may be time to consider that old friend the jigsaw.

Most of us have probably completed various jigsaws in the course of our lives and many people still find them to be an excellent way to relax and take a little time out from the usual maddening pace of life, but have you ever stopped to consider the host of real benefits a jigsaw can offer?

A jigsaw can be an extremely powerful and important development tool for children even from a very young age and doing jigsaw puzzles can and will actively stimulate and improve cognitive function in a variety of ways. Studies show that children who were encouraged to play with jigsaws in their earliest years showed improved spatial skills compared to their peers and that by the age of five a child who played with jigsaw puzzles on a regular basis would prove much more adept with complex tasks than one who had not.

Jigsaws challenge us to use a far wider range of abilities than most traditional toys and puzzles whilst remaining engaging. They help test spatial awareness, colour recognition and reasoning in terms of whether a piece will fit with those around it as well as testing our motor skills and coordination in manipulating each piece. Logic, deduction and memory are all vital to recognise similar colours or shapes which may fit the relevant space and ultimately perseverance and patience are rewarded with completion, or in simply finding that one piece that seems to make all the rest fall into place.

What other toys or pastimes do we have which offer problem-solving activities, logic puzzles and motor-skills tests that can be so enjoyable?

Another excellent benefit of jigsaws is that they stimulate the imaginative and creative parts of the brain so as well as more practical applications they are considered to be great for developing children’s artistic and aesthetic abilities.

We also tend to overlook the fact that jigsaws make a great family activity, particularly for younger children. As parents we should be actively encouraging youngsters to work either with us or with siblings and other family members to complete a jigsaw puzzle as this promotes cooperation and the development of social interaction which can be key skills in shaping our child’s early development and giving them the platform they need for the future.

Jigsaws also inherently encourage our children to follow this basic learning cycle:

This cycle is accepted as a key framework for development both with teachers and businesses. Our child is using each of the above processes in sequence from the moment they pick up the first piece of a jigsaw puzzle, and by the time they reach school age and then subsequently move on into adulthood it is a cycle they will have become familiar and comfortable with.

We generally view a jigsaw as simply another from of play, yet there are very few other forms of play which are as progressive or can actively develop so many fundamental skills that can be carried forward for the remainder of our child’s lives.

As parents we all appreciate that learning needs to be fun to be truly effective. A child will naturally be more interested in a jigsaw which contains subject matter that appeals to him or her, but it is equally important to ensure the jigsaw offers the right level of challenge. Whilst most jigsaws for children carry an age guide these can be very general and children develop at differing rates so we need to ensure that the jigsaw puzzle is sufficiently taxing to bring a real sense of achievement on completion, but not so hard as to cause the child to discard it in frustration. To this end there are jigsaws available which cater to almost every taste and ability level, you can even get customised versions made using your own pictures in some cases.

Jigsaws can also be beneficial to a child’s general well-being (and ours!) allowing them a period of quiet and relaxation in what can be a busy and confusing world at times. With that in mind it is important to help them only if it is clear that they want you to do so as nothing spoils an activity more for a child than having a meddling adult stealing their fun!

That said, children do love to copy those around them and much of what they learn in their formative years comes from such mimicry and through shared experience. Completing jigsaws together is an excellent opportunity for some gentle social interaction and one-on- one or family time and in this day and age we should grab such opportunities with both hands!

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