Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ravensburger Jigsaw Puzzles: Clearly Defined Goals Make Working Together Easier

This play led to a lot of talk about past and future vacations.

WHAT: Ravensburger Jigsaw Puzzles
DOES: Allows kids to work together towards a clearly-defined end goal, allows for conversations about themes on your puzzles, wide arrange of themes can motivate varied interests of both boys and girls of different ages.
INVEST: 35-piece puzzle usually costs $9.99, larger puzzles are more expensive.  pictured: Busy Airport $7-$10
TOOLS: Social Scene Helper, Foment Love of Language, People are People

If you haven't noticed, we like open-ended toys here.  Open-ended toys are great because in a sense, you basically have a different toy each time you play with them.

But what about toys that are not open-ended?  What about toys where the end is always the same? Are they ever any fun?

A great example of something that is not open-ended is the jigsaw puzzle.  They are definitely considered to be fun so I am a bit confused.

Actually, I never liked them when I was young.  To me, everything about them said "If you can do this, then you're smart.  If you can't, then you're not."

So what did I do?  I never went near them.

But they are enticing and when you become a parent, one of the first "toys" you buy for them around their 1st birthday is a wooden puzzle of some sort.

Boy, did Number 1 love his wooden puzzles.  He loved shape sorters.  He loved stacking rings.  He loved all those wooden puzzles where you stacked in accordance to the shapes or colors.  We moved onto jigsaw puzzles too. He loved all of them and so did I.   I didn't quite know what the educational value of these toys were but don't they look like brain builders to any new parent?

But sometime later, we stopped doing jigsaw puzzles.  As we got into larger puzzles past 24 pieces, they were no longer that interesting to both of us.  They seemed expensive too.  Why invest $10 - 20 for a puzzle when I can just buy this box of K'nex for the same amount of money?  Open-ended toys win again.

Then comes along Number 2.   He is very creative but not a lover of open-ended toys yet (I'm still workin' on it).   But his favorite song is still the "Play with me, Mom" and he puts it on repeat so often. It drives me crazy.  I really wanted him to play by himself but it was hard to find something to satisfy and occupy him.

So I put on my thinking cap.... what does Number 2 like to do?  I remembered that when he was a bit younger, he really liked jigsaw puzzles.  He played with them over and over again.  He was good about dumping them out, putting the pieces together, finishing it, and then taking it apart to store and play another day.  How different is he from the tornado that is Number 1?  Anyway, I decided that I would have to try at another puzzle.  Theme would be important.  It would have to have a few more pieces than the 24 piece puzzles that he was used to so I bought a Ravensburger 35-piece Thomas the Tank Engine puzzle.

It was perfect.  He thought it was the coolest thing.  I had successfully ended the "Play with Me" song.

These puzzles are of very high quality.  This Thomas the Tank Engine puzzle has been played with dozens of times.

Have you ever seen a Ravensburger puzzle?  They are not wooden but they are pretty stiff.  It looks like it is made of paper and the picture is coated with something.   I dare say that they hold up better than some of the wooden puzzles I've purchased because the pictures on the pieces are very well protected.  On many wooden jigsaw puzzles, the pictures are the first to fade.

Let Your Child Determine the Difficulty

Either way, Number 2 started to get really into them and I was starting to think that he was a little puzzle genius. So I bought more puzzles with even more pieces.  But soon afterwards, I think I overwhelmed him because by the time he got to 100 pieces (he was four), he just sort of gave me this look that said, "No more puzzles."

"If a child is overwhelmed by a puzzle then you should use cues and prompts to ensure the child's success." said Claudia Hasbun, a pediatric occupational therapist and owner of P.E.D.S., a pediatric therapeutic center in New York City. "This will make a positive memory for the child of the toy and they will be more likely to play with it in the future."

Whoops.  I forgot to do that.  I got so caught up in hoping that my child was an amazing puzzle genius but all I managed to do was to turn my kid off.

"Never show frustration or disappointment if your child struggles and always make suggestions or prompt them to ask for help," said Claudia.

Suggestions? I could make suggestions?  That is not cheating?  I guess you can teach skills. (duh, what is wrong with me?) I probably didn't do enough of that when he was struggling.  Wait, maybe I did.  I did tell him to move on if he couldn't find a piece.  I think I told him to find the borders first as well.   I think I also told him to group colors together.  I think I did.  Did I?

Puzzles: Social Play Made Easy? 

So I pulled out our puzzles again and this time, I decided to get in there with him and solve it together.  Soon I realized something really important: Puzzles are surprisingly social.  I always thought puzzles were something done by just one person.

However, I find that puzzles can be easy play for a small group of kids because everyone knows what the end result is supposed to be.  That means everyone is working towards one goal.  (sounds like corporate talk, doesn't it?)  Either way, the clearly defined end of a puzzle makes it so that there is less room for questions for kids who have lots of questions in their heads when they are with new people or doing something a little scary. (ie. What if they leave? What if they want to take it? What if I don't win? What if I mess up?)

Here is another example of something not open-ended and clearly defined: Walk into a room with white walls and give three shy kids paint rollers of the same color and tell them that the work is finished when there is no more white.  It's fun because the hard part is not painting, the hard part is working together in a group but with a well-defined goal, working together can become easier.

It was so much easier and more fun when I sat down and really started getting involved.  Claudia also advised that a parent can make it less overwhelming by giving the child one piece at a time or to cover some of the pieces.  I chose to help him by teaching him how to clump certain colors together or by doing the edges first.

Themes Are Everything

Additionally, we were able to bring out a lot of interesting conversations about the pictures on the puzzles.  I loved our airport puzzle.  There were so many different jobs depicted on the puzzle.  It kind of put the a lot of what happens at an airport all in perspective.  We need more perspective here.  I find that having good perspective can really combat impatience.  This thought also led me to thinking about how books are used to introduce new ideas to kids. ie. Your New Baby Brother, You're Going to Kindergarten, Bullying Hurts etc..   I think puzzles could work great in this department.  For some, it could be so much easier to talk while solving a puzzle.  Where is the I'm-a-Big-Boy-Now-Potty Puzzle?

Another thing that I didn't realize was that I myself would have a lot of fun and that perhaps I should be solving puzzles next to them while my kids are solving their own.  I am currently looking for my own puzzle now.  I am not sure if I should get a 200, 300, or 500 piece.  I don't think I have ever solved anything over 100 pieces.  I really want to do a 1,000 piece puzzle someday.  My brain needs to stay in shape.

Still, whether or not I get my own puzzle, what is important to remember is that my kids have fun solving puzzles with me and they also have fun solving puzzles with each other.  It is really helpful that Ravensburger has such a wide array of themes so that my son will find motivation to complete something a bit daunting. He will find pleasure as he sees the picture become more defined.   I even love the little snap that you get everytime you match two pieces together.  It's so satisfying.  Even more satisfying is that I feel like I've really found some great puzzles that can stand up to the sweaty hands and the fleeting fancies of two very active boys.

Come back soon when we discuss more about jigsaws and how it might help kids gear up their skills for future squabbles in the conference room.

Read Part 2 About Ravensburger's Puzzles: Here
Read My Additional Note showing one of my favorite puzzles: Here

Disclosure statement: Toys are Tools has not been compensated in any fashion by the manufacturer or retailer of any of the mentioned products for the publication of this post.  


  1. I like the 24 piece Melissa and Doug Puzzles (pretty sturdy too).

    I've found that strategy is a tough thing to teach my child, but it is all about problem solving.

    First we start with corners, and finding the pieces with right angles. Then we move to perimeter pieces with straight edges on one side. Then we move to like colors/patterns.

    I hope that teaching him strategy will carry over to other challenging tasks later... We'll see....

  2. The nice thing is that the enjoyment of jigsaw puzzles will carry on all through life. You may want to try our laser cut wooden jigsaw puzzles with whimsy pieces. Great fun and whimsy pieces are a nice surprise. gnomeworkspuzzles.com