By Michelle Mady
There are so many wonderful toys for infants and toddlers. Toys come in every color pattern with every noise imaginable. Characters of various shows are featured on toy cameras, luggage and dolls. But the absolute best toy for children under three is a lot less flashy than you would think and easier to get your hands on than the newest house or castle that you need an alert for the “in stock” status. It’s a good old-fashioned chunky-piece puzzle.
Chunky puzzles are one of the best toys a toddler can get. They allow for learning in so many areas and are just plain fun. It’s a toy that has been around for a long time, and although there are slight updates and changes, the educational value has only increased. And the joyful squeal when the piece finally slides in? Priceless.
Chunky puzzles are one of the best toys a toddler can get. They allow for learning in so many areas and are just plain fun.
Now, we know how important skill building is in children as they develop. Did you know that this simple toy is key to building a foundation for later academic learning? Let’s break it down.
The hand-eye coordination needed to put the piece in the desired space (even if it isn’t the right space) is essential in building spatial awareness. This skill is necessary to know where objects are in space as well as their movement. When children have a strong sense of spatial awareness, they are able to navigate the world safely, including climbing stairs, walking on the sidewalk and navigating playgrounds.
How about the visual perception of matching the pictures? Good chunky puzzles mirror the picture on the puzzle piece as well as on the board. They also start to see slight differences, for example, if a piece is upside down or two of the same colored fish have different fins. Visual perception skills are necessary for reading and making inferences in picture books. It’s also the foundational skill of reading and keeping place in a book.
Speaking of books, chunky puzzles work some core muscles needed for writing. When children pick up a puzzle piece with their thumb and pointer finger, they are working the same muscles needed to properly grip a pencil. Although we know that the hands are not developed enough for writing until ages 4 or 5, strengthening these muscles early will make that process easier later on.
When pieces are flipped or turned a certain way, it takes some problem solving to get the orientation right - especially for toddlers. However, this process of seeing objects and being able to manipulate them to complete a puzzle is a precursor to strong math and science skills. Trial and error, testing theories and making inferences are all needed for a strong STEM understanding.
Overall, there are so many wonderful toys for toddlers, but if you are looking for a great learning toy that can also bring giggles and joy, chunky puzzles are the first that should be added to your cart.
About the author: Michelle is a mom of 5 children ranging in age from 5 to 15. As a toddler and preschool teacher, she shares experiences, activities and guidance to other parents, as both a parent and as a professional early childhood educator, at any stage of their parenting journey.