In our previous article, we talked about the benefits of puzzles and the types of puzzles to choose from. Now let’s be practical and talk about how to teach concepts with them!
HOW TO TEACH?
How do we teach a child how to solve a puzzle? We went through some speech therapists, occupational therapist, homeschooling and Montessori style articles and extracted some ideas. We’ll also be referencing back to the same article in HubPages.
Non-connecting puzzles with just 2 – 4 pieces are good for kids at a developmental milestone or age of 0 to 24 months. The ones with big pegs are good for gripping for players with not so good fine motors skills, so the child can focus on the matching activity without getting too discouraged.
It is recommended to progress to puzzles with more pieces after they have mastered the smaller ones. When first working on bigger puzzles, present a few pieces at a time. Let them play with those pieces and figure out the pictures first before attempting to match.
For alphabet or number puzzles, it is also a chance to work on letter or number recognition and speech (sounds of consonants and vowels). Separate the pieces by rows and present them one row at a time.
Connecting puzzles are more complex and can feel like a leap from their non- connecting counterparts. They require far more advanced perceptual skills. Most of them do not have reference pictures and therefore require the child to either work on memory or on logic, which they clearly have not fully developed yet. A tip that Rose Mary shared was to trace the pieces on the board or keep a notebook of pictures of the finished puzzles. Heidi Song suggests writing the numbers behind each piece and on the board itself. How simple and smart these suggestions are!
Interconnecting puzzles are typically jigsaw puzzles. If your child does not have the focus for a bigger puzzle or you do not have enough time, simply get your child to work on small sections of the puzzle at a time.
OT mom here has 2 methods of working with puzzles. One is to work on the borders first. The other is to group similar pieces together like what Rose Mary did here.
With jigsaw puzzles, you might have to spend a fair amount of time setting up. Make sure all puzzles pieces are faced up before starting the game with your child. This will help children with limited patience who may lose interest if parents take too long setting up. Another method is to involve them in the set up by getting them to help flip over the pieces that are facing down.
It is also useful to note that, before starting a puzzle, it is good to lay down some rules so that children can benefit from the session. For jigsaw, we should encourage children to take a good look at the completed puzzle before taking the puzzle apart. We should also remind the child to work on one puzzle first before moving to the next to avoid distraction or getting pieces mixed up.
WHAT ELSE TO THINK ABOUT?
A Special Purposed Life, a pediatric speech therapist blogger, walks us through what to think about when buying puzzles. Depending on their stage of development, one can choose puzzles based on the speech goals we want to achieve for them.
For instance, if your child is working on single words, use puzzles that have animals, vehicles, fruits and so on and work on words like animals sounds (‘moo’ for cows, ‘baa’ for sheep, ‘beep-beep’ for cars, etc). Every time they respond to the sound, be it mimic or mouth the word, reward them with the piece and guide them to put it in the right location. Other words they can learn are verbs and preposition such as ‘go’, ‘move’, ‘in’, ‘put’, etc. (We will, in future, include a list of sounds you can make for each type of object.)
If they are working on two words or more, you can say things like ‘I want dog’ or ‘I want the dog’, ‘Find the truck’, etc. You can even find puzzles to teach colours and sentence structure at the same time by saying ‘I want red bear’, ‘I want blue bear’, etc
Are they working on a particular consonant sound such as /b/, /p/? You can use alphabet puzzles to work on these sounds by applying the same technique as used for the animal puzzle. Or you can reuse the transportation puzzle, by presenting a boat for the /p/ sound. This was what we learnt at AVT: say /p-p-p/ and when the child responds, present the boat. Let the child play with it for a while and get him or her to place it in. If the child does not respond, present the boat anyway after the third articulation. If using the alphabet puzzle, do not attempt all letters at one sitting.
It is important to note that puzzles with sounds might not be recommended for training speech as it can be distracting and the human voice is after all better than mechanical sounds. However, for the purpose of occupational therapy, it can be something fun and more attractive to a child with ASD, for instance.
Additional tips: for families who are bilingual, allocate one language to one parent. Play the same puzzles in the same manner but with both languages at separate sessions. This introduces variety so the child can familiarise herself or himself with concepts without getting bored. Also, the consistency helps the child be effectively bilingual as he or she has a good learning model for both languages. At the same time, the other parent can take a break (play can be exhausting for adults too!)
Check out these other articles for even more ’puzzling’ tips:
Check out these videos too:
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