Abstract: This article is generally talking about the types of puzzles and how to use them for therapy (both speech and occupational) at home for kids with special needs. However, we firmly believe some of the techniques are also beneficial for teaching kids without special needs too. Note: tips here are based on compilation of the cited reference sources and also on our own personal experience of conducting therapy for our own children but they are not a replacement for medical or clinical advice. We combined both speech and occupational therapy tips as we believe both are essential for all types of children with or without special needs so it would be good to have the other area of concepts at the back of our minds when we are conducting one type of therapy.
Puzzles and boardgames are frequently used by speech and occupational therapists to teach language and skills to kids with ASD or other developmental delays. As caregivers, we understand that it is not always efficient or economical to bring your child to the therapists since it involves adapting of schedule, travelling time, preparation of meals for the child before, during and after therapy (gotta keep the kiddo in absolute good mood to benefit from the session isn’t it?), what about time away from your other kids (if you have them) and sometimes, the child is simply not in the mood.
So home therapy is highly encouraged as a supplement to your usual therapy sessions as it reinforces concepts. For those who are somehow unable to access therapy (though we highly recommend getting professional help) it will be an alternative and with enough practice, parents can actually acquire the competence.
Moreover, it is a fun way to bond with the child. See it as a chance to play with your child, albeit withjust a bit more structure.
WHY ARE THEY GOOD?
These articles from Child Development Institute by Pam Myers and learning4kids have highlighted the different skills and concepts that children can pick up. Here we summarise the important points from the article and provide more information.
- Hand-eye coordination: When moving, flipping and turning pieces, they can learn about the connection between hands and eyes. This enables the brain to envision how the puzzle needs to look or which piece is required. It facilitates the brain, eyes and hands to work together.
- Fine motor skills: Small, specialized movements to hold and manipulate pieces. Acquiring motor skills through using pincer movement.
- Gross motor skills: Stacking and moving larger pieces
- Problem-solving: Discerning if the pieces either fit or not. Children figure out by looking at the different pieces and can test them out. They learn to solve problems logically.
- Matching: For some puzzles, kids will have to identify which two puzzles look the same and match them
- Shape recognition: Learning to recognize and sort shapes is part of an important development in children. Puzzle pieces need to be identified and sorted.
- Memory: Child needs to remember which exact piece, which piece has a particular size, shape, colour, pattern, that didn’t fit now and places it aside, then picking it back up later when needed again.
- Setting small goals: Child usually willover time develop a strategy of how to work on the puzzle more efficiently. He or she will then need to set small goals like finding all the corners before achieving the larger goal of completing the puzzle.
- Socializing and teamwork: Working on puzzles with an adult or friend will help a child learn social skills.
- Self esteem: When kids complete a puzzle, they feel a sense of achievement and pride. This builds up their confidence and self-esteem
- Language and speech: As you talk about the different pieces to the child, they learn about the different names of the shapes, colours, images they see. They also pick up different prepositions, verbs, sentence formations, etc
WHAT PUZZLES TO CHOOSE?
So here are some of the variations to puzzles. We don’t want to clear out the entire toy store so let’s figure together what some of our preferences are. Well, as expected, mixing things up a little is the best.
- Material: wooden, foam, plastic, cardboard, magnetic
- Type (According to this article on HubPages by Rose Mary an OT): connecting, non connecting, interconnecting, others
- Complexity: number of pieces,
- Theme: animals, automotives, food, alphabets and numbers, colours, shapes, cartoons, etc
Wooden ones are typically more expensive, especially if you buy high quality ones. For toy lovers, I would invest in better quality ones as they last longer and have better finishes. Simply for the purpose of therapy, buying cheaper imitations work just as well, but do take note to sand off badly finished pieces as we do not want our kids to get scratched or splinters in their fingers (we have enough to deal with).
Foam ones, like plastic, are easy to bring around. Some kids might like their squishy texture, others not. Plastic ones are the most value for money. Magnetic ones are the most fuss-free as they do not fall all over the place and are easy to store (second favourite after wooden ones).
Cardboards are typically jigsaw puzzles which are just so fulfilling when we manage to complete them. And oh so good for developing patience and focus in our little ones. They can also be matching flashcards.
Mazes (which might or might not require a separate writeup, let’s see) are another type of puzzle that are super fun and great for training fine motor skills and problem solving.
For those who find regular jigsaw puzzles dull, they can add a punch by buying those with 3D effect.