In Camps, Holidays

The Amazing Benefits of Jigsaw Puzzles!

by Andrew Townsend, Director of Kennolyn Camps

Most families in the USA spent nearly a year in some level of lockdown. Regardless of your home state, you have almost certainly spent more time together at home that at any other time since you had your first child. You have read more, played more card and board games, spent a lot more time online, and you are almost certainly a fully qualified Netflix ninja.

If you haven’t yet added jigsaw puzzling to your pandemic home routine, here are some reasons you should. Jigsaw puzzles have always provided some excellent opportunities for cognitive development. In completing a jigsaw, the puzzler’s brain is forced to recognize patterns, colors, and shapes. These tasks help develop visual perception abilities. The act of recognizing the shape of a piece and the appropriate space that it would fit and then integrating the required motor skills to make the piece fit correctly helps develop constructional praxis. If you are interested in more about the science of jigsaw puzzles, check out this very thorough paper by a team of German researchers.

But on a simpler level, here are 5 reasons why we love jigsaw puzzles and we suggest you add them to your family stay at home routine.

  1. With jigsaw puzzles the fun builds slowly. This may sound like a strange reason to recommend puzzles. But, there are so many benefits for kids to learn that longer term commitments have a special kind of reward. A lot of engagement options for children involve instant gratification and speedy resolutions. Puzzles, like reading a long form book, force kids to invest time in an activity that eventually leads to a satisfying delayed gratification.
  2. There are no rules with jigsaw puzzles. This means there is no rule book to read and get frustrated with but more importantly, no right way to do a puzzle. For kids that think a little differently, games with rules and linear progression can be hard, frustrating, and boring. Pour a pile of jigsaw puzzle pieces on the table and let your kids decide how to approach the puzzle. I saw one camper last summer divide puzzle pieces by color. I had never seen that before. Another wanted the pieces in orderly lines so he could scan them all easily. Others were like me and like to rummage through the pile each time looking for an exact piece or waiting for inspiration to present a new direction. And then there is how you construct the puzzle. I sort out all the straight edge pieces first and try to make the outer border. I thought everyone did puzzles this way. But I saw kids start with the four corners and build out toward the middle. Yet another way to start was to find all the pieces of a distinctive color or pattern and start building form that section. There is a path forward for every way of processing
  3. Easy to come and go from a puzzle. If you have a few people working together on a puzzle, it is one of the few activities I know where someone can leave the process for a length of time and easily slip back in. For the person that is focused, a jigsaw might hold the attention for an hour or more. Other people will drift in and out over an hour contributing in their own way and then heading back out to some other task. Unlike most games where one person’s enjoyment is likely impacted by the concentration of the other players, Jigsaws are well suited to a variety of levels of attention.
  4. No competition. How many times have you heard kid’s say “Ha I beat you at Jigsaw puzzles. I’m a winner, you’re a loser!”  never because how would you decide a winner. In some households, finding an activity that allows for noncompetitive contributions from everyone is important in maintaining harmony within the family.
  5. Value for money. Back in the UK in the 1970’s, my mom used to tell me that I should value my playtime at sixpence an hour (let’s call that a nickel for a US audience.)  So, if a toy cost 3 shillings (roughly a quarter) I got value for money if it engaged me for 6 hours. If we up a child’s playtime value to $2 at current prices, how many hours does it take to find value in a new playstation? Approximately 250 hours. But in a $10 jigsaw we find good value after only 5 hours and it provides even greater value if it engages more than 1 child. By the way, best value ever in a toy or game with this calculation logic? A deck of playing cards.

So there, you have our 5 reasons to love jigsaw puzzles. One other piece of advice: invest in a puzzle mat or organizer of some kind. Nothing worse than getting stuck into a puzzle only to have to put it away half done at lunch time because you spread out on the dining table. At Kennolyn Camps we love puzzles and games of all kinds. While we are currently focused on outdoor fun as we reimagine camp in a pandemic, we look forward to once again leaning over a table and putting together an epic jigsaw puzzle.

By Andrew Townsend, Camps Director

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