Importance of Puzzles – Developing Visual Perception and Non-verbal Problem Solving Skills

Jigsaw puzzles are an important activity for children because the underlying visual perceptual skills needed are the same skills that are used when reading and writing as they get older. Jigsaw puzzles challenge both visual perceptual skills and nonverbal problem solving skills. Visual perception is not the ability to see well but how what we see is processed and organized in the brain. At school, children use visual perception for reading, copying from the blackboard, organizing maths, handwriting and most other aspects of school. Visual perception is closely related to language and cognitive development.

Completing a jigsaw uses skills such as the following:

  • Planning and Problem Solving – planning a strategy to complete the puzzle; trying an alternate way if the first attempt is not successful; puzzles help to work through techniques such as trial and error in a fun way; helps to develop task persistence and increased visual attention
  • Visual Discrimination – identifying the edge, corner and centre pieces and scanning for information on the pieces to complete the puzzle
  • Figure Ground – finding the required pieces amongst a lot of other pieces on the table top
  • Position in Space – orienting and rotating pieces in space to ‘fit’ together
  • Spatial Relations – orienting the pieces in relations to each other
  • Visual Closure – extrapolating information; finding pieces to complete the ‘whole’ picture
  • Form Constancy – recognising objects despite a change in a feature, for example, the picture size from the box lid to the actual size

Many children find jigsaw puzzles difficult and may avoid them. If your child is having difficulty, encouragement, support and assistance is suggested. Encourage your child to persevere and persist until the task is completed.

The order in which children learn to complete puzzles is as follows:

  1. Inset peg puzzles (from 2 years)

Puzzles 1


  1. Mosaic inset puzzles

Puzzles 2

  1. Interlocking puzzles starting with 2 to 4 pieces (2 ½ to 3 years)

Puzzles 3


  1. Larger interlocking puzzles – Once children are up to 20 plus pieces (approximately 4 ½ years onwards) they should be taught organizational skills for completing puzzles. This involves sorting all pieces into straight edged and not straight edged pieces (centre pieces). Then your child should be encouraged to complete all outside pieces first (the frame) and the inside pieces last (the middle).

Puzzles 4

Happy Puzzling!!

Debbie Swain – Occupational Therapist – LET’S TALK

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