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The Best Brain-Building Puzzels For Babies and Toddlers

They're a key part of child development.

Despite a shiny, glittering array of new-fangled toys that promise to get your kid on a bioengineering career track before kindergarten, wooden puzzles for toddlers, which segue to more complex puzzle games for kids, are still some of the the best ways to boost STEM skills. (These key concepts include abstract thinking, logical reasoning, problem-solving, and spatial and math.) 

To get the most out of puzzles, parents should be as hands-off as possible and let children, be it babies, toddlers, and older kids, work them out on their own, taking whichever approach suits them and making the problem-solving process as open-ended as possible.

“It’s equally educational to bang two knob-shaped puzzle pieces together like cymbals, make up a story in which the puzzle piece mama and baby giraffe get lost or stack the puzzle pieces into a tower,” says child development expert Julia Luckenbill, who is the infant-toddler program coordinator at the Center for Child and Family Studies at UC Davis.  “This is particularly important because adults tend to see one right way to use materials, while children are more dynamic in the way they think.”

Babies love putting things in and taking them out, so we chose puzzles that let them do just that, while also letting them practice their fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. With toddlers, who can fit pieces into the right spot, the puzzles are somewhat more complex, and encourage them to develop their shape and color recognition skills, and as well as their spatial skills. Plus, they can use any puzzle for pretend play. As for older kids, it’s brain-twisters, logic puzzles, and other dope STEM toys. 

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The Best Puzzles for Babies 

The fish are multi-textured and make sounds. And babies can take out of the bag. Put them back into the bag. Dump them out of the bag. Throw them into the bag. Over and over and over again, with this starter puzzle, which teaches them how to problem-solve by getting the creatures back in their aquarium.

These chunky wooden puzzles give babies their first taste of hand-eye coordination, and the puzzle pieces double as musical instruments when banged together.

Babies practice their fine motor skills while also learning about shapes and colors as they figure out which piece goes into which slot.

This beautiful four-piece wooden puzzle boosts early sorting skills, and helps babies with their dexterity, and hand-eye coordination.

A whimsical knob puzzle featuring cuddly farm animals, this one helps babies start to grasp fine motor skills while also telling learning which sound a cow makes.

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The Best Puzzles for Toddlers 

This puzzle may seem simple, but your young toddler is working on complex tasks as she manipulates it. There's a mirror in the center of the puzzle that keeps little kids fully engaged, because what's more rewarding than fitting the puzzle pieces into the right slots? Seeing yourself doing it.

This 10-piece puzzle has kids explore the bear's house in a unique multi-layered way. Kids 18 months and up place each individual piece on top of another, which encourages spatial exploration.

So your two year old fights with you about dressing weather-appropriate? Get him or her this wood puzzle, which has 12 pieces and teaches kids the four seasons. If they flip it over, they can trace it for an added element of creative play. Like all Plan toys, it's made from sustainable materials.

This wooden puzzle teaches your 2- and 3-year-olds the alphabet in a fun way. The pieces are hardy and thick, so they're perfect for little hands just perfecting how to maneuver pieces into place.

A puzzle that's a world of possibilities. Each animal piece has the first letter of its name on it — in lowercase on one side, and uppercase on the other — and is handcrafted from birch and rubberwood, and colored with child-safe, non-toxic stains. This 26-piece puzzle offers kids 2 and up endless opportunities for fun and challenging play, from learning the alphabet by puzzling together friendly animals from Alligator to Zebra — to honing their wild and woolly storytelling skills.

Remember the old, beloved Tetris game? Here's the puzzle version, which encourages problem-solving and creativity since all the pieces have to somehow fit. Each time, the puzzle has a different challenge, because you have to fit the pieces back in, in various ways. The possibilities are endless. And it makes kids' brains work. It's good for kids 3 and older.

Part construction toy, part brain twister, part puzzle, this one is entirely open-ended. Kids 2 and up can put together the gear shaped puzzle pieces however they want. And when they turn the gears, they learn about cause and effect.

The Best Puzzle Games for Kids

One of the most dope uses of technology: Meet the smart, app-enabled Rubik’s cube. Once kids master the classic puzzle, they level up, so they continue to be challenged and never get bored. Kids 8 and up can track their progress, plus they can compete with friends and cubers around the world, provided they're all connected via the app.

Not only is this a standout magnetic puzzle, but it's a biology and anatomy lesson as well. Kids seven and up pick a card, and then build the muscular, skeleton, or organ to match what it has on it. Or kids can use their imagination and create bodies and skeletal systems on their own.

Players connect the same-colored dots by creating identical paths of the putty without crossing different colors. A fantastic STEM toy for kids eight and up, this puzzle game encourages critical thinking. Plus, it gets increasingly difficult as kids become more proficient at it.

For budding engineers, this colorful marble run offers endless opportunities to build and problem-solve. Beautifully constructed of natural wood, this is a superlative version of a classic skill-building, imagination-boosting game and infinitely expandable.

Kids eight and up will be challenged by this logic-based puzzle, which has players build maze towers with a final goal of getting the marble to its destination. But it also hones spatial reasoning and planning skills while offering a Mousetrap-like payoff when he or she gets it right.

For children 7 and up looking for a challenge, Educational Insights’ Kanoodle delivers, providing 3-dimensional puzzles that captivate for hours. Including 200 2- and 3-dimensional puzzles, kids must navigate through hundreds of combination of the 12 pieces, only one of which is the correct solution. The puzzles themselves become progressively harder, which keeps kids coming back for more. Sell this to your child as a real-life Minecraft.

Kids can create marble maze sculptures in the shapes of animals, robots, towers, geometric shapes — or whatever else they want. Configurations are unlimited, routes are unpredictable, and marbles travel different routes each time, keeping play full of surprises. Designed by an architect, we love that this challenging but rewarding puzzle game that helps kids hone their problem-solving skills, while building a real foundation for basic physics, 3-dimensional planning, and art-making.

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