Puzzling might not look like it does in the movies, where families gather around a table and peck at a thousand-piece jigsaw. Puzzles are often designed now for your son or daughter to complete on his or her own, doggedly challenging them on their face while benefitting them in other areas. Puzzles of all types challenge the mind, even while kids think they’re just having a good time. That’s why we love putting together puzzles as a sneaky way of helping children learn skills that will come up later in their schooling.
See more: Best Toys for 4-Year-Olds
A University of Chicago study found that children who play with puzzles between ages two and four later develop better spatial skills than kids who do not. According to researchers, children who plays with puzzles performed better on tasks that evaluated their ability to rotate and translate shapes. And that’s a pretty big predictor of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) course-taking, degrees and careers in older kids.
Whether your child is brand new to puzzles or an old hand, we’ve got some great picks for all ages. Some help him or her spell. Others teach engineering or other STEM-related skills. And others allow creativity to run amok, a blank canvas on which he or she can explore. Whatever you want to add to your son or daughter’s enjoyment, we’ve found a match.
This wooden puzzle, from one of our go-to brands, teaches your kids the alphabet, and takes a beating while doing it.
Pros: This Hape alphabet puzzle is made up of sturdy, chunky pieces perfect for little hands. It’s ideal for toddlers, who discover which letters go into which slots on the board.
Cons: Once your kid learns the alphabet, we suspect this puzzle will be quickly forgotten.
For dinosaur-loving kids, the DinoPuzzle features bright creatures that are easy for little hands to grab and move around.
Pros: Great for kids ages three and up, the DinoPuzzle is made up of easy-to-grab pieces to promote shape recognition. Kids figure out where each piece fits and see the dino design come to life.
Cons: Some parents complain that the paint chips.
Finding a puzzle for a young child is always tricky. How do you know how hard is too hard? How will it stand up to the abuse of a cranky child? OMGOD kid puzzles solve both, creating a challenge for four- to eight-year-olds while being robust enough to handle messes and hard knocks.
Pros: Cut from wood, these four 16-piece puzzles feature cartoon bugs and animals that are easy enough for young children to catch the concept. While its age range is set, many customers found them useful for even younger children. Sealed with a non-toxic finish, these can tackle falls and abuse with ease.
Cons: Some customers complained that these puzzles were not true jigsaws, as some pieces were of the same shape as others. Despite this, most were happy, claiming that children figured out the right order through the pictures themselves.
You pretty much can't go wrong with anything from Melissa & Doug. And that includes this barnyard-themed 32-piece big floor puzzle. It's fun. It's educational. It's durable. Sold.
Pros: With only 32 pieces, this barnyard puzzle is relatively easy for young kids to put together. Ideal for kids ages three to five, this puzzle is made from durable, extra-thick cardboard pieces that have an easy-to-clean surface.
Cons: By age six, your kid will be done with this puzzle. And that’s when you can get the one below.
This gorgeous Ravensburger puzzle teaches kids to love ocean creatures, while also building skills such as concentration and encouraging creativity.
Pros: Ravensburger puzzles have precision-cut corners, which means every piece fits together seamlessly. This puzzle is ideal for kids six and older, and lets them play for hours as they build and explore. And when they put it together, what a great sense of accomplishment!
Cons: This puzzle has 100 pieces, so make sure you don’t lose a single one, or you’re toast.
Aspiring astronauts, or anyone who loves outer space, will dig this puzzle of the solar system. The puzzle can be built directly on top of a helpful diagram, or separately using the diagram as a visual reference.
Pros: We love that this puzzle has 48 thick wooden pieces, which makes it easier for younger kids to manage and put together. It’s great for older toddlers and really, kids of any age.
Cons: This thing takes up a good amount of space, which is pretty much the only con.
Half Legos-like construction set, half STEM teaching tool, Magna-Tiles offer creative problem-solving skills along with creativity itself, subconsciously teaching your three-year-old lessons he or she will take into school later.
Pros: The 32 translucent, colorful pieces are all geometric shapes that snap together by magnetic edges. Your child works through designs or creates his or her own fantastic beasts. Meanwhile, your kiddo is developing math, science, spatial, and tactile skills, which will pay dividends upon entering formal schooling. We also like that, unlike Legos, these won’t cause the intense pain that the former does when stepped on in the dark.
Cons: While the company claims that they’re for ages three and up, we don’t anticipate older children finding the same interest as those younger. As such, this should be considered an early childhood puzzle.
Kids eight and up will be challenged by this logic-based puzzle. But it also builds spatial reasoning and planning skills while offering a Mousetrap-like payoff when he or she gets it right.
Pros: Kids select one of 60 progressively challenging cards, which detail the end pattern that will allow a marble inserted into the topmost point to make it to the bottom. They must then fill in the middle, following light hints, to complete the task. At its end, the marble either makes it or not, teaching concrete problem solving within clear constraints. While it will challenge him or her, your brain might get a workout of its own.
Cons: While you may have fun working with your son or daughter, this is by no means a multiplayer game. For parents concerned about building social skills, a more traditional puzzle might be a better option.
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.
Pros: 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 three and older.
Cons: Getting all those pieces to fit can be quite frustrating for younger kids.
Geography is a valuable skill for any age, and the Melissa & Doug map floor puzzle helps your child to learn it and you to get a refresher. With plenty of space, you and your kiddo will know the states and their capitols in no time.
Pros: Fully assembled, its two-by-three-foot size allows your son or daughter to more accurately understand the expanse of the United States. But for children ages six and up, it helps them visualize where each state is located while also exposing them to respective capitols. The 51-piece kit is coated with a spill-proof finish, which makes cleaning up after accidents fast and easy.
Cons: Some parents complained of spatial inaccuracies, while others weren’t thrilled at New England’s uniform piece (individual states in the Northeast would likely have been too small). Still, it’s a great introduction to the U.S. and its myriad units.
For children seven and up looking for a challenge, Educational Insights’ Kanoodle delivers, providing three-dimensional puzzles that captivate for hours.
Pros: Including 200 two- and three-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.
Cons: The kit packs into a small package, but we worry about the possibility of losing some of the even smaller pieces, which would effectively render the game useless. While this could happen to any puzzle, it’s especially critical for one that has so few pieces to begin with.
Building a 3D model of the Magic Kingdom truly is magical, thanks to Ravensburger's 3D puzzle kit.
Pros: Just, wow. This 3D jigsaw puzzle has precision-fit pieces, so that click together perfectly. This puzzle is meant to be displayed after it’s built, so make sure you have the space ready. This puzzle features the most popular Disney characters including Ariel, Belle, Cinderella, Rapunzel, Snow White, Jasmine, Pocahontas, Tiana, Aurora, and Merida, and is meant for kids 12 and older.
Cons: Get ready to invest major time in this endeavor.
If you're not into Disney but into architecture, you'll love this 3D puzzle featuring the Eiffel Tower.
Pros: You get the full Parisian experience with this 216 piece puzzle of the Eiffel Tower, which even include led lights to light it up.
Cons: Once you’re done, you’re done.
Legos are the original three-dimensional puzzle, and your nine-to-14-year-old is probably obsessed with the books and movies. This is an easy way to combine the two while teaching direction-following and basic engineering concepts, just as the company has for generations of kids before.
Pros: Parents of Potter fans can’t stop raving about how much fun this set is (in fact, the most common complaints are about not including certain fan-favorite secondary characters). This nearly 900-piece set takes time and table space for assembly. But the result is a usable, playable space in which kids can reenact their favorite moments from the series.
Cons: It should strike dread into any parent to read of its 878 pieces, some of which are likely going to find your bare foot one dark night when all you want to do is go to the bathroom. But this is a small sacrifice that, face it, you know your child will love.
Take puzzles to the next level with this GeoMagic set, which features 250 blocks in eight geometric shapes that connect to let kids build endless designs.
Pros: Once you’re done with a standard puzzle, you’re, well, done. But these GeoMagic mosaics give kids limitless options to build whatever they dream up, using geometric puzzle-like shapes. They’re meant for kids three and up.
Cons: The puzzle is composed of wood pieces, and those can get lost. Fast.
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