Puzzles and Brain Development

What is it about puzzles that helps to stimulate a child’s brain? Childhood Development expert, Anastasia Moloney discusses.

Photo by Syrie Wongkaew

I’m sure you have all received a puzzle at least once as a gift for your young child or bought one yourself.  We hear how important it is to let your little one explore and learn with puzzles, but why is this so?  What are we helping our little ones to develop when encouraging them to play and explore with puzzles?

Puzzles can be great for exercising the brain for all ages, but there are specific benefits for starting puzzles when very young. When working a puzzle, research has shown that both the left and right brain are engaged, which is when our brains are the most active.  Some of the developmental benefits include:


Simple puzzles may help build a child’s memory as they have to remember a specific color, shape or size when looking for the appropriate puzzle piece.

Shape recognition

A child needs to look at the space the piece needs to fill, and then find the appropriate match.  When doing this, your child is attending to the puzzle’s shape, color, size and the orientation of the puzzle piece. This is even true in the most basic peg puzzles for 1 year olds.

Problem solving  

In order to successfully complete a puzzle, problem solving skills are required and there is no chance for cheating! Puzzles allow for children to practice problem solving, at first they may need guidance, but then they can learn to complete the puzzle process by themselves. The child gets to explore what pieces fit and don’t fit, often through trial and error and the process teaches them how to solve problems in a logical way.

Fine motor skills

Depending on the puzzle, children are asked move various sized pieces, to circle words, to twist knobs, to orient pieces the right way, and make them fit into the slots. Many of these involve smaller hand movements that can develop their hand strength which will benefit them when it’s time to start writing.

Hand eye coordination

The idea here is to make the connection with what the eye sees and how your hands respond. When a child is able to rotate, remove, or feel puzzle pieces, he/she is learning the connection between his/her hands and eyes.  A child learns what fits in the space by trying various pieces or later on, words.

Setting small goals

Children learn to follow steps or a process to reach the goal of finishing a puzzle. Sometimes this can be also done with a peer or in a group setting and teamwork is practiced to complete the puzzle together.

In addition to all the developmental benefits, puzzles can be a great activity to do as a family — especially as everyone gets older. Puzzles help to engage everyone’s minds and also allows for quality time together. Get Puzzling!

Here are our favorite puzzle picks

For babies & toddlers

  1. Green Toys – Tea Time Puzzle: Perfect for babies and toddlers developing fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination. This durable, 4-piece set plus tray is the perfect starter-puzzle, with easy-to-hold 3D pieces that encourage imagination and pretend play.
  2. Green Toys – Dump Truck Puzzle: Another great puzzle for babies and toddlers, the Dump truck puzzle is a great starter puzzle. Children can easily identify the shapes of the pieces, building cooperative play and communication skills as they ask for a wheel to complete their masterpiece.
  3. Janod Toys – Titus Dog Puzzle: The Janod Toys wooden Titus Dog Puzzle has 9 adorable pieces designed specifically for little hands. To help your tot put together the pieces, a corner has been cut out for ease of removal and the image is printed on the base to help ensure color and shape recognition.
  4. Rubbabu – Fruit Shape Sorter: Suitable for young babies and up, the Fruit Shape Sorter is a colorful multi-textured soft puzzle with seven colorful fruits that fit neatly into a soft puzzle base shaped like a tree. Great for developing fine motor skills and the tripod grip.
  5. Rubbabu – Geometric Shape Sorter: Another great soft puzzle from Rubbabu – The soft and squishy 3-D geometrical shape sorter is a perfect first puzzle for younger children. Even the tiniest of children can pick up, examine and play with the brightly colored shapes, and then gently push them back in their place. Fun, geometric shapes and a rainbow of colors make this an extremely attractive toy to gift, play with and learn from.
  6. OMY Coloring Puzzle: Your little one will love coloring and personalizing their very own puzzle! Featuring details and landmarks of New York and Paris. Suitable for tots aged 3 years and up.

For kids aged 4 years and up

  1. Janod Toys – Double Sided Puzzle – Our Blue Planet: The Janod Toys Our Blue Planet Double Sided Puzzle is covered in amazing illustrations of the continents and what people who live on those continents do, the animals that live with them and what clothing they wear. It has 208 pieces that are all double sided so you get to choose if you would rather put together North America, South America, Africa, Europe and the Middle East first or Asia and Australia.
  2. Janod Toys – Pirate Ship Puzzle: This giant Pirate Ship themed floor puzzle comprises of 40 pieces of swashbuckling adventure that cannot be rivaled for size, color or detail! The comical illustrations bring this puzzle to life and the shaped edges make it slightly more challenging than a square-edged puzzle.