Jigsaw puzzles are known as “brain toys” because they build critical thinking, visual discrimination, and problem solving skills. We love giving puzzles as gifts for kids, because they make a great quiet time activity and cultivate concentration, fine motor skills, and hand-eye coordination!
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Although my kids usually do puzzles independently, they’ve also been great opportunities for family bonding and collaborative brainstorming.
While we’ve made a lot of puzzles for Chinese learning in the past, this post focuses on general puzzles that your family can use with any language. If you and your kids are doing puzzles together, keep in mind that these are golden opportunities to boost vocabulary while describing the puzzle pieces and actions needed to complete the puzzle.
Favorite Jigsaw Puzzles for Kids of All Ages
Our favorite puzzles have evolved as my kids have grown, and I’ll share tips for getting kids started on their first puzzles to where they are now. Due to the pandemic and wildfires, we’ve been doing puzzles more than ever and have tried a lot of different puzzle brands!
You can find most of these puzzles in my Amazon Shop here.
As with any activity, I would suggest choosing puzzles based on your child’s interests (eg, animals, vehicles, flowers).
I also don’t give specific age ranges, because kids learn at various paces; there isn’t a right or wrong age to try puzzles. Plus, in contrast to my kids, I don’t remember doing puzzles as a kid, and my husband is totally lost when it comes to puzzles. So please don’t worry about age!
More educational gifts for kids
- 10 Best Open-Ended Toys That Promote Creativity and Learning
- Human Anatomy Toys | Science Gifts for Kids
- Favorite World Globes for Kids of All Ages (Bilingual)
- Ultimate Chinese Gift Guide for Kids: Cultural, Educational, & Fun Toys
Beginner puzzles for kids: Easy DIY cardboard picture puzzle
The easiest way to introduce jigsaw puzzles to kids is by simply covering up part of a picture in books and seeing if your child can guess what it is. This is a great chance observe details carefully, such as color and texture similarities, parts of an animal or object, and identify what is missing.
You can also cut pictures or covers on boxes (eg, cereal, snacks) in half to see if your child can put them together.
When your child has mastered matching halves, cut the picture into quarters and eventually more pieces and shapes.
You can also print photographs from the internet and glue them onto cardboard for extra sturdiness. Cut and voila – a free jigsaw puzzle!
Beginner puzzles for kids: knobbed puzzles
Wood knobbed puzzles are an excellent first puzzle for toddlers and preschoolers.
Knobs promote pincer grasp, which strengthens fine motor muscles that will later be used for handwriting.
These puzzles usually have the image as a whole, so the goal is to match the outline of the puzzle piece.
The problem with the transportation puzzle above is that the Chinese characters are too colorful. With poor contrast against the busy background, they are difficult to read. Otherwise, my car-obsessed son LOVED this puzzle! Although he had outgrown it, he was a little sad when I donated it.
Inspired by my friend, Sharon, I’ve also labeled puzzles with Chinese characters to remind me to speak Chinese to my kids. Since I didn’t want to write directly on the puzzle, I used these Avery removable white circle labels. For kids who are ready to read, this can be away to introduce word-matching activities!
Where to buy knobbed puzzles
- Bilingual Chinese-English wood peg puzzles
- Edushape large knobbed puzzles – animals, fruits, alphabet alligator, and more
For Montessori fans, the wonderful parts of a plant or animal puzzles teach parts of living things.
Where to buy Montessori puzzles
Since these are pricey, you may want to look for them secondhand! Due to the thick wood, these puzzles tend to hold up well over years.
Favorite Jigsaw puzzles for toddlers and preschoolers
We love sturdy puzzles for toddlers! Here are favorites that we’ve been gifted over the years.
- Melissa and Doug 12-piece wood puzzles: vehicles, farm animals, wild animals
- Mudpuppy 48-piece fuzzy puzzles: rainforest, beetles & bugs
Puzzles for preschoolers and elementary school kids
We love the Ravensburger brand for preschoolers and elementary kids! Buffalo Games and Springbok are also a good puzzle brands.
From 60 to 500-piece puzzles, below are some of the designs that we’ve completed over the years. To save on cost, you can consider sharing these with another family who has kids of similar ages.
- 60-piece puzzles – Railway station, dinosaurs, safari animals, construction
- 100-piece puzzles – puppies, Toy Story, dinosaurs
- 200-piece puzzles – solar system, Orca paradise, ocean turtles
- 300-piece puzzles – colorful Venice, world landmarks, frosty treats
- 500-piece puzzles – tropical waters, pencil pushers, legendary landmarks
These 3-dimensional puzzles are unique and can be left out for decoration!
- Ravensburger 540-piece Earth puzzle globe – This is a unique puzzle that I have been gifting to older kids for years! My daughter had so much fun working on this, and she has this proudly displayed in her bedroom.
- Ravensburger 180-piece Earth puzzle globe – This is a simpler version of the puzzle we have. Another mom shared that she got this version instead of the one we had since her child is younger.
Due to lack of space, we’re holding off on other 3-D puzzles for now. If your family has room and passion, here are some cool 3-D puzzles with high reviews on our wish list:
- Wrebbit Harry Potter 3D tower puzzles
- ROKR Wooden marble run 3D puzzle
- BePuzzled 3D crystal puzzles
- Cubic Fun famous landmarks 3D puzzles
Puzzles for older kids and adults: 1000-piece puzzles!!
My 6-year-old completed her first four 1000-piece puzzles over the summer! Here are close-up photos of each puzzle with their links. I have yet to complete my first 500-piece puzzle independently, but here are her recommendations if you’re a puzzle aficionado like her!
How to save unfinished puzzles
We have empty floor space in our living room where we let my daughter leave her work-in-progress during the week. However, if you need to move your puzzles out of the way, Buffalo games has various puzzle saver solutions in this link with good reviews.
6 tips for puzzle success
While these photos shows proudly completed puzzles, it’s important to know that there were incomplete puzzles before that gave temporary frustrations.
Children often have insight into what they are ready for – whether they can face a challenge independently, need us by their side, or just need to try some other time.
And when they do try, we celebrate the journey – the baby steps, the momentum that comes with persistence, the resilience from trial & error.
We let them know that we support them no matter the outcome, because whether or not we finish the whole puzzle, project, or plan, we’re learning & growing!
I asked my daughter to share what motivates her to tackle big puzzles. Her advice is as follows:
- Look at the big picture
- Find a comfortable space to work on the puzzle
- Turn pieces picture-side up and organize by color
- Focus on 1 step at a time (eg, assemble border)
- Patience, practice, and perseverance
- Take breaks
Are you a family of puzzle lovers? Or are puzzles a new experience for your kids?
I’d love to hear your experiences and if your kids enjoyed any of these puzzles! Please feel free to leave a comment below.
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