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As an educator for many years, I can say with authority, that there is educational value in all types of jigsaw puzzles. The skills acquired and practiced in completing jigsaw puzzles are a foundational part of successful learning. Doing jigsaw puzzles develops several functions of the brain simultaneously as a child has fun and also learns. Most notably developed in this learning process are the abilities to reason, deduce, analyze, sequence, and develop logical thought and problem solving skills. Physically, eye-hand coordination and spatial awareness are also required to complete a jigsaw puzzle.
Putting these benefits aside, I want to look particularly at the jigsaw puzzles that are labeled “Educational”. These puzzles are designed to teach a specific learning objective. Some examples of these might be a jigsaw puzzle map of the world, or of the solar system. The manufacturers claim that such puzzles will teach a child those specific facts. What educational value in reality do these types of puzzles contain?
Firstly the degree of the educational value of these types of puzzles is dependent on how the puzzles are used in the learning process. For example, let us suppose that the learning objective is to learn about the geography of the United States of America, specifically the position of the individual states. You buy a puzzle picturing all the states and their position in the country, and give it to the child to do. Will the child ace a test on the States? Probably not! I’m sure that some learning will take place, but it will be limited and a few weeks later very little of the learning would be retained. To the child the learning process of doing that puzzle would be similar to any jigsaw puzzle that they do. Their focus on the states and where they fit is limited to the process of completing the puzzle.
In order to maximize the educational value of a jigsaw puzzle, it needs to part of the learning process, but not all of it.
Children have different styles of learning and an advantage of a jigsaw puzzle is that it does involve using more than one type of learning aptitude in the process of completing it. The most obvious learning style for a puzzle is the visual. In doing a puzzle of the USA the child will see the overall shape and also how the various states fit together to complete the whole. Jigsaw puzzles involve both the global (big picture) and analytic (details) aspects of learning. Puzzles are also good for the kinesthetic tendencies of learners. Kinesthetic learners learn best by practical hands on activities. For those with a auditory preference in learning, conversation about the learning and the correlations in the puzzle combined with the overall learning objectives, needs to happen at the same time as the puzzle is being done.
However the greatest educational benefit comes when the jigsaw puzzle is done as part of the overall learning objective. A jigsaw puzzle can be used to introduce a new subject as well as reinforce learning that has already occurred. The educational value increases to the extent that the subject of the puzzle is meaningful to the knowledge the child already has. To the degree that the child can correlate his prior knowledge with the puzzle experience, the more educational value is gained.
The jigsaw puzzle can also create new learning experiences. These experiences can then be developed in many other ways for an overall learning experience. For example, in doing a puzzle on American Geography, famous landmarks located on the puzzle could then be looked up and researched in books or on the Internet. Stories can be read or told about historical events that occurred. The actual size of an American state could be explored by working out how long it would take to travel across by car or train. The learning possibilities are endless.
Some educational puzzles such as ‘Faces and Places’ and ‘The Map of the Solar System’ ,produced by the Great American Puzzle Company come accompanied by a guide book that can be used to get the maximum educational benefit and value from the jigsaw puzzles.
In conclusion, it can be said that all jigsaw puzzles have educational value to some extent. The puzzles that are advertised as ‘educational’ can be of great educational value if introduced, not in isolation, but as part of a specific learning goal that has both relevance and purpose for the child.