What Size Puzzle Should My Child Be Doing?

One of the most common questions parents ask is, “What size puzzle should my child be doing?” This article provides an age-ability guideline to help you as well as listing some of the amazing learning benefits puzzle provide, whether you have a toddler, a preschooler or a child in primary school.

Children need a wide variety of puzzles to keep them interested in the activity in much the same way as they need lots of different books. Look for pictures that will appeal to your child and look at the actual size of the puzzle pieces and total number of puzzle pieces.

What Size Should My Child Be Doing?
Interlocking 3, 4 and 5 Piece Bunny Puzzle for Ages 2-3
What Size Puzzle Should my Child Be Doing? Number Tray Puzzle for Ages 18 months to 2

Puzzle Age-Ability Guide

Knob puzzles:            18 months to 2 years

2 – 6 pieces:               2 – 3 years

12 – 24 pieces:           4 – 5 years

24 – 48 pieces:           5 – 6 years

54, 60 and 96 pieces: 6+ years

200 pieces 8+ years

The Learning Benefits of Puzzles.

  1. Toddlers 18 months to 2 years start off with basic knob puzzles. Fine motor control and spatial planning required to place the different puzzle pieces into the matching space. In addition, knob puzzles exercise the pincer grip – the same grip that will be used for holding a crayon, pencil or pen. See in the accompanying video below.
  2. From knob puzzles, children move onto tray puzzles. Smart Play’s number puzzle is a good illustration of the benefits of tray puzzles. Problem solving and sequencing skills are required to put each number into the correct space.
  3. Introduce preschoolers to traditional puzzle building with interlocking pieces with 2 to 6 piece puzzles. This teaches them about part-whole relationships.  You can get even more value out of this simple box of 6 wooden puzzles by muddling up all the pieces. Then get your child to find all the pieces belonging to the bunny, the lizard, the parrot etc. This strengthens the skill of visual discrimination or the ability to notice similarities and differences. Only then can they move on to building the 6 different puzzles which requires eye-hand co-ordination     and being able to manipulate pieces into the right position and direction to fit together.
  4. Puzzles require spatial planning and the ability to manipulate pieces into the correct position using eye-hand co-ordination.
  5. Busy puzzles stimulate figure-ground perception – the ability to isolate items in a busy picture in the foreground or background


How To Build A Puzzle

There is technique involved when building larger puzzles from 24 pieces through to 100s and 1000s of pieces.

  • Firstly, find all the pieces with a flat side belonging to the frame as well as the four corners.
  • Position the four corners correctly then complete the frame.
  • Secondly, sort the rest of the pieces into groups according to colour, pattern, or a particular part of the picture. Within the frame, start building these different parts of the puzzle and they will eventual match up and the puzzle will be complete.
1, 2, 3 and 4 Piece Wild Animal Puzzles
Farmhouse, House, Pet, Fish Bowl and Construction Knob Puzzles

Puzzles for School Readiness

By the time a child is between four and five years old a 20-piece puzzle or more should be within their grasp. A child entering grade 1 must be able to complete a 24-piece puzzle with ease. This is part of school readiness testing.

Whether a child is doing a simple knob puzzle or completing a 100-piece puzzle, they will be learning planning, organising and problem-solving skills that lay essential foundations for reading, writing and maths.

How Puzzles Vary In Difficulty

Puzzles can vary in difficulty in a number of ways:

  • the size of the puzzle pieces
  • the number of pieces
  • the simplicity or complexity of the picture (see the difference between this zoo puzzle and the Princess on the Horse)
  • the detail in the picture (it is easier to match pieces with line and shape than pieces that are just one colour)

To keep your child interested and for maximum enjoyment, always try and choose puzzle pictures that appeal to your child or that they can relate to. A child who is crazy about dinosaurs will be more inclined to build a dinosaur puzzle than an aeroplane, for example.

Remember to keep building your child’s confidence little by little so that they become committed puzzlers who derive great satisfaction from their puzzle building efforts. They will also spend more time puzzle building if you are building with them too.