Puzzles in our home are pretty much a family game and make for good-quality family time. We all participate in one way or another and baby learns and has fun.
We have many puzzles, all wooden, the type that requires babies/toddlers to match the pieces to their respective shapes sculpted into the board. We have puzzles with animals, domestic and wild, with means of transport, dinosaurs and fruits, with numbers 1-10 and with the alphabet.
Little gosling got them progressively since he was about 1. During a routine check-up with his paediatrician, he took interest in a big wooden farm puzzle the doctor had on a baby-size table in his consultation room, whilst we grown-ups conversed. Thereafter, we started hunting for puzzles in the children stores.
We got one with dinosaurs – cute, lively coloured baby dinosaurs, first. He loved playing with it. I know nothing about dinosaurs and my conversation consisted in comparing them with animals, like the “swan-like dinosaur, with a long neck”, or the “chick-like dinosaur, hatching out of an egg”.
Next, we found one with farm images, animals, a tractor. It had big pieces, with sizeable differences in shape, in theory, easier for babies to get right. It features a sun, though, which is harder to fit in. At first glance, it appears the rays would fit in any way, but it only works in one position. For quite a while, little gosling would get frustrated (and he’s quite vocal, short, punchy sounds) and ask for help to fit that one in. He lost interest in this one months ago. Too easy…
Around 18 months we bought more. He enjoyed them so much and we found them an amazing educational and entertaining tool. He can focus on them for a long time, much longer than many other activities. We take our time to learn the attached words, maybe associate them to a song (in the case of the means of transport), to words (in the case of the letters) or the respective sounds (in the case of the animals). We tell him about the colour of the puzzle pieces, or facts about the animals or link the puzzle pieces to stories in his favourite books or to something he saw or did during the day.
The start is always slow, until he learns the shapes. He would do the same puzzle over and over and over again, until he can complete it without any help in no time. He must have a phenomenal visual memory – he was able to do the alphabet and numbers puzzles after one-two days, without knowing the letters or the numbers.
Baby had a phase with one of his animals puzzle, when he would take either one piece (for days, the white bunny was the lucky one) or several pieces one by one and hide them, throw them under the sofa. It didn’t matter whether we saw him or not. He would then make a fuss about the disappearance. We played the game. When asked where the animal was, he would point to the place where it was hidden. We would take it out, happy sounds, and everything repeated.
After Christmas, puzzles helped us pass the time of a two and a half hours flight. A bit heavy to carry, but worth it. We made a friend – a 3 year old girl was attracted by the puzzles and joined the game.
The means of transport puzzle is currently a big hit. I guess that’s because we sing a song or a nursery rhyme for each of its pieces. Little gosling lost interest in doing the puzzle and instead holds up the pieces one by one and asks us to sing. Daddy is doing the car (“Vitezomanu’ Gica și-a luat mașină mică..”) and the bike (“Coana Mița biciclista a căzut….” – we’re now trying to identify an alternative poem or song to this), mommy does the train (“One way ticket”), the bus (“The wheels on the bus”) and the helicopter (I sing a song in German from a toy helicopter he got as a gift from his aunt in Germany: “Helikopter dass bin ich, kom zeig ein und flieg mit mir, es macht zo viel Spaß mit mir, ta ta ta ta ta ta ta); we do the boat together (“Barca pe valuri plutește ușor…” or the much more recently learnt “Bateau sur l’eau, la riviere, la riviere…” in French), the plane (“Avion cu motor ia-mă și pe mine-n zbor”) and the submarine (The Beatles’ “Yellow submarine”). For the rocket we do a launch sound and for the UFO we invent one. That is real family entertainment!