Saturday, October 8, 2011

Kid Puzzles: The Good, the Bad, and the In-Between

First, let's talk about what makes a good puzzle and what makes a bad puzzle. 

A good puzzle must have 2 things to fall into the "good" category: It must have pieces that are neither too thick not too thin so that they interlock nicely and then stay interlocked as you slide them across the floor or table. Pieces that are too thick make for clunky interlocking; you don't want to have to exert force when doing a jigsaw puzzle. If the pieces are too thin, then they won't stay put after you've put them together. 

Second, the pieces must be cut well. There should be no pieces that are cut the same as another (or worse, as 1/2 the puzzle). Each should have a unique cut so that when it's put together you know that the piece is right -- not just because the picture matches up, but because it fits snugly into place. 
Which leads to the third criteria: The puzzle should be cut in a way that the picture can be made. In other words (and this just applies to kid puzzles, whereas the first two criteria apply to all puzzles), the puzzle should be cut so that a picture is divided by the different pieces. Otherwise, how else will you match them? If it's cut around a picture and each piece contains a single picture, then there will be no logical way to connect it to the pieces around it. 

And now, our puzzles:

The Well-Made Crayola Puzzle
The Good: The Crayola 24-piece Floor Puzzle in the Surfing Safari theme (I can't find a link to this, so here's a link to the Crayola Colors & Shapes 50 Piece Floor Puzzle instead with hopes that if one is good then they all are.)  

This puzzle has pieces of the right thickness, each jigsaw piece is unique in shape, and the pieces are cut so that each picture on the puzzle can be matched by color and shape of the picture and not just based on the shapes of the pieces.

I Don't Recommend this Dr. Suess Puzzle

This one has super-thin pieces that they barely stay together, even when put in the right place. Furthermore, it is poorly cut with 3-4 repeating jigsaw shapes, meaning that 1 in 3-4 pieces will fit in nearly any spot. And then on top of that, the cuts aren't made in wise places; in most cases you can't even match up one part of a picture with another part of it. This makes it extremely easy to mismatch pieces. "Look, mom, it fits!"...and it does...and yet, "Sorry, honey, it fits, but it's wrong." This happens over and over again when she interlocks pieces that DO fit, but that are still wrong. Of course when you do a puzzle you need to pay attention to the picture and not just whether or not the pieces fit, but still, both parts of the puzzle-doing process are important.This puzzle is for ages 3-5; I am a 30-year-old adult of normal intelligence and I found it...well, certainly not hard, but not as easy as I think a puzzle for a 3-5-year-old should be.

The In-Between: Melissa & Doug Jewish Holiday Puzzles (Rosh Hashanah, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, Chanukah, Tu B'shvat, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot)

M&D Chanukah Puzzle: Good, But a Bit Clunky
I had high hopes for these (after all, they're made by Melissa & Doug -- usually a winner -- and the colors and pictures and bright and beautiful), but was sort of disappointed. The pieces are made of wood, so while that may contribute to quality, it doesn't contribute to the ease of puzzle-doing. They're thick and bulky and hard to press into place, not to mention take apart. Other than that, the pieces are cut pretty well -- they're cut so many of them are similar, but each does appear to be a unique cut. Because of the unwieldy wood, though, they are still hard to fit together, even if the match is spot-on. Hila (2.5-years-old) can do some jigsaw puzzles (like the Crayola one above), but she'll probably need to wait a year or two for these, which is fine. 

Any one have recommendations of easy jigsaw puzzles for 3-year-olds?

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