Jigsaw puzzles are a one-stop cognitive development and character-building activity. There are few educational experiences that have the potential to teach such a varied range of thinking skills, as well as other useful skills such as patience and perseverance. Learning these skills can benefit you at any stage of your life. For example, jigsaw puzzles can teach you:
- Problem-solving strategies
- Project management skills
- Self-management skills
- Visual skills
- Cognitive skills
- Character development skills and traits
- Tactile skills
- Social skills
- Collaborative skills
Jigsaw puzzles are cheap and easy to obtain, you only need a small space to do them and very little can go wrong, provided that you don’t lose pieces or let the dog chew them. If you are a parent or a teacher, you can follow some simple steps to help your children or students gain confidence in a range of skills that will benefit them in many areas of their learning. The key to this is transferability. This article explains what it is and how you can use it.
The educational value of doing a jigsaw puzzle is twofold: first, by building up a base of useful individual skills; secondly, by transferring these skills to other situations where they can be applied to solve new problems. A lot of research has been done into the transfer of learning from one situation to another. This is one of the key aims of all learning. If you wish to do some in-depth reading on the topic, go to Google and search for “transferable skills.”
So, what is transferability? A simple example is learning how to hammer a nail into a piece of wood. Imagine if you could only use one length of nail and one size hammer to knock it into one type of material, e.g. wood. This wouldn’t be very useful to you, because the skill is not transferable to other situations. You’d have to learn a new skill every time you wanted to use a hammer in a different situation. However, if you knew that you could use any size hammer with any size nail and almost any type of material, it would be far more useful to you as a skill. Even better, if you knew that you could use the skill on the ground, in the air or on a boat or in a hundred other places, it would be more useful still. This simple example demonstrates what transferability is: knowing how to apply a skill in new situations.
How do you transfer the skills you are learning by doing a jigsaw puzzle to other situations? All you need to do is follow a three-step process. The skill you are using needs to be:
b. Understood as a process, and
c. Applied to new situations.
But, before you rush off to do a jigsaw puzzle in the hope that you will become a super problem-solver, there are a few tips that will help to make the experience more beneficial. As you do your puzzle, you need to be consciously aware of what you are doing and be able to articulate the process as you do it.
This means that as you do the puzzle, you need to be aware of your own self-talk, i.e. what you say to yourself as you engage in doing the puzzle. An example of this could be: “I’m using my organisational skills to sort the pieces of the puzzle into straight edges and inner pieces.” This skill could be used later on when you do your washing, where you could say: “I’m using my organisational skills to sort the washing into dark and light colours.” At a higher level, you could say, “I’m organising my staff into skill levels so that we can complete the project in the most efficient way.”
In this article I have isolated 42 skills that can be developed through doing jigsaw puzzles, but there are probably a whole lot more. Write to me if you find some more and I’ll update the article. The beauty of jigsaw puzzles is that they start at a very simple level and go up to diabolically difficult challenge levels, such as the Clementoni puzzles which have over 13000 pieces. For those of you who are more adventurous, there are also 3-D puzzles and puzzles with other challenging features. Visit your local toy shop to see the range of puzzle challenges that are available.
It is useful to set a reasonable goal by starting where you’re comfortable and progressing from there to more challenging puzzles. As you do the puzzle, remember to note the skill you’re using. Developing this self-talk will help you to apply or transfer the skill to new situations.
Here are the skills that you can learn as you do your puzzle, as well as possible self-talk that could go with them. The skills are listed in alphabetical order. The final part of this article has suggestions for the type of self-talk you could use to apply the skills you have learned to new situations.
Affirmation for small achievements, e.g. fitting a piece correctly: “I feel great that I achieved that goal.”
Analysis: “I’ve broken the puzzle into all of its parts and now I understand how it will fit together.”
Arranging: “I’m arranging these pieces into an order that will help me work more efficiently.”
Attention to detail: “This colour is not the same as that colour, so this piece must go somewhere else.”
Categorising: “I’ve organised all of these pieces into their colours.”
Collaboration: “This area is very challenging, so we need to work together to solve it.”
Comparison: “This shape will fit into this space. This piece is too big to fit into that space.”
Comprehension: “I understand the picture, so I can do this section.”
Concentration: “I’m concentrating on the size, edges, shapes and colours of these pieces to see how they go together.”
Contrast: “Are these colours/shapes the same or are they different?”
Creativity (different ways of identifying puzzle pieces): “This piece is too difficult to identify by colour, so I’ll compare the shapes of the edges.”
Decision-making: “All of these pieces will form that part of the picture.”
Ever-increasing challenges (fewer pieces to many pieces): “I did a 100- piece puzzle last time. This time I’ll go for a 200-piece puzzle.”
Eye-hand co-ordination (fine motor control): “These pieces are very small, so I have to be dextrous to manipulate them into their correct spaces.”
Flexibility (work on different areas): “I’ve tried this area for a while without too much success. I’ll try another area for a while.”
Formulating questions: “How do these pieces fit together? Does this colour match with that colour?”
Goal-setting: “I’ll finish this puzzle in one week.”
Helpful (prompt a person, don’t give the answer): “Have you tried one of these pieces there?” “Try that piece the other way around.”
Hypothesizing: “This piece can’t go here, so it must go here. Let’s try here first.” “If that piece goes here, this piece must go there.”
Learning about picture content for discussion and language development: “I can see three green trees next to a blue river.”
Memory retention: “I tried this piece here before, so it won’t fit.”
Obtaining feedback on your decisions: “Oops! Wrong choice. I can see that doesn’t fit.”
Organisation: “All of these pieces go in that area, and all of those pieces go in this area.”
Overcoming distractions, strengthening concentration:” It’s a bit noisy in here with the television set on, but I’ll concentrate harder to complete the puzzle.”
Patience: “I have only found one piece that fits in the past fifteen minutes. Never mind, I’ll keep trying.”
Perseverence: “I’m going to stay here until I finish this puzzle.”
Planning: “I’ll do this area first, then I’ll look for the corner pieces, then I’ll complete that area.”
Planning work sessions and breaks: “I feel tired, so I’ll work for half an hour, have a break, then I’ll do some more.”
Prioritising: “I’ll do this difficult area first, then I’ll do that area which is a little easier.”
Problem-solving: “This whole puzzle is a problem I need to solve. Finding edges is a problem I can solve. Sorting the pieces into colour groups is a problem I can solve.”
Procedures: “I can choose which order I prefer to work in. I can do this before I do that.”
Process of elimination:” I’ll try these pieces in this area. If they fit, the puzzle will be a lot easier to solve from this point onwards.”
Reasoning, by justifying your choices of shape or colour: “These pieces go here because the colours match, but those pieces don’t go here. The colours are slightly darker.”
Reviewing: “So far I’ve completed this area and I only have five more pieces to fit before I move on to the next area.”
Self-reflection (learning from errors): “I’m feeling a bit annoyed. Why am I taking so long to complete this area?”
Sense of adventure: “This puzzle might be too difficult for me, but I’ll try anyway. What have I got to lose?”
Sequence: “This is a logical order of work. I’ll do this area, then I’ll do that area. After that, I’ll complete this edge.”
Sharing behaviour: “Let’s work on this area together. I’ll help you find your pieces if you help me find mine.”
Social interaction: I’m enjoying doing this puzzle with you. We’re a great team.”
Spatial orientation skills: “If I rotate this in my mind, I can see it doesn’t fit here. It fits there.”
Stop to enjoy, appreciate and admire the picture: “What a beautiful scene of a French vineyard.”
Trial and error process: “One of these nine pieces will fit here. I’ll try them all, even though it will take some time.”
Now that you know a range of skills that you can use, as well as examples of the self-talk that will help you understand the process you are using, it is time to do a puzzle. Print this article and keep it with you as you do it. Refer to it often to identify skills as well as practise the self-talk patterns.
When you have used these skills and are familiar with them, you will be ready to transfer them to new problem-solving situations. When you face a problem-solving challenge at home or at work, stand back for a moment and ask yourself:
· What skill that I used in the puzzle can I use here?
Use the same self-talk patterns to apply the skill to the new situation. Let’s use the example of having a flat tyre on your car. Perhaps you’ve never changed a tire before. What could you say to yourself?
“What skill that I used in the puzzle can I use here?”
“What sequence of actions do I need in order to accomplish this task?”
“I need to concentrate to complete this task in time.”
Finally, one extra thing needs to be said. You have to provide the motivation to learn the skills and apply them to new situations as part of your own personal problem-solving strategy. If you don’t apply your skills to new situations, perhaps the washing won’t get done or the tyre won’t get changed. The application stage is the most important one if you hope to become a better thinker.
Now you are ready to try solving some real-life problems with these skills. Happy puzzling and happy problem-solving.