I started in the toy business about ten years ago. At that time, in that store location, there was an entire WALL of puzzles ranging in piece count from 25 to 1000+, plus a nice, big spinning display of chunky puzzles, peg puzzles, etc. Puzzles were an everyday item back then. Meaning, pretty much everyday we sold a puzzle. Parents and grandparents snatched up the latest designs and appreciated the wide variety of art and style that our puzzle selection offered.
Now, flash forward ten years and puzzles seem to have lost their allure. Not in the toy business. Trust me, there isn't a shortage of companies to buy clever puzzles from, but it is with hesitation that I bring in a new line of puzzles or devote too much shelf space to this seemingly has-been educational toy. What was once a go-to item for 2nd, 3rd, and 4th birthdays now induces a glazed over look on the faces of our shoppers. The only thing we can deduce is that puzzles aren't flashy enough. Even sound puzzles don't bring much excitement. Everyone seems to be afraid that the recipient will not be wildly thrilled, blown over with excitement at the unwrapping. If we are being honest, they probably won't. Because well-meaning parents have spread the word that Jr's favorite thing right now is TMJT or Doc McStuffins or some other licensed character. No one wants to be THAT AUNT-the one who gives the educational toy. The one without the newest Disney princess on it. But... THAT AUNT will be the one receiving the genuine, heartfelt thanks a few weeks down the road when the dinosaur chunky puzzle becomes a storybook prop or the pieces become inhabitants of a block habitat or a spring board into a NEW obsession. Won't all the other moms be impressed when Jr can rattle off the spelling of Pachycephalosaurus all because THAT AUNT dared to buy a puzzle instead of a Disney-character-covered whatever? Be THAT AUNT or uncle or mom or grandpa. Give a puzzle and give a world of open-ended opportunity for play that won't fade away as quickly as Nick Jr can change the morning TV lineup.
But don't take my word for it. I JUST sell toys, right? Listen to these local experts. Preschool teachers and therapists wouldn't steer you wrong.
Puzzles are perfect for promoting the development of cognitive skills such as problem solving, reasoning, and spacial awareness. They assist in building fine motor skills as well. Professionally, I use puzzles with my clients to assist in learning basic language concepts, categories, responding to why questions, and increasing vocabulary. At home, my three kids play with puzzles in countless different ways because they are just plain FUN!
With all the apps, educational games, and other learning devices vying for our children’s attention it may be tempting to think that our world has outgrown the need for puzzles, but as a preschool teacher let me tell you we have not.