Puzzles are a fun way to pass the time, but did you know that they also help kids work on mental shape manipulation, which is important for future success in math, science, and problem solving?Mental shape manipulation, an aspect of spatial reasoning, is the ability to predict the transformation of two- and three-dimensional shapes in one’s mind. The variety of shapes and colors that puzzles offer, as well as the immediate feedback they provide, make them a natural fit for practicing this skill.Research shows that with adult help, children can start developing mental shape manipulation skills as young as three years old. In particular, using spatial language (e.g. corner, top, edge, between, upside-down) to guide their play helps kids understand the spatial concepts themselves. For example, instead of saying, “I see you’re putting this piece here,” you might say, “I see you’re putting this piece above/below/next to the corner piece.”You can also help your child by scaffolding the way they approach the puzzle. For example:
- Ask your child questions that will help them solve the puzzle: “I see a lot of red on this piece. Do you see any other red in the puzzle?”
- Offer observations about your child’s efforts: “I see that you’re trying to place the curved piece there, but it doesn’t seem to be fitting that way.”
- Help your child come up with a plan to solve the puzzle: “Let’s find all of the pieces with a straight edge first.”
- For a child who needs extra help, turn the puzzle pieces in the proper direction before having them place the pieces in the puzzle. Let more advanced spatial reasoners figure out how to rotate or flip the pieces on their own.
By talking your child through the activity and drawing their attention to spatial concepts, you’ll help them develop strategies for completing puzzles on their own, which they can apply to other spatial reasoning tasks later on!
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