A recent study at the University of Chicago found that children who play with puzzles between the ages of 2 and 4 have better-developed spatial skills. These skills are an important predictor of whether kids will later excel at math and science.
Unfortunately, the study also showed that while playing puzzles with their kids, parents tend to use less spatial language around girls than boys, and that they give girls less difficult puzzles to solve.
The idea that I could unknowingly stifle my daughter’s learning in the areas of math and science is disturbing. But apparently, it can be done in the most innocent of ways.
In an article on Babble called “Overcoming Math Anxiety,” the author gives the example of a child going to his mother for help on math homework and the mother saying that she’s “never been very good at math, let’s wait to ask dad.” This automatically sends the message to your kid that math is more of a dad skill than a mom skill— and that it’s okay for girls not to be very good at it.
I can totally see this happening with me and my husband. Even though I actually was very good at math in school, it was not something I enjoyed and thus I relished the opportunity to turn over math related matters (calculating the check after dinner, doing our taxes, creating a budget) to my husband, who seems to actually like doing these things.
But as the article points out, math is more than multiplication tables. It is used in everything from traveling to cooking to home decor. It’s also used in all the parenting infographics I am so fond of creating for my blog.
In other words, I should not sell myself short.
The article suggests that instead of deferring math homework to dad, moms should make time to figure out the problem together with their child using a “we can do it” attitude.
But the best way to counteract the growing number of girls who lack confidence in math and science is to set them up with the skills they need from the very beginning. It is incredibly important to find toys that promote building, spatial skills, pattern recognition, and logic.
Puzzles seem to be one of the easiest (and earliest) ways to introduce these concepts to your child.
With that in mind, here are 20 puzzles beyond the traditional “jumbo knob puzzles” (from beautifully designed varieties to DIY options) to get your kids off on the right foot.
Wooden Block Puzzle by Aoi Huber Kono 1 of 20This beautifully designed puzzle creates five different animals— an elephant, monkey, lion, owl, hare and a bear.
Discovered on Amazon
DIY Problem Solving Floor Puzzles 2 of 20This puzzle was created by simply putting painter tape on the floor. Then use the blocks your child already owns to fill in the shape.
Discovered on Hands On As We Grow
Mini Wooden Animal Puzzles 3 of 20These simple 3D starter puzzles are perfect for little hands.
Discovered on Oh Joy
DIY Lego puzzles 4 of 20These adorable little puzzles can be created easily and are excellent for travel.
Discovered on I Can Teach My Child
Cubebot 5 of 20Each robot folds up neatly into a cube.
Discovered on David Weeks Studio
DIY Sponge Puzzle 6 of 20Another simple DIY puzzle with endless possibilities, prefect for early spatial reasoning.
Discovered on Education.com
Personalized Name Puzzles by Nuzzle 7 of 20Teach your child spatial skills while they learn to spell their own name.
Discovered on Nuzzles
Wall Puzzles by Bilk 8 of 20These puzzles have the added benefit of not taking up any storage space.
Discovered on Bilk Wall Decor
DIY Fabric Puzzles 9 of 20Let your child pick their own fabrics to create their own unique puzzles.
Discovered on Craftiness Is Not An Option
Zoo Shape Sorter 10 of 20Adorable 3D animal puzzle for multi-purpose learning.
Discovered on Dwell
DIY Peekaboo Baby Puzzle 11 of 20An excellent idea to further engage small children with puzzles you already own.
Discovered on Nurture Store
Counting Caterpillar 12 of 20Great for spatial reasoning and learning your numbers.
Discovered on Blocks and 3D Puzzles
Paint-Your-Own Animal Puzzle 13 of 20These puzzles from Barcelona let kids paint and decorate the animals themselves.
Discovered on CooChicoos
Lunch Punch Sandwich Puzzles 14 of 20Make lunch more fun and educational with this ingenious sandwich cutters.
Discovered on I Can Teach My Child
Wooden Name Puzzles by Mooo 15 of 20These well-designed name puzzles make an excellent baby shower gift.
Discovered on Mooo
Mini Cardboard Animal Puzzles 16 of 20These woodland animal creature puzzles are made by a Sweden-based illustrator.
Discovered on Ingela P Arrhenius
DIY Painted Block Puzzles 17 of 20The perfect combination of building blocks, puzzles and a simple craft project.
Discovered on Momtastic
Geometric Pair Puzzles 18 of 20These unique geometric block pairs add a whole new dimension to block play.
Discovered on Fine Wooden Toys
DIY Popsicle Stick Puzzle 19 of 20Let your child pick whatever picture they want, pop it in a plastic bag and you've got a perfect game for eating out.
Discovered on The Rigneys
Geography Puzzle 20 of 20This beautifully handcrafted puzzle is so advanced, I don't know if I could do it. Which means it's the perfect challenge for our little girls.
Discovered on Steve Mattern on Etsy