You can never have too many puzzles in an early years setting. Our own cupboard is bursting at the seams with well-loved and well-used jigsaw puzzles. Weekends find us searching the local charity shops and car boot sales for more. After all, this fun resource can cover all six areas of learning.
We store our jigsaws in categories - inset, six-piece, nine-piece, 12-piece and so on. These are changed every two to three days, with a selection of 12 to 15 puzzles always available to the children. We aim to include several 'easy' puzzles, at least one floor puzzle, and a 'difficult' puzzle, which requires adult support to complete.
Presentation is important. We avoid tatty boxes by storing the puzzles in bright plastic trays or plastic containers, or on special puzzle boards made of hard board cut to the correct size and edged with quarter-round dowling. Many jigsaws are of the same size, so you don't have to make a board for each one.
The puzzles are placed on open shelves near to a table so the children can select and complete one they want.
* Children readily help each other to complete puzzles. They share the pieces, take turns at adding a piece and enjoy the feeling of success when the puzzle is complete.
* Children enjoy completing the same puzzle over and over again, frequently applauding their own efforts and enjoying their growing sense of self-esteem and confidence.
* 'Let's do this together' has been a useful phrase on many an occasion to calm or distract a child.
* Always be on the look-out for multi-cultural puzzles or those that reflect celebrations in different cultures.
A to Z
* Puzzles provide endless topics for conversation and for increasing vocabulary. But have you thought about using them as a tool to introduce phonic awareness? Can you make the animal sounds? Which object begins with B?
* Don't discard inset puzzles as being too easy. Sit the children in a circle, share out the pieces, tell a story based around the pieces, and when you mention the piece, get the child holding it to place it in the puzzle. Alternatively, the child may tell the story, which you could record.
* There are wide selections of alphabet-based puzzles available in both lower-and upper-case letters. Make an additional set of letters from stiff card and use them for matching games or as a base for letter formation at the dough table.
* Sequence-based puzzles may be hard to find, but are a valuable addition to any collection. Make your own using pictures out of magazines or discarded books.
Make and match
* Puzzles lend themselves readily to developing mathematical language, such as quantity, order (first, second), corners, edges and so on.
* Use puzzles for sorting activities. Tip two or three inset puzzles into a box and get the children to sort the pieces.
* Make puzzles from greetings cards or photographs. Make the whole jigsaw a particular shape, such as a circular puzzle of a cake. Cut the puzzles in horizontal or vertical stripes or make the pieces in squares, triangles or diamonds.
* Include some 3D puzzles. Make a large cube out of eight small cubes, knock it down and see if the children can build it again. Work together to solve how to position the shapes.
* Puzzles with pieces graded by size are also a useful resource.
* Need an idea for a quick display? Put several pieces of a floor puzzle fitted together on the wall. Place three or four pieces of the same or different puzzles underneath. At the top write: Which piece comes next?
* Mount paintings as jigsaw-shaped pieces, or cut a painting into strips and mount it leaving gaps between pieces.
* Make an interactive display by providing silhouettes and placing the pieces around the edges for the children to put in the right place.
* Stick odd pieces on a piece of wood or stiff card and use as a printing block.
* Puzzles are ideal for improving hand-eye co-ordination and the pincer grip.
* Jigsaws are useful in ICT. Look for computer programmes that require the children to place pieces in unfinished puzzles, promoting mouse control skills.
* Use the digital camera to take photos to use as puzzles or to take pictures of the children completing the puzzles.
Photos Tim Smith/Guzelian