Children of all ages should be encouraged to become “puzzlers” because puzzles help develop and reinforce the perceptual skills required for reading, writing, spelling and maths. There’s also that wonderful sense of satisfaction that comes with completing a puzzle.

The RGS Group is the leading South African distributor of high quality wooden and board puzzles under the Smart Play label. The competitive pricing and the high quality of the extensive Smart Play puzzle range ensures that every child and every classroom can enjoy the benefits of curriculum-approved puzzles, as well as puzzle-building for fun.

Much like reading books, we introduce puzzles to children gradually, matching age and ability (click here for a puzzle guide) and watch this product review video here or scroll down to the bottom of this blog.

What your child will learn

  • Toddlers 18 months to 2 years start off with basic knob puzzles. Fine motor control and spatial planning required to place the different puzzle pieces into the matching space. In addition, knob puzzles exercise the pincer grip – the same grip that will be used for holding a crayon, pencil or pen. See in the accompanying video below.
  • From knob puzzles, children move onto tray puzzles. Smart Play’s number puzzle is a good illustration of the benefits of tray puzzles. Problem solving and sequencing skills are required to put each number into the correct space.
  • Introduce preschoolers to traditional puzzle building with interlocking pieces with 2 to 6 piece puzzles. This teaches them about part-whole relationships.  You can get even more value out of this simple box of 6 wooden puzzles by muddling up all the pieces. Then get your child to find all the pieces belonging to the bunny, the lizard, the parrot etc. This strengthens the skill of visual discrimination or the ability to notice similarities and differences. Only then can they move on to building the 6 different puzzles which requires eye-hand co-ordination     and being able to manipulate pieces into the right position and direction to fit together.
  • Puzzles require spatial planning and the ability to manipulate pieces into the correct position using eye-hand co-ordination.
  • Busy puzzles stimulate figure-ground perception – the ability to isolate items in a busy picture in the foreground or background

By the time a child is between four and five years old a 20-piece puzzle or more should be within their grasp. A child entering grade 1 must be able to complete a 24-piece puzzle with ease. This is part of school readiness testing.

Whether a child is doing a simple knob puzzle or completing a 100-piece puzzle, they will be learning planning, organising and problem-solving skills that lay essential foundations for reading, writing and maths.

Puzzle building technique

There is technique involved when building larger puzzles from 24 pieces through to 100s and 1000s of pieces.

  • Firstly, find all the pieces with a flat side belonging to the frame as well as the four corners. Then build it.
  • Secondly, sort the rest of the pieces into groups according to colour, pattern, or a particular part of the picture. Looking at the Jostling Knights puzzle, there is blue knight, a red knight, a castle, etc. Within the frame, start building these different parts of the puzzle and they will eventual match up and the puzzle will be complete.

How puzzles vary in difficulty

Puzzles can vary in difficulty in a number of ways:

  • the size of the puzzle pieces
  • the number of pieces
  • the simplicity or complexity of the picture (see the difference between this zoo puzzle and the Princess on the Horse)
  • the detail in the picture (it is easier to match pieces with line and shape than pieces that are just one colour)

To keep your child interested and for maximum enjoyment, always try and choose puzzle pictures that appeal to your child or that they can relate to. A child who is crazy about dinosaurs will be more inclined to build a dinosaur puzzle than an aeroplane, for example. Remember to keep building your child’s confidence little by little so that they become committed puzzlers who derive great satisfaction from their puzzle building efforts.

Smart Play puzzles were reviewed by Nikki Bush.

Age category:              From 18 months of age for knob puzzles up to adults

                                        for traditional puzzles

Price:                             Starting price approx.  R29 for the smallest board

                                        puzzle and R59 for a wooden puzzle. Prices go up

                                       from there, depending on the size of

                                       the puzzle.

Brand:                           Smart Play

Distributor:                  RGS Group

Retail outlets:             Westpack and Makro