When it comes to playtime, some toys have more to offer than others. Like puzzles. Not only are puzzles a great (and quiet!) way to bust boredom, they're also a vital part of a child's development. From age one all the way through adulthood, puzzles help develop and refine an impressive list of skills like hand-eye coordination, spatial awareness, fine and gross motor skills and even patience and concentration. What's more, learning how to master them can bolster their self-esteem.
Personally, I'm a huge fan of puzzles. When my kids were tiny, they provided a fun way to play together (confession: Imaginative play is not my strong suit) that was both educational and engaging. Now that they're a little bigger (a pre-teen and teen respectively), we constantly have a more complicated version sprawled across the dining table. To my delight, I'm finding there's a benefit I never even expected—connection. When they join me in painstakingly hunting down pieces, my heart grows three sizes. They open up and chat more than they do when we're undistracted. We get to work together on something that has no stakes, just fun. It's heaven.
If you're looking for screen-free, brain-boosting entertainment, puzzles are a household must-have. I've rounded up some of the best puzzles for babies, toddlers, kids (and even a couple for adults!) that deserve a spot in your rotation.
Best puzzles for babies and toddlers
Melissa & Doug barnyard animals jumbo knob puzzle
With easy-to-grab knobs and just three pieces, this makes the perfect first puzzle for babies and toddlers. Underneath each piece there's picture to match, helping little ones develop their visual perception as well as their hand-eye coordination.
First they sort, then they solve! This toddler-friendly four puzzle set is made from sturdy wooden pieces that are color-coded on the back for easy sorting. When they're done, just toss it back in the convenient slide-top box for next time.
Best puzzles for preschoolers
This sweetly illustrated 24-piece puzzle is actually 2-in-1! Two different edge colors make it easy to tell which side of the pet shop they're working on while the design itself makes it perfect for traveling.
Made from colorful, thick and sturdy pieces, this is a great puzzle for toddlers who have graduated from the simple wooden puzzles of babyhood. Name the familiar woodland creatures as it comes together and work on vocabulary as well as patience, problem-solving and hand-eye coordination.
Extra-thick, toddler-friendly pieces make up this action-packed outdoor adventure scene. Spread all 24 out on the floor and you'll be surprised how quickly they learn to solve it over time.
Even the antsiest, puzzle-averse kiddos will delight in putting this sprawling t-rex together! Made from 51 thick and sturdy pieces, including several that are dino-shaped themselves, the oversize design is great for little ones who struggle with small pieces. And when they're done? Well, they've got quite the impressive beast to show for it.
Puzzles don't always have to have a singular answer. In this set, the brightly colored and elaborately designed pieces are interchangeable, allowing kiddos to flex their creativity. No matter how they mix and match, the final product is a whimsical bird-like creature they'll be proud to flex.
Missing the culture and inspiration of museums these days? The Day at the Museum observation puzzles from Crocodile Creek are an inspiring distraction. Full of rich and engaging detail, this one transports little ones to a bustling art museum that's packed with recognizable masterpieces from some of history's greatest artists. It's easy enough for kids age four and up and provides a fun opportunity to learn more about the great works depicted once it's complete!
Best puzzles for kids
There's so much learning packed into this fun two-sided puzzle! Your budding geographer will quickly catch on to the location and shape of each of the United States with the added bonus of learning capital cities, state nicknames and surrounding countries and bodies of water. If they get discouraged, remind them these lessons could make them a trivia night dynamo. (Or, you know, pass that 4th-grade geography test with flying colors.)
This may look like an ordinary puzzle, but putting it together is only half the fun! Once your kiddo has the ocean scene assembled, it's time to put their observational skills to the test. 40 creatures are hiding within, waiting for their keen eye to point them out.
If they're ready to move on to a bigger challenge but need a little extra nudge, scratch-and-sniff pieces are hard to resist. With 71 pieces, it will require a little extra concentration, but the blue raspberry, grape and cherry scents will keep them coming back even if they need a few breaks before they master it.
Sometimes it's best to appeal to their interests (obsessions?) if they turn their nose up at puzzles. Best-selling Ravensburger puzzles not only come in a wide variety of recognizable scenes like Disney Princesses, Frozen and Thomas the Tank Engine, but they're also designed so that every individual piece has a completely unique shape, making them less frustrating for little learners.
Best puzzles for families
I've done more puzzles this past year than I've done in my entire lifetime prior. And while my guilty pleasure has been pairing them with a glass of wine and a murder podcast, that practice isn't exactly zen. As an alternative, the 300-piece Calm puzzles are the perfect way to mindfully zone out and wind down. The puzzle includes a 30-day subscription to the Calm app which provides a peaceful backdrop and the gorgeous images themselves come together in just a couple of hours.
Sure, there's nothing stopping you from letting the kids get in on the action here, it's also fine to reserve it for yourself. Ahhhh.
For families who love to puzzle together, the gorgeous wooden city puzzles from Dowdle Folk art are a stunning addition to your collection. Their heirloom-quality construction and presentation are available in a wide variety of world landmarks making it easy to find a place that's meaningful. And if you want to make it extra-special, you can even opt to add your own custom images to make it a true one-of-a-kind treasure.
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