The days of putting together 1,000-piece puzzles with your child are still years away, but the cognitive elements of puzzle building have already started to connect in your toddler’s brain. When babies and toddlers start to manipulate toys and other objects to fit into a particular space, a number of skills are developing in their growing brains and bodies.
These toddler puzzle skills include:
Fine motor practice
The small, more precise movements babies and toddlers work so hard on when they play with physical objects, like grasping, pointing, clutching, squeezing, etc.
The way hands and eyes work together to complete a task
Gross motor practice
Movements that work the larger muscles of the arms and legs, such as walking, jumping, and climbing—puzzles tap into this too, especially with the large-format kinds, like floor puzzles
Recognizing shapes & spatial awareness
Toddler brains benefit enormously from practice with figuring out how things fit together, how to orient and rotate objects, and predicting which shapes might fit a particular space
Solving puzzles, even the simplest ones, is great for building short-term memory and forming neural connections in your toddler’s brain
There’s a lot more going on, too, especially as your toddler gets older. Puzzles offer practice in resilience, teamwork, managing frustration, and even mathematical concepts like parts of a whole and symmetry.
What does puzzle-solving look like at each stage? Remember, as always, that every child develops differently and may have a trajectory with puzzles that differs from these benchmarks. It’s also good to give kids at all stages plenty of time to experiment, play, and explore—even if it’s not the “right” way to solve a puzzle.
Here is the general puzzle-solving progression babies and toddlers go through:
Babies start to work with simple, one-piece puzzles around 6-8 months. Much of the time, that means mouthing the puzzle piece—that’s okay!
The pincer grasp
Close to their first birthday, your baby may start working on their pincer grip (grasping objects between thumb and index finger). This allows them to start removing puzzle pieces more easily and even fitting one inside its resting place. Your baby will probably also love taking completed puzzles and dumping them on the ground 🧩🧩🧩🧩.
Toddlers start to work on multi-piece puzzles with simple shapes between 13 and 15 months; circles are a great way to begin. Especially if you offer some guidance, your toddler may start noticing when pieces do and don’t fit into a particular space.
Your toddler is probably ready to start working with different shapes when they’re around 18 months old. Whether those shapes are geometric, animal, or otherwise, there is a newfound understanding that different shapes fit in different places.
An introduction to jigsaw puzzles might be just right when your toddler turns two—maybe even a little sooner. Simple, oversized jigsaw puzzles are a great way to practice this new way of fitting shapes together, and lay the groundwork for more complex puzzling down the line. You can also introduce floor puzzles at this age, which engage the whole body in fun new ways.