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42 Thinking Skills You Can Learn From Doing Jigsaw Puzzles
Puzzles are a one-stop cognitive development and character building activity. There are few educational experiences that have the potential to teach such a diverse range of thinking skills, as well as other useful skills such as patience and perseverance. Learning these skills can benefit you at any stage of your life. For example, puzzles can teach you:
Problem solving strategies
Project management skills
Character Development Skills and Traits
Puzzles are cheap and easy to come by, you only need a small space to do them and very little can go wrong as long as you don’t lose pieces or let the dog chew them. If you are a parent or a teacher, you can follow some simple steps to help your children or students gain confidence in a range of skills that will benefit them in many areas of their learning. The key to this is portability. This article explains what it is and how you can use it.
The educational value of doing a puzzle is twofold: first, by building a base of useful individual skills; second, by transferring these skills to other situations where they can be used to solve new problems. Much research has been done on the transfer of learning from one situation to another. This is one of the key goals of all learning. If you want to do some in-depth reading on the subject, go to Google and search for “transferable skills.”
So what is portability? A simple example is learning how to hammer a nail into a piece of wood. Imagine being able to use only one length of nail and one size of hammer to hammer it into one type of material, e.g. wood. It won’t be very useful to you because the skill is not transferable to other situations. You will have to learn a new skill every time you want to use a hammer in a different situation. However, if you knew that you could use any size hammer with any size nail and almost any type of material, that would be much more useful to you than a skill. Even better, if you knew you could use the skill on the ground, in the air, or on a boat, or in a hundred other places, it would be even more useful. This simple example demonstrates what transferability is: knowing how to apply a skill in new situations.
How do you transfer the skills you learn through a puzzle to other situations? All you have to do is follow a three-step process. The skill you use should be:
b. Understood as a process, and
c. Applied to new situations.
But before you rush off to do a puzzle in the hopes that you’ll become a super problem solver, there are a few tips that will help make the experience more beneficial. As you do your puzzle, you must be consciously aware of what you are doing and be able to articulate the process as you do it.
This means that while you are doing the puzzle, you need to be aware of your own self-talk, that is, what you are saying to yourself while you are doing the puzzle. An example of this might be: “I use my organizational skills to sort the pieces of the puzzle into straight edges and interior pieces.” This skill can be used later when doing your laundry, where you can say, “I use my organizational skills to sort the laundry into dark and light colors.” At a higher level, you might say, “I organize my staff into skill levels so that we can complete the project in the most efficient way.”
In this article I have isolated 42 skills that can be developed by doing puzzles, but there are probably many more. Write me if you find more and I will update the article. The beauty of puzzles is that they start at a very simple level and go up to diabolically difficult levels of challenge, like the Clementoni puzzles that have over 13,000 pieces. For those of you who are more adventurous, there are also 3-D puzzles and puzzles with other challenging features. Visit your local toy store to see the variety of puzzle challenges available.
It is helpful to set a reasonable goal by starting where you are comfortable and progressing from there to more challenging puzzles. As you do the puzzle, remember to pay attention to the skill you are using. Developing this self-talk will help you apply the skill or transfer it to new situations.
Here are the skills you can learn while doing your puzzle, as well as possible self-talk that can go along with it. The skills are listed in alphabetical order. The last part of this article has suggestions for the types of self-talk you can use to apply the skills you’ve learned to new situations.
Confirmation for small achievements, e.g. to fit a piece right: “I feel great that I accomplished that goal.”
Analysis: “I have broken the puzzle into all its parts and now I understand how they will fit together.”
Rule: “I arrange these pieces in an order that will help me work more efficiently.”
Attention to detail: “This color is not the same as that color, so this piece has to go somewhere else.”
Categorization: “I have organized all these pieces into their colors.”
Cooperation: “This area is very challenging, so we need to work together to solve it.”
Comparison: “This shape will fit in this space. This piece is too big to fit in that space.”
Comprehension: “I understand the picture, so I can do this section.”
Concentration: “I concentrate on the size, edges, shapes and colors of these pieces to see how they fit together.”
Contrast: “Are these colors/shapes the same or are they different?”
Creativity (different ways to identify puzzle pieces): “This piece is too difficult to identify by color, so I will compare the shapes of the edges.”
Decision Making: “All these pieces will form that part of the picture.”
Increasing challenges (fewer pieces to many pieces): “Last time I did a 100-piece puzzle. This time I’m going for a 200-piece puzzle.”
Hand-eye coordination (fine motor control): “These pieces are very small, so I have to be dexterous to manipulate them into their proper spaces.”
Flexibility (working on different areas): “I’ve tried this area for a while without too much success. I’ll try another area for a while.”
Formulate questions: “How do these pieces fit together? Does this color go with that color?”
Goal statement: “I will finish this puzzle in one week.”
Helpful (ask a person, don’t give the answer): “Have you tried one of these pieces there?” “Try that piece the other way around.”
Hypothesis: “This piece can’t go here, so it must go here. Let’s try here first.” “If that piece goes here, this piece must go there.”
Learn about picture content for discussion and language development: “I can see three green trees beside a blue river.”
Memory Retention: “I’ve tried this piece on here before, so it won’t fit.”
Get feedback on your decisions: “Oops! Wrong choice. I can see it doesn’t fit.”
Organization: “All these pieces go in that area, and all those pieces go in this area.”
Overcoming distractions, strengthening concentration: “It’s a little noisy in here with the television set on, but I’ll concentrate harder to complete the puzzle.”
Patience: “I’ve only found one piece that fits in the last fifteen minutes. Never mind, I’ll keep trying.”
Persistence: “I’m going to stay here until I finish this puzzle.”
Planning: “I’ll do this area first, then I’ll look for the corner pieces, then I’ll finish that area.”
Planning work sessions and breaks: “I feel tired, so I will work for half an hour, take a break, then I will do something else.”
Prioritization: “I’ll do this difficult area first, then I’ll do that area that’s a little easier.”
Problem Solving: “This whole puzzle is a problem I need to solve. Finding edges is a problem I can solve. Sorting the pieces into color groups is a problem I can solve.”
Procedures: “I can choose the order in which I prefer to work. I can do it before I do it.”
Process of elimination: “I’ll try these pieces in this area. If they match, the puzzle will be much easier to solve from this point on.”
Reasoning, by justifying your choices of shape or color: “These pieces go here because the colors match, but those pieces don’t go here. The colors are slightly darker.”
Review: “So far I’ve completed this area and I only have five more pieces to match before moving on to the next area.”
Self-reflection (learning from mistakes): “I’m feeling a little irritated. Why am I taking so long to complete this area?”
Sense of Adventure: “This puzzle might be too hard for me, but I’ll try anyway. What have I got to lose?”
Sequence: “This is a logical sequence of work. I’ll do this area, then I’ll do that area. After that, I’ll finish this edge.”
Sharing behavior: “Let’s work together on this area. I’ll help you find your pieces if you help me find mine.”
Social interaction: I enjoy doing this puzzle with you. We are a great team.”
Spatial orientation skills: “If I turn it over in my mind, I can see it doesn’t fit here. It fits there.”
Stop to enjoy, appreciate and admire the picture: “What a beautiful scene of a French vineyard.”
Trial and error process: “One of these nine pieces will fit here. I’ll try them all, though it will take some time.”
Now that you know a range of skills you can use, as well as examples of the self-talk that will help you understand the process you’re using, it’s time to do a puzzle. Print this article and keep it with you while you do it. Refer to it regularly to identify skills as well as practice the self-talk patterns.
When you’ve used and become familiar with these skills, you’ll be ready to transfer them to new problem-solving situations. When you face a problem-solving challenge at home or at work, step back for a moment and ask yourself:
· What skill I used in the puzzle can I use here?
Use the same self-talk patterns to apply the skill to the new situation. Let’s use the example of a flat tire on your car. Maybe you’ve never changed a tire before. What can you tell yourself?
“What skill I used in the puzzle can I use here?”
“What sequence of actions do I need to accomplish this task?”
“I need to concentrate on completing this task on time.”
Finally, one more thing needs to be said. You must provide the motivation to learn the skills and apply them to new situations as part of your own personal problem-solving strategy. If you don’t apply your skills to new situations, the laundry might not get done or the tire might not get changed. The application phase is the most important one if you hope to become a better thinker.
Now you’re ready to try solving some real problems with these skills. Happy puzzling and happy problem solving.
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