How to teach a child to do a puzzle {How To Tuesday}

How To Tuesday

{How To Tuesday}

I don't know about you, but my child didn't come with an instruction manual. My husband and I look at each other daily with that "deer in headlights" look and wonder how we are going to teach our boy the next big life lesson. When we were pregnant and when he was a baby, we often ready baby books and online baby forums, we asked our parents for advice, and sometimes we just winged it and prayed for the best.

With the internet at our fingertips, we can often search for a "how-to" on many things, but there are still some tasks that baffle us. They are the simple ones like How to teach a child to color inside the lines or How to teach a child to be offensive in a basketball game or How to teach a child to do a puzzle. I'm starting a new series of our "trivial" How-To's that we are learning along the way in hopes that I can help (or entertain) you all with our crazy parenting – How-To Tuesday!

how to teach a child to do a puzzle {scrambled}

How to teach a child to do a puzzle

When I was growing up, I loved doing puzzles. Every time I see a puzzle aisle, I have to stop and take a look at all the new puzzles and dream of picking up a large puzzle to dive into. As a parent, I try to introduce my boy to as many of my childhood joys as I can. He loves to color, just like me, loves to read, just like me, loves to tease and tickle and harass me, just like Daddy… and from an early age, he has loved to work with puzzles, just like BOTH of us!

I remember the first time that I realized he could do puzzles (and honestly, it hadn't occurred to me that he was old enough yet). He was in daycare, less than a year old, and I walked in to pick him up and he was putting wooden pieces into a puzzle. I believe it was a farm puzzle. I asked the teachers how long he had been doing that and they said it was his favorite thing to do! I should have known because we had one of those shape sorters at home and I knew he loved to play with that. It just hadn't occurred to me that it was time to introduce puzzles. From then on, we have quickly progressed from wooden puzzles, to cardboard puzzles, and finally on to jigsaw puzzles.

Phineas and Ferb 200 piece puzzle

We have mastered the 24-50 piece puzzles, so when my boy was given $5 from his Granny Great recently and we went to pick out his prize, he saw this Phineas and Ferb puzzle (with 200 pieces!) and wanted to try it. I knew that we couldn't just dump all 200 pieces on the table and start assembling (although, actually, he and I probably could…more on that in a minute) so I had to teach him the steps of putting together a larger jigsaw puzzle.

separate edges from middle puzzle pieces

Step 1: Separate the edge and middle pieces of the puzzle

After you open the box of a jigsaw puzzle, turn the two pieces over and start separating the pieces into edge pieces and middle pieces. Here's a hint: Put the middle pieces in the bottom part of the box so you can dump the edge pieces out next and still see the picture on the box.

I had to teach my boy about edge pieces because this is the first time that we have taken steps with a puzzle. It didn't take him long before he knew what I meant and we had the pieces separated.

found matching puzzle pieces

Step 1(a): If you find pieces that go together, keep them aside.

As we were separating the puzzle pieces, my boy found a few that he just knew fit together so he tried them. Rather than "waste" that little victory, we set them aside for him to use later. This is what I was talking about earlier when I said we could just dump the whole 200 piece puzzle out. He and I have this eye for pieces fitting together. We don't separate them by color or try out a piece in lots of places. We both just sit and look…and sit and look…until we SEE the piece we are looking for and…Voila!

assemble the edge puzzle pieces

assemble the puzzle frame with edge pieces

Step 2: Build the edges to make an outline of the puzzle.

I have always built the edges of the bigger jigsaw puzzles first because it helps set areas to focus on while filling in the middle. I think I learned it from my Aunt Linda (she inspires all of my creativity and thinking activities from my childhood).

use puzzle box for illustration

Step 3: Use the box cover as a guide for what the puzzle will look like.

Sometimes puzzles will purposely have sections of coloring that are similar in order to make the puzzle more difficult. I have always used the box top as a guide to determine what sections are which. This Phineas and Ferb puzzle had graphics on the front of the box, but it also came with a handy paper guide so we would know what the entire puzzle would look like when finished.

work on the puzzle in sections like Perry the platypus

Step 4: Encourage your child to work on sections of the puzzle so he is not frustrated or overwhelmed.

Anytime your child is learning to do a larger jigsaw puzzle than he is used to, he can get overwhelmed with the entire picture. I noticed that my boy was sighing and grunting from time to time and he even crumbled the puzzle once and we took a break. The second time we started over, I picked out a few pieces for him to put together Perry the platypus and he was so proud when he finished!

let your child finish the puzzle and celebrate

Step 5: Let your child finish the puzzle by allowing him to put in the final pieces.

Throughout the puzzle assembling process, watch for signs of frustration and cheer for little accomplishments and finally, when it comes down to the last few pieces of the puzzle, just sit back and let your child claim the victory!

If you think your child will be a big puzzler, you might want to look into a puzzle roll-up mat or some other way to store the unfinished puzzle so that you don't have to start over. In our case, we could have left the puzzle on the table, but the first time he got so frustrated that he just wanted to crumble it.

how to teach a child to do a puzzle

Step 6: Enjoy your creation – Celebrate – Keep it, Frame it, or Save it for another Day!

Many people buy puzzles specifically for their art and love to display them. There are lots of products that can be used to preserve puzzles like puzzle glue or a peel & stick puzzle saver. Of course, when I was growing up, we always just used white Elmer's glue.

Whether you decide to preserve it or just crumble it up so you can put it together again later, be sure to take a minute to stop and enjoy your creation, praise your child for their accomplishment, and pat yourself on the back for teaching your child a new skill.

What other tips do you have for teaching a child to do a puzzle?

What would you like to see next on How-To Tuesday?!!


*this post contains affiliate links, but my boy totally bought this puzzle for himself with his "prize money" from Granny Great.

Someday I'll Learn I'm linked up!


  1. Lisa says:

    We are just staring to do puzzles with our boys. They are starting to get the hang of it but get confused so easily:)

  2. Oh my gosh, I can’t wait until my boys are old enough to do puzzles. Thanks for joining in at Teach Me Tuesday!

    • janet says:

      Thanks, Chelsea! We love puzzles around here and I hope that my boy continues to love them!

  3. Darcy says:

    This is how I still do puzzles! 🙂 Right now Rissa loves the wooden peg puzzles.

  4. I loved doing puzzles as a kid, and still do! My favorite puzzles were the ones that weren’t shaped like a rectangle. I ended up framing this really cool fish shaped puzzle. 🙂

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