To celebrate National Puzzle Day, we’ve hung giant puzzles in the gym and put small puzzles in the waiting room. And, since we’re ‘therapy-nerds’, we’re also thinking about the many ways that we use puzzles in our therapy sessions every day. Read on to learn more…
How do puzzles help? – an Occupational Therapist’s Perspective
I love winter because the cold weather gives me an excuse to stay in and puzzle. While 1000 piece jigsaw puzzles have traditionally been my favorite, I’ve recently gotten into the New York Times puzzle called ‘Connections.’
As an OT, I use puzzles all the time as a FUN way to target 3 important skills I focus on with every single client:
- Visual Perceptual Skills (making sense of what we see)
- Example: Identifying similar colors, shapes, sizes of puzzle pieces
- Visual Motor Skills (hand-eye coordination)
- Example: Picking up or turning a puzzle piece to make it fit
- Bilateral Coordination Skills (using both hands at the same time)
- Example: Holding the puzzle still with one hand while reaching for a puzzle piece with the other
See my favorite puzzles by age below!
How do puzzles help? – a Speech/Language Therapist’s Perspective
Puzzles are valuable tools in speech therapy sessions and can be used to target specific goals in a fun and engaging way. Below are some of the many ways I use puzzles in speech therapy:
One of my favorite activities is working with logic puzzles like the one pictured below. I choose logic puzzles where all of the clues have the target sound (for example, -s-).
I also use word searches that target specific sounds. In the past, I’ve even made my own Word Searches based on individual needs. I just plug in the target words, and voila!
Two of my favorite ways to use puzzles for language goals are using them for expanding vocabulary and for problem-solving/critical thinking skills.
For kids working to expand their vocabulary, I use:
- Jigsaw puzzles that focus on opposite word pairs, synonyms, or items in the same category for younger kids
- Crossword puzzles, word searches, and anagrams to target antonyms, synonyms, and figurative language elements for older kids
- Scattergories Categories is a great word puzzle for working on categorization and vocabulary
Deductive reasoning puzzles, such as logic puzzles, offer an effective and engaging way to work on inferring and critical thinking skills.
Other ways to use puzzles for language goals:
Auditory Comprehension: Kids practice listening skills when I give directions on where puzzle pieces go. This is great for working on prepositions like ‘next to’, ‘above’, and ‘below’.
Expressive Language: Kids listen as I describe puzzle pieces, explain how to solve a puzzle, and give them directions (mazes are perfect for this).
Social Communication: Working on a puzzle alongside peers allows for collaboration and discussion.
Beginning Reading: Jigsaw puzzles offer a fun way to match letters to the sounds they make. Beginning readers can do picture searches for items starting with target sounds and word searches with short words. More advanced readers can do crossword puzzles or even online games like Wordle and Spelling Bee.
The best part about puzzles is that they can be adapted for any skill level or goal, and they make learning hard things just a little more fun.
How do puzzles help? – a Mental Health Therapist’s Perspective
Why on earth would a mental health therapist use puzzles?! So many reasons…
First of all, and most importantly, if a child or adolescent is interested in puzzles, then I am interested in puzzles. Am I a good puzzler? Absolutely not! But part of understanding another person’s inner world is engaging in the things they enjoy. And I love any opportunity for a child to be an “expert” and teach me something. Showing interest (or even excitement!) about someone else’s interest and allowing them to teach me about that interest builds self-esteem and trust – two things that I’m always working on!
Additionally, puzzles help me assess a child’s executive functioning and social/emotional skills.
- How do they approach a task?
- Do they sort the pieces first?
- Do they become quickly overwhelmed?
- Do they seem to have a plan, or do they wait for direction?
- How’s their frustration tolerance?
- Do they think flexibly?
- Do they adjust their plan as necessary?
Impulse control, emotional regulation, and flexible thinking are among the top three goals that parents list on their intake forms, so assessing these and working on them through play is super important.
Finally, I like to offer a “third thing” in the room with a child (the “first thing” is the child and the “second thing” is me). Some children are able to come in and immediately sit down and talk about their day or their week, sharing their high points and low points in words. And other kids (the majority of kids) need something additional in the room – a toy, a board game, a craft, or a puzzle – in order to be able to open up. Having something to do takes the pressure off the child to perform in a specific way, and can ease some of the tension and shame that occurs in therapy. Puzzles can slow down the pace of a session (especially important for kids with hyperactivity and/or anxiety). Toys, games, and puzzles offer a critical way for the child to make the session their own, bringing up the things that are important to them (not necessarily the things that are on the adult’s agenda!).
In conclusion, we hope we have inspired you to celebrate National Puzzle Day by highlighting all the ways we use puzzles in therapy! Did you have any idea puzzles could teach our kids SO MUCH?! Do you have favorite puzzles? Please share!!