My son is two and a half, and has had very little experience with puzzles. Just the other day, my wife bought a pack of four 12-piece puzzles of a school bus, race car, fire truck, and choo choo train. My first guess would be that our son, who only sits still for books and “watch something,” would hop around before stomping on the puzzle and running to his costumes. But as we sat down with him, my wife spread the first puzzle out on the floor, each piece in close proximity to its linking piece. Here we were scaffolding the completion of a puzzle. If you’re not familiar with the term scaffolding, think of a building. At first you need a support structure when building. Eventually you can remove the support structure that helps both the building itself stay up and the men working on it. The same applies to education and to parenting. You establish a support structure that in stages you can remove until the project is complete and the subject is independent.
- In the first puzzle, we showed our son how to place two pieces together. “Match!” he said, familiar with the similar game of matching tiles. Then we made suggestions (along with pointing pointing) as to which other tiles can go with which, and let him place them together. We helped with the placing.
- In the second puzzle, we arranged the pieces in proximity again. This time, we let him make the first match, based on our suggestion and pointing. We gave hints like “what else looks like more tire?”
- For the third puzzzle, we left the pieces in proximity, but made less hints and allowed him to figure out more. We noticed he was completing the puzzle just a bit faster each time, catching on quickly.
- For the fourth puzzle, we could tell he was getting a little antsy. We asked him if he wanted to quit. After all, he had mastered the basics of solving a puzzle. But he decided to finish, and with hardly assistance from us, he eventually finished his last puzzle. In about 10-15 minutes, our son caught on to puzzles and was already demonstrating growth in completing them. It was one of those proud little moments.
We didn’t do this with any real planning or pressed structure. We opened the puzzles and payed attention to how our child caught on. I have experience in education and my wife has experience in psychology, both of which made it easier for us to scaffold this fun, yet challenging activity. If you don’t have professional experience to apply, pay attention to how your child is working through these challenges. Begin with lots of assistance, then slowly back off at a pace they can handle. In this way you can have fun and help their little brains grow. Scaffolding. It’s a great parenting tool, and teaching tool. It even works for training adults. Life is a puzzle, after all. But make it fun.