Montessori Philosophy & Practice

AGE 1-3 YEARS—Puzzles

The following is the text from this section of the 2009-2010 edition of The Joyful Child, Montessori from Birth to Three
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Visual Discrimination and Eye-Hand Control
As the child explores the environment, she becomes aware of and interested in the variety of colors and shapes in the indoor and outdoor environment. This is the time to give very simple shape and color puzzles as children love to put things inside containers, such as puzzle pieces in spaces that match.

The use of knobbed puzzles and other toys that call for special finger and hand grips called the pincer grip that will prepare the child for writing and other fine muscle activities, while it satisfies her need to think and solve problems.

It is specifically the opposition between the thumb and index finger that has made it possible to execute the extremely refined movements that have produced the whole of human culture—from architecture to writing, from music to painting, and all the technology that enriches our lives.
—Dr. Silvana Montanaro

Some toys, such as puzzles, have a specific way to be used, and others, such as dolls and blocks, are more open-ended in their usage. Both are creative. It is a challenge, however, to find toys that have an exact way to be used—such as puzzles. Children delight in knowing the correct way to use toys with specific procedures, just as they are proud to learn the correct way to use a woodworking tool, or a musical instrument.

Through early experiences with such puzzles, children can develop many useful skills: handling materials, refining movement, completing a cycle of activity, carrying out logical steps in order, solving problems. There is a built in control of error in puzzles so the child can judge for herself, without the help of another person, if the work has been done correctly. This is high level mental activity. So is the mastery of steps that logically follow each other: grasp the knob, remove the pieces of the puzzle one at a time laying them out on the table. Grasp the knobs again one at a time and place the pieces correctly in the frame. This is so satisfying, mentally and physically, that a child will often be seen repeating the same puzzle over and over, sometime as many as twenty times, and then breath a sigh of satisfaction when finishes. We do not know what occurs in the mind of the child at these times but we do know that it is important and should not be interrupted.

With good logical puzzle toys children learn to bring the use of the body under the control of the will, to concentrate, to make a plan, to follow a train of thought, and to repeat and perfect. This is the foundation of creativity.

With open-ended toys children learn to apply these same skills and to express and process their unique mental information. They process and relive experiences, for example while playing with dolls or animal models. The quality and variety of open-ended, imaginative play depends on the quality and variety of experiences in the world of reality.

In choosing a puzzle there are several elements to keep in mind. Look not only for durability, quality and beauty, but also for the purpose and the amount of time the play, the child's work, will engage a child. Knobbed puzzles offer more steps to master, insert puzzles beginning with simple shapes are the best with which to begin. Two-piece jigsaw puzzles introduce a new challenge and lead the child on to more and more difficult and satisfying puzzles as he grows.

The most important thing to consider is that the child enjoys the work, for it is through enjoyable work that she will repeat, focus, and grow.

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© Susan Mayclin Stephenson, 2010 (
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