Puzzles are not a toy that we can hand our babies to play independently with. Puzzles have many obstacles for a mind that have not seen puzzles yet. Playing with peg puzzles engages new sensations – new smell, new images, new movements, new concepts ext in the baby’s developing mind.


puzzles are fun for all ages

Puzzles are versatile toys and educational tools
“They are fun for all ages.”

The beginner puzzles are peg puzzles. The large knob puzzles are a good toy from age 6-7 months. The small peg puzzles can be introduced at 10-11 months of age.

I prefer the small knob puzzles. The large knob is good for someone with weak hands and severe muscular challenges. Babies with no challenges usually graduate to the small peg puzzles in 2-3 months.

What do I do with peg puzzles?

First of all, I consider them tools, not toys.

  1. Teach imitation
  2. Teach matching
  3. Teach vocabulary
  4. Teach sounds and words
  5. Teach concepts i.e.: colors, counting
  6. Teach bending the knees and other motor skills
  7. Teach following directions

Definition of tools and toys

The best tools to teach a baby are my toys. I looooove toys! And I love to play and teach with them.
I consider toys to be a parents tool until the child can be taught with that toy. When the child can play with the toy all the “games” the parent taught her the toy stops being a tool.

puzzle as a teaching tool

My toys are my tools

As a Physical Therapist, I use toys to distract and entertain from the difficulties of the exercise I am teaching a child to do. Even though my profession is about the motor components of child development I make sure to teach the child all skills I know. For example, I address finger movements, arm strength, self-feeding, vocabulary, cognitive thinking, speech ext.

1. Teaching imitation

One of the baby’s cognitive corner skills is imitating. With peg puzzles a baby imitates mom: great puzzle to teach matching

  1. Taking out the puzzle pieces
  2. Putting in the puzzle pieces
  3. Matching the puzzle piece image to the same image on the board
  4. Holding the puzzle pieces with the pincher grasp
  5. Turning the pieces to fit into cut out shape
  6. Naming the puzzle piece
  7. Focusing to complete the task at hand ext

When I work on imitation I like to sit the baby in the high chair to avoid distraction and keep the baby from crawling away. I place the puzzle board with the pieces in them in front of the baby. Then I take the pieces out one by one and place them on my table watching the whole time what is the baby doing. I work in silence because I want the baby to focus on my movements only. I am looking at facial expressions, tracking of her eyes, reaching to touch puzzle, eventually imitating the whole sequence I presented.

2. Teaching matching

When I established that the baby is imitating I play different games with the puzzle. When I work on matching I name thecomplete puzzle puzzle piece and move it to the matching spot on the board and either say “match” or repeat the name of the puzzle piece.

3. Teaching vocabulary

When I focus on vocabulary the completion of the puzzle is not the goal. I pick up puzzle pieces name them or say any word or sound I can teach with it and give it to the child. He is free to do anything with it. I keep giving him pieces and putting them in and out of board until the child is engaged in this game.

4. Teaching sounds and words

When the child understands some of the words I start working on speech. Changing the Vocabulary game a bit, I won’t give them a piece until the child stays silent or looks at me/my mouth or repeats a sound /syllable of the word he hears.

teaching matching and colors

5. Teaching concepts i.e.: colors, counting

Concepts are hard to teach to a baby. Green-Red-Blue are words but they are also a concept, not a thing. Concepts can be easiest taught when we describe the concept of a thing the baby already knows. I introduce the concept game with the puzzles when the baby clearly knows theteaching concepts with shape puzzle word of the puzzle piece. Shape puzzle is a good tool to teach color with. When I introduce colors I hold 2 shapes at the same time. I say the color and shape names and wait for the child to reach out to get one of the shapes. I motion the chosen piece toward the little hand and hold it firmly until the baby pulls on it for a second or two and repeat the color and shape name. This tug-a-war creates a repeated notice of my spoken words in the baby.

6. Teaching bending the knees and other motor skills

Bending down from standing is a big milestone. To help the baby learn it safely and without any compensations, I place the empty puzzle board onto the couch. I stand the baby facing the board and sit next to her dominant side. I hold each puzzle piece one by one around knee level facilitating the baby to reach down to get the piece. To get baby’s attention and to direct the mind downwards I repeatedly and gently tap the baby’s leg with the puzzle. As the baby progresses I hold the puzzle lower and lower until I reach the floor level.

7. Teaching following directions

With a walking baby, I will spread the puzzle pieces facing up on the floor 2-3 feet away from a child table. I will put the board on the table and ask the child to bring me a particular puzzle piece. If the child brings the wrong puzzle piece I will send it back and continue asking for the piece I “wanted” originally. I will stay at the table until I see the baby needs help looking, locating the asked piece to facilitate following great puzzle teaching conceptsverbal directions.

I also teach following directions with the peg puzzles which have one picture cut into pieces.

How to keep puzzle pieces from getting lost

I have around 30 peg board puzzles, antique and new. I collect them according to their teaching “powers”. All my puzzles are in zip-lock bags. I clean up one toy counting all pieces before I start playing with a new one. Using this method I managed to keep all the pieces to my puzzles.

There are many variations and other games I play with peg and eventually jigsaw puzzles. It would be impossible to fit all into a post. Reach out to me if you have a question I did not answer in this blog.

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