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February 14, 2023

Montessori Toddler: How To Introduce Jigsaw Puzzles

There are so many great potential Montessori friendly toys and activities that toddlers and young preschoolers can choose at home. Jigsaw puzzles are a great option for Montessori toddlers because they are self correcting, encourage fine motor skills, visual discrimination skills and more. So, let’s talk about how to introduce jigsaw puzzles in a Montessori way.

Montessori toddler sits at table to put together jigsaw puzzles.

Jigsaw puzzles are having a moment at our house as Teddy has discovered them. It feels like we have jigsaws in every room right now. His deepest moments of concentration lately have come from sitting and doing puzzles over and over again. But, honestly, this has been a very sudden change. Even a few months ago, Teddy never really played with puzzles. But by waiting for the right time, they have become his favorite thing. 

Teddy works on this puzzle set

Toddler happily works on jigsaw puzzle at table in Montessori home while baby watches on.

How We Introduce Jigsaw Puzzles to Our Montessori Toddler

I want to be clear that I don’t think there’s one specific way that puzzles have to be introduced, or one specific order to introduce them. There are children who will love puzzles from the start, and some that never will. By 3, some children are doing a hundred pieces, and others may struggle with a few. Follow your child and their specific interests and abilities when considering which puzzle is right for your child. 

Puzzles before Jigsaws

There are tons of options for puzzle progression in Montessori. The idea is to start small and move up to larger and more complicated puzzles. We want to find a level that is achievable and within their frustration tolerance, but is also stretching their fine motor skills.

I've presented so many puzzles to Ted, and he honestly has mostly ignored them all. Then, these 12 piece jigsaws just sparked an interest. But, that was after a lot of exposure to other types of puzzles. 

Presenting a Jigsaw Puzzle

On the shelf, ideally I like to place one puzzle on a tray with a picture of how it looks when it’s completed. That way the tray can be easily grabbed and worked with. For larger puzzles, having a tray that can fit a partially finished puzzle is sometimes helpful.

After introducing a 12 piece jigsaw puzzle, a Montessori toddler completes it at table.

When initially presenting a jigsaw puzzle I walk through a few steps:

  1. Prepare: Show the toddler how to flip over all the pieces so they are visible and the picture side is upward
  2. Announce: I show the example picture and clearly starts “We’re making this picture. Watch!”
  3. Show and Notice: Then I very slowly start to assemble the puzzle. I’m mostly quiet during this process. I may stop and say “red and red” or something like that to give hints about why I’m putting pieces together. Then as I get bigger pieces I notice aloud it’s starting to make that picture. In this phase I also model how to rotate pieces to make them fit. 
  4. Complete: Slow I complete the whole puzzle and enjoy my work
  5. Restore: Then, I show how to take the puzzle apart and return the pieces to the tray and shelf 

Then, I've just given Ted lots of time to practice these skills. If he needed support, I offered it. But, eventually he was doing his 12 piece puzzles with ease. So, then I added the additional challenge of more than one puzzle at a time. He personally loves trucks, so he also loves mixing and sorting the pieces before doing several puzzles in a row. 

Young Montessori preschool child completes multiple jigsaw puzzles at table.

Once your child is at this point, I think you can follow their lead in how many puzzles can be out at once and the themes you present. Right now, Teddy can complete 24 piece puzzles, or up to four 12 piece puzzles at once. It's been amazing to see. 

Introducing jigsaw puzzles in your Montessori home doesn't need to be intimidating. Go slow, follow your child's lead, and enjoy the concentration! 

Read step by step ideas for how to introduce jigsaw puzzles to Montessori toddlers at home.

Does your three-year-old like puzzles? 


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Anonymous said…
I'm having trouble knowing where to go now -- my 3.5 year old is doing 36-45 piece puzzles, but mostly jumbo. Do I go smaller or do more pieces once he has it down?
Nicole @ The Kavanaugh Report
Yes, you can start to try similar sized puzzles in smaller pieces, and if you haven't introduced a cube puzzle, those are also really fun and a little higher on the tricky scale.