By Laura Grace Weldon
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I'm not talking about a new device or game, I'm talking puzzles.
During the winter months, my grandparents kept a puzzle going on a table near their front window. It had hundreds of tiny pieces, far too many for a small child's ability, but I noticed the quiet pull it exerted on people. My older sister would wander past and pause to tease one into place. My father would linger a few minutes in peaceful reverie with his father-in-law as he worked on it. My mother and her mother would sit there with coffee after dinner. When I stood nearby, I got advice that's helped me solve problems far more vexing than a jigsaw, like "Find the edges first," and "Sometimes you need to step back to see the whole picture," and "Don't try to force a piece if it doesn't fit right away."
We typically view puzzles as an early childhood essential. But when kids don't see older siblings or adults doing puzzles, their initial eagerness tends to fade. That doesn't have to happen. Puzzles are awesome exercise for the brain. Working on them activates both right and left hemispheres, increases concentration, promotes spatial learning and reasoning, even helps us to feel more centered. Those benefits don't fade as we get older and may even ward off dementia later in life.
To build a puzzle habit in your family, you need high quality, interesting puzzles. (We're particularly fond of Artifact Puzzles
There are lots of ways to make this brain workout a new family tradition.
- Bring out a puzzle to work together on long winter evenings.
- Try sitting around a puzzle when friends come over.
- Use a puzzle as an ice breaker at a gatherings.
- Work a puzzle on your own, noticing if your kids express interest (or sneak back to add pieces when you're not looking).
- Notice how relaxing with a family member over a puzzle creates a companionable way to enjoy each other's company.
- And don't worry about working a harder puzzle with small children, simply make it a collaborative effort.
My daughter never gave up our family's puzzling tradition. She's a young adult now, but enjoys working puzzles as she listens to recorded books or science podcasts. Tonight, I think I'll spread a puzzle out on our table. It's satisfying to look at all those pieces, knowing they'll draw us together.
About Laura Grace Weldon