A classic toy, puzzles support several areas of development, especially fine motor and cognitive skills. They’re also engaging and fun for babies and toddlers. Puzzle skills evolve just like other milestones.
Let’s dig into puzzle milestones in the first, second, and third years:
During her first year, your baby is developing a lot of skills that will soon help her put together puzzles, first with your guidance and then on her own! First comes visual tracking, which starts between ages 2 and 3 months. This skill allows your baby to follow moving objects with her eyes, which will help guide her hand holding a puzzle piece to where it belongs.
Next comes head control, which starts around age 1 or 2 months. Holding her head up leads to sitting on her own, which usually happens (with support) around age 6 months, and more independently by age 7 or 8 months. Maintaining a seated position is another step towards being able to play with puzzles.
Also around age 7 months, your baby will use a raking motion to bring puzzle pieces toward her, but she may not be able to grab them for another month or so. At age 10 months, she will likely develop the pincer grasp, which lets her hold puzzle pieces with her thumb and index finger, leading to more controlled puzzle play.
During this stage your toddler will learn about trial-and-error, which is a crucial building block of puzzle play. Around age 13 months, toddlers may begin to experiment with objects – twisting, turning, and even tossing them to see what happens. Your toddler might pick up puzzle pieces to put them where they go, but she may need to turn them several times to get them to fit.
Your 1 year-old will also work on learning shapes in her second year, which further helps her understand how to do puzzles. For example, she may recognize a circle-shaped piece and know that it won’t fit into the square-shaped spot.
As she nears age 2, your may notice that your toddler’s attention is increasingly focused. She may sit with the same toy for several minutes, fully engaged. That’s good news when it comes to puzzles, which take a lot of concentration! By the end of this stage, your toddler may be able to master puzzles with three or four pieces.
Throughout age 2, your toddler will have a better understanding of shapes and colors, which leads to improved puzzle skills. Her ability to recognize similar colors and shapes helps her decide where pieces go.
She’ll also have more refined finger and hand movements that allow her to manipulate smaller puzzle pieces (although it’s still important to make sure they’re not a choking hazard). At the start of age 2, she’ll work with up to four pieces, but by the time she turns three, she may be able to put a 10 to 20-piece puzzle together!
Her problem-solving skills will continue to grow, too, especially with your guidance. As you put together a puzzle with her, you can say things like, “Hmm, I wonder if this piece goes here?” Then, have your toddler try to put the piece in without telling her how to turn it. You’ll get the wheels in her brain going while helping her discover that she can do it on her own.
Our BabySparks program offers fun puzzle activities that your little (and you) one might enjoy!