Play Your Way Through Learning

Published with Permission

Written by Jan May

As homeschool parents, we look for creative ways that make learning fun for our children without sacrificing quality education. A child who can participate in all three learning styles: auditory, visual, and kinesthetic, has a distinct advantage. Most educators agree that a higher percentage of learning occurs when there is interaction. A great way to incorporate all three learning styles into your lesson plans is by using puzzles and games.

Puzzles and games are not just fun; they are educational too, right? Actually they are. Some day little Noah may use these skills to become a burgeoning astronaut and here’s why: Experts are saying puzzles are powerful.

According to Istar Schwager, Ph.D., an educational psychologist and Consulting Editor of ( there is strong connection between brain development and the problem-solving skills used to solve puzzles.1 Problem solving requires two types of mental skill: analytical and creative. Analytical skills include ordering, comparing, contrasting, evaluating, and selecting. Creative thinking uses the imagination to step outside of the box of logical answers to find a larger range of solutions. Children need to develop both.

Author of Puzzle Based Learning, Professor Zbigniew Michalewicz from the School of Computer Science,University of Adelaide, says, “What is missing from most curricula—from elementary school through college—is the development of problem solving skills.” Taking time for puzzles and games during your school day can build these skills without a lot of effort.2  Puzzles develop vital spatial concepts: under and over, in and out, above and beneath. Some researchers from the University of Chicago believe that learning spatial words and concepts at an early age increases children’s capacity for later spatial thinking. This means more success for children in math, science, and technology when reaching high school and college. This translates into better paying jobs.

Puzzles enhance sequencing, patterns, and memory skills, all necessary for higher forms of mathematics and technology. They also develop eye-hand coordination and small motor skills in young children. The mastering of these small motor skills lead to better writing and keyboarding—something crucial in our modern, computer-based society.

Adding knowledge-based puzzles widens the learning potential. There are puzzles on geography, the solar system, parts of anatomy, famous artists and their works, and bilingual numbers and letters.

Kaplan ( makes many good educational puzzles, such as their Numbers Sound Puzzle. This twenty-one-piece wooden puzzle pronounces the name of each number when a piece of the puzzle is placed correctly. Their super size (20” x 30”) Giant Lifecycle puzzles (4) can be purchased individually or as a set. They are made of durable foam and perfect for 4-year-olds and up. For the older child, 8 years old and up, they have a two-hundred-piece Solar System jigsaw puzzle.

TAG(Think and Grow, produces many sturdy, award-winning, laminated puzzles that are designed for 1- to 6-year-olds. They have a Size Comparison Puzzle and Make-Your-Own Picture Puzzle in which the child draws his own puzzle picture on washable pieces and is able to reuse them.

Puzzles aren’t the only fun way to bolster learning success. Incorporating games into your school time also hosts a cornucopia of advantages. Board games are rich in learning opportunities: language arts, spelling, vocabulary, reading, math, strategy, problem solving, and critical thinking. As an added bonus they also build social skills, encourage fair play, taking turns, being a good sport, and learning to stay within boundaries. They can also satisfy healthy competition or the desire to master a new skill.

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