Most of us are familiar with what puzzles are, and have likely done a few before ourselves. Puzzles can vary in complexity, so much so that not only are there puzzles for children, there is also an entire category of puzzles designed for adults. 

Benefits of Puzzles

  1. Build attention
    The more the pieces or complex the picture, the more attention required.
  2. Strengthen visual discrimination skills.
    This is the ability to distinguish objects that look the same and are different. This comes in very useful when needing to find where Waldo is hiding, or picking out a friend in a sea of students.
  3. Potential to become a hobby
    Some children may develop an interest in puzzles, and this becomes a very appropriate way to occupy themselves in their free time. In fact, some individuals with autism even end up using their incredible visual skills in adult vocations like artifacts restoration!


Ideally, a child should have the skill of Matching, File Folders and Sorting. If not, then the basic skill of Matching.


They should also have some level of fine motor skills. Puzzle pieces are small, and it can be an additional challenge to ask a child to pick pieces up if they are not fluent at this yet.

Types of Puzzles

Here is a general list of puzzles children might learn, from easiest to hardest: 


Island Puzzles 

Image Source: Curious Kids Toys 


Island puzzles are single pieces that are usually the easiest for little toddlers to learn. Even easier would be knob puzzles, which are single pieces that usually come with a little handle, hence the word ‘knob’. They are large, chunky, sturdy and most suitable for younger, typically developing children up to 2 years old, as they do not pose a choking hazard. The knobs can start out large and easy to grab, then become smaller wooden pegs as a child reaches 2 years old. 


Interlocking Puzzles 

Image Source: Walmart.ca 


Next are interlocking puzzles, which is like a gateway to jigsaw puzzles. They usually involve a large, single object with pieces that interlock together.  


Jigsaw Puzzles 

Image Source: Toys R Us 


By the age of 3 to 5, children start being able to do jigsaw puzzles, though whether a child does them also depends on their interest levels. The pieces are usually many, smaller and made of cardboard instead of wood.


From this age on, the level of complexity depends on the number of pieces. 


Image Source: Amazon


At age 3, 3-year-olds may be able to do 12- to 24-piece puzzles. 


Image Source: Amazon


By age 4, even 48 pieces.


And, depending on level of interest, from age 5 onwards, some can even focus on over 100 piece puzzles. These puzzles then develop into 500 to 1000 piece puzzles as children go through primary and secondary school.

Selecting the Right Puzzles

When selecting a puzzle, try to match it to a child’s developmental age first. For example, a child with autism who is 3 years old but has a developmental age of a 1-year-old, should ideally start with knob puzzles before moving on up. 

Breaking the Skill of Puzzles down

A 5-piece jigsaw puzzle will be used as an example. Puzzles are usually broken down by the number of pieces the child has to complete. This may begin with 1 piece out to fix, followed by 2, 3 and up till 5. Some children can add on 2 or more pieces at every step, while some children need to do one piece at a time.


It is also important to try at least 3 – 4 different types of 5 and 6-piece puzzles to get enough practice in.

Teaching Procedure

  1. Start with the completed puzzle, with the target pieces taken out. If the step is 1 piece, the whole puzzle should be completed except 1 piece out for the child to complete.
  2. Say, “Do puzzle!”
  3. When the child is able to do this, praise them, and repeat the step 2-3 more times to get enough practice. Change the piece that is taken out each time.
  4. Reinforce the child for a job well done.


It is generally good to repeat trials two to three times to get practice in, but if a child is doing 15 pieces or more in one go, it may be more suitable to reduce trials to two times or one time so as not to frustrate the child.


Some children might also find pieces on the inside tougher to do, so this can be broken down by starting with the corner and edge pieces first, before working on the inside pieces.

Your Turn

  1. Identify what level of puzzles your child should start at according to their developmental age.
  2. Break the puzzle down by the number of pieces.
  3. Get started teaching!