Photo by EMiN OZKAN from FreeImages
Photo by EMiN OZKAN from FreeImages

Puzzles of all kinds—jigsaw, mazes, dot-to-dots, hidden pictures, crosswords, word searches, and memory games—like spinach and brussels sprouts, are super good for us but way more fun. In the new year, why not make them a regular part of kids’ (and your own) leisure-time/learning-time activities?

With National Puzzle Day on Jan. 29, the timing is perfect! Because solving puzzles feels like gameplay, it’s also an excellent, somewhat sly way to get kids back into learning routines that may have been set aside over the holidays. What kids gain from solving puzzles is huge. A few years ago “The Benefits of Puzzles in Early Childhood Development,” by Michelle Mano, in Teach/Make a Difference blog, while discussing jigsaw puzzles, suggested that they build physical skills “from holding puzzle pieces and turning them until they fit,” cognitive skills “as they solve the problems of a puzzle,” and emotional skills because “they learn patience and are rewarded when they complete the puzzles.”

Mano breaks those benefits down even further, suggesting that physical skills include hand-eye coordination, gross motor skills, and fine motor skills; cognitive skills include memory, shape recognition, problem-solving, and “understanding the surrounding world;” and emotional skills include setting goals and developing patience.

In “The Surprising Benefits of Puzzle Solving for Adults,” posted to USA Today Classifieds Blog, they tout these many benefits: improved memory, better problem-solving skills, improved visual-spatial reasoning, more education opportunities (by improving vocabulary, language, research, and spelling skills), increased IQ, delayed onset of dementia and Alzheimer’s, improved mood, lowered stress levels, and increased attention to detail and productivity, as well as better collaboration.

Solving mazes, dot-to-dots, hidden pictures, word searches, and crossword puzzles sharpen many of the same skills as jigsaw puzzles, while also developing others. For example, hidden picture puzzles develop visual perception and discernment, as well as attention to detail. They are all about seeing a form within a form (or the absence of a form).

The value of dot-to-dots is that in addition to learning and reinforcing numbers or letters, is that kids create a picture, finetune eye-hand coordination, and experience the accomplishment of completing a task. In mazes, kids solve a mystery while having the perceptual fun of following a path. Whether onscreen or on paper, they are practicing eye-hand control, visualizing a path, anticipating outcomes, solving a problem, and completing a task.

Word search activities increase word recognition, expand and reinforce vocabulary and spelling, and develop pattern recognition. Here are two workbooks that deliver hours of word search fun: Word Search Challenges combines word searches with fun facts. Find 18 bug names in the word puzzle, then read the information box about bug body parts and label them on a drawing. Next up? Learn about firefly luminescence and get some good, gross-out trivia about the Goliath beetle that grows to four inches. Word Search People & Places introduces third- and fourth-graders to intriguing places, remarkable people, and fascinating animals. Plus, save $5 off orders of $20+ at, through January 30, using this code: save5

Crossword puzzles also reinforce and expand vocabulary, stretch thinking, and can be a relaxing, stress-reducing activity for both kids and adults. Little learners 6 to 8 will find skill-building fun in My First Crosswords Grades 1-2 Workbook. And this 4-workbook Puzzle Activity Workbook Collection for ages 7-up includes Codes & Puzzles, Travel the Great States, Word Searches, and Crosswords Puzzle Fun that all expand knowledge in multiple subject areas.

Or improve math, logic, and critical thinking skills with this Sudoko Puzzles Digest Pair. Each book contains over 300 puzzles arranged by easy, medium, and hard skill levels. They are a logical take-along for breaks, commutes, and vacations! Memory Match Jr. and Memory Match, both Android apps (though the latter is also available as an iOS app), test players’ memory, as they turn over the squares to see the picture and touch another square to find a match. Play can be solo, with a friend, or against a built-in opponent.

At every age, puzzles deliver so many benefits, that they should be a “must have, must do” for 2020!