TDmonthly Magazine!
April 2007 | Vol. VI - No. 4


Preschoolers: Unpuzzling the Puzzles

How Familiarity Feeds the Will to Complete

“Most children seemed to enjoy bringing the animals into full view and talking about them as their images emerged.”
Roundtable participants liked the analytical challenge and sense of accomplishment that comes with doing puzzles from Safari Ltd. and University Games, regardless of whether they are small and done individually or large and worked on cooperatively. Parents also appreciated how USAopoly game standards were adapted to smaller children (with, for example, simplified rules) or called for strategic thinking.

Each product is rated with 1 to 5 TD (for TDmonthly!) stars; 5 is the highest mark.

Participants were World Bank policy advisor Gail Richardson with Alexander (6 years) and Jessica (4); finance executive Shannon Harris with Tripp (5); stay-at-home mother Heather Jones with Reece (7), Cameron (5) and Meg (3); sales executive Stephanie Kirby with Sarah (5) and Emma (4); and writer/editor Elise Yousoufian with Aaron (5) and Hanna (5).

The Very Hungry Caterpillar by UNIVERSITY GAMES

What it is: Two 24-piece puzzles inspired by the caterpillar and the butterfly in Eric Carle’s book “The Very Hungry Caterpillar.”

What the moms thought: The mothers agreed that puzzles help children develop problem-solving skills and an understanding of spatial relations. These puzzles also “capture the Eric Carle spirit, are small enough that they could be completed rather quickly and are relatively simple for a quick sense of accomplishment,” noted Richardson. “The tie between the book and the puzzles made the puzzles fun,” Kirby wrote.

How the kids reacted:
While completing the puzzle, most children were focused and silent. Hanna (5) expressed her learning cycle of trying, overcoming frustration and succeeding in a series of statements and questions to her mother:

“Can you help me do this?” “Look. I don’t need any help now.” “You know what? When I was working, you helped me a little bit and then I did it.” Hanna clapped for herself when she was done, and then her brother clapped for her also, showing that two children could work together, “winning” but not “competing.”

Harris related how thrilled her son was with creating the butterfly that he is so familiar with from the story: Tripp bowed after he’d placed his last piece.

How to improve it: Although several parents noted that no improvements were needed, Jones commented that the “lightweight box would soon be crushed.” Indeed, the packaging fell apart when Richardson’s children put away one of the puzzles.

Would you want another toy like this?
Each reviewer noted how pleased the children were to be able to play with something associated with a treasured story. Based on this feedback, parents would welcome additional puzzles and games that draw on well-loved characters.

Wild Animal Panorama by SAFARI LTD.

What it is: A 70-piece floor puzzle of wild animals in earth tones, with illustrations by Japanese artist Haruo Takino.

What the moms thought: Yousoufian wrote that her children “used the parts of the animals’ bodies as a way to figure which puzzle piece fit where.” The Panorama has the added twist of being a floor puzzle, so more than one child can work on it at the same time. Yousoufian liked how her children cooperated in putting the pieces together, which she felt helped them develop “the social skill of sharing space.”

How the kids reacted: Although the children were largely silent while solving the puzzle, they did discuss ways of working together to complete the image. Most children seemed to enjoy bringing the animals into full view and talking about them as their images emerged.

How to improve it: Richardson and Harris suggested adding color. Kirby commented that the Wild Animal Panorama was not “girl” enough for her daughters, suggesting that this puzzle may find more appeal targeted to boys.

Would you want another toy like this? All the children like puzzles and are at an age where animals are generally loved. While some may be bothered by the relatively monochromatic color scheme, others will be attracted to its vivid depictions of wild animals and the sturdy wear-resistant pieces.

Little Mermaid 4 in 1 Under the Sea Games by USAOPOLY
Age: 5 and Up
Category: General Games

What it is: A set of four games in one box: checkers, tic tac toe, dominoes and go fish. All games use characters from Disney’s “The Little Mermaid.”

What the moms thought:
Overall, the Roundtable participants loved the collection of games. Those with little girls were particularly excited, though Jones wrote that “classic games made this package attractive to all three children, despite the girl-themed packaging.” Yousoufian mentioned that the games are “particularly well adapted to children of this age group.”

How the kids reacted: Several children — particularly the younger girls — expressed excitement about seeing Ariel and other characters from “The Little Mermaid.” Even Tripp (a boy) said with great excitement, “Mom, I like this!” The assembly of several games in one box brought an element of anticipation: after one game, Jessica and Alexander said, “That was fun, let’s try another one.”

How to improve it:
Richardson and Kirby mentioned “toy overload,” implying that there are too many games in one box. “We had to take it in pieces,” Richardson said, but “it was nice to come back to the box and see what other treasures are inside.” Kirby suggested using stronger materials for the box.

Would you want another toy like this?
The general sentiment was that games involving strategic thinking are always welcome, and princess images will always attract (or certainly not turn off) little girls. The variety of activities was generally well received.

Photo of children by Elise Yousoufian

Elise Yousoufian with Gail RichardsonWriter's Bio: Elise Yousoufian engages in paid work as a writer/editor on complex negotiations for airplane maker Airbus and unpaid work running a household with two children, parents and cats. Her two kindergartners go to “work” at a Montessori school, and she finds watching them one of her life’s highlights. Read more articles by this author


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