Tuesday, April 24, 2012

How puzzling is that? – How puzzles can rock your child’s world

Alphabet wooden puzzle
I’ve never taken a liking or interest for puzzles or chess, or any thinking games. No one has ever told me that I should, or showed to me that puzzles are fun, or has educational benefits, or can make a person smarter. From what I can see, puzzles are anything but fun. How can arranging things to make a picture seem fun? (That alone should show you how I suck at organizing and arranging stuff. Yikes.)

But that all changed when I became a parent myself. You know how a mom always wants the best for her child? I thought “I can’t let my child become a dumb-ass like me!” or somewhere along those lines. I knew that play is a child’s work, so I started researching on smart and educational play. I mean, why let them merely play, when they can play and learn and become smarter individuals at the same time? You know, kill ten birds at one time. Moms are nothing but time-saving, efficient multi-taskers.

I started exposing my kids to puzzles from they were about a year old. I bought 2-3 pieces large puzzles of animal pictures for my daughter to assemble. At first she doesn’t know how to match the head of the animals and their bodies. I’d have to show her which is the cat’s head and its body, the fish’s head and its body, and so on. But after several attempts, she seemed to catch on. She would try and match the heads and bodies and see if they fit. Then when it doesn’t, she takes another piece and tries to fit it, until she finds a perfect match. It’s amazing to see a child that young being able to match something correctly. These all happened before I started researching on the benefits of puzzles.

Physical benefits
Young children are learning and developing fine motor skills, meaning the ability to make small or fine, controlled movements. Puzzles are a fun way to improve their motor skills i.e. the ability to pinch, pick up and grasp small items which are important for writing later on. You know how babies and young toddlers are always picking up small items on the floor such as buttons, coins, dust particles and leftover foods? Yeah, that’s gross motor skills in action. Puzzles are a much cleaner and safer way to learn, don’t you think?

Another physical benefit apparent in playing with puzzles is the hand eye coordination, which involves the coordinated vision and hand movement to execute a task. We as adults may not think twice when picking up something or writing with a pen, but a young child has to learn to do this. When assembling a puzzle, the child places each piece in the puzzle and manipulating it to see if it fits. This trial and error process is also enhancing the hand eye coordination.  
Intellectual benefits
Puzzles are a way of stimulating the thinking side of a child’s brain, focusing on problem solving and reasoning skills such as process and logical thinking. As your child tries to fit and match the puzzles, they realize that there several ways to attack a problem and experiment with ways that works best for him.

Puzzles also improve a child’s cognitive skills, i.e. learning to understand how the small puzzle pieces fit together to form a complete puzzle set. Depending on the puzzle theme, they’re also learning specific subjects such as alphabets, numbers, animals and colours, among many others.

My daughter arranging puzzles on her own.
Emotional and social benefits
You know how it feels to accomplish something? How satisfying that feels? Children feel that too. You can see how absorbed and determined they are, trying to fit them together until they match. And when they finally finish the puzzle, they clap and cheer to acknowledge that sense of achievement. The accomplishment and the praise by the audience (adoring parents, of course) increase self confidence.

Puzzles are the one of the best family or social games around, just like card and board games such as Monopoly and Uno. Fitting a puzzle requires cooperation and thinking as a group, which is also a great bonding tool. As parents guide their children on matching the puzzle pieces, they could also encourage them to try again when the child gets it wrong, encourage them not to give up and think around the problem, teach them how to handle frustration. Quality time with your kids, and learning so many things at the same time. That certainly beats your child hogging your Ipad playing Angry Birds for hours.

So keeping in mind all these benefits, it’s about time that you start buying some puzzles for your kids, don’t you think? ;)

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Alphabet Match Up activity for kids

I originally found this at Muffin Tin Mom website, and I think it’s quite simple to make, using cheap stationeries, so I decided to give it a try. I did it from scratch in about an hour or so, while the kids were taking their afternoon nap. I already bought the materials beforehand for quite a while now, but I never had the time to do it (or possibly, too lazy to think about it. Hah!).

So, laying out the materials.

A large cardboard in any colour you prefer. I chose orange to make it nice and bright.

A stack of paper. You can use normal A4 paper if you like (or if you’re more cheapskate than me), or buy some nice cardstock like I did. You can even cut up some boxes and then paste the alphabet card on it, to make a sturdier card.

A strip of Velcro, scissors and coloured pens, if you’d like to colour and decorate the cards. I didn’t have time to do any decorating as my kids woke up just as I finished.

I forgot to take photos of my own stickers. Hmmph.
2 sets of alphabet stickers. You can just print out 2 sets of alphabet flashcards from the internet, or buy some, if you like. It would save more time, as you won’t need to cut up the paper or paste stickers. Up to you, really. My kids love stickers, so I decided to buy some.

Ok, let’s start!

This is the fast and easy way to cut up the paper. (I’m racing against time here, remember?) Fold the paper in two and cut it up. Then fold the long strip of paper into four and cut them up. One sheet of paper can produce 8 little cards, just about the size of a flashcard. You don’t want it to be too big, it’ll take up too much space on the cardboard.

As there are 26 alphabets, you’ll need 52 little cards in total. (Did you have to count how many letters are there? Heh.)

Here’s the fun part – pasting the stickers on the cards. Go ahead, it’ll bring out the child in you, I promise! And you’ll understand why kids love stickers so much.

I have no idea why this picture came out vertical like this.  Can someone tell me how to fix this?
Before you start sticking the Velcro on the cards and on the cardboard, I think it’s better to arrange the cards on the cardboard first, just to be sure of the placing. Good thing I did, I couldn’t fit all the letters on one surface, so I had to continue on the back. As you can see from the Muffin Tin Mom, her cardboard is bigger so it could fit all the letters. Or maybe my arrangement is a little off, I don’t know. It’s okay, we’re not trying to be too precise, it’s an activity for kids anyway. Unless you or your kids have OCD.

Then cut up the Velcro strip into small pieces. For people who have never used Velcro before, (like yours truly) you might wonder why there are two strips. One strip is the hairy one and the other is the rough one. They only stick on each other i.e. if you try to stick the hairy piece onto another hairy piece, it won’t stick. So you need to stick the rough ones on the large cardboard and the hairy ones on the back of each little card.

Okay, go ahead and stick them all.

Like I said, I had to continue on the back.

Unlike the Muffin Tin Mom, I forgot to make the small open box the put in the second set of cards. Oh well.

All done!

That wasn’t too hard, was it? ;)
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