Playtime Tips: Games and Puzzles

Playtime Tips: Games and Puzzles

Games and puzzles help children learn how to follow directions, problem-solve, focus, and regulate their emotions. This type of play is more structured than free play and requires an agreed-upon set of rules, a challenge, and a goal. 

We love games and puzzles because they bring children and families together by encouraging cooperation and communication, offer opportunities to learn from failure in a safe environment, and create moments of silliness and joy! 


  • Concentration/focus
  • Executive function skills
  • Language acquisition
  • Social-emotional skills
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Sorting, matching
  • Hand-eye coordination
  • Problem-solving

Play Prompts: 

Try these tips to add challenge, simplify, or switch up how you play with games and puzzles. Bring in the whole family by simplifying for younger siblings or stepping it up with older siblings!


  • Loose Parts: Instead of using the pieces as intended, have your child use them however they decide. Use the gameboard as a backdrop for a pretend play scene or the puzzle pieces as coins for a game of store. 
  • Easy, Medium, Hard: If you are playing with your child, decide (for yourself) what difficulty level you are going to play at. We often default to either playing too easy or at our natural ability but making the decision to play at a certain level and change it as they improve can build confidence. Don’t let your child always win, but also give them opportunities to feel successful. It’s a balance!
  • For chunky wooden puzzles: 
      • All But One: Place all of the pieces on the puzzle and then take out one. Have your child place the missing one. Switch which one is missing. 
      • Clear the Board: Place all of the pieces on the puzzle and then have them practice removing all of the pieces and placing them into a basket. 
  • For higher-count puzzles:
    • Color/Edge Sort: Start off by sorting by color and edge pieces with a flat side. 
    • Eye Spy: Spread out some of the puzzle pieces and take turns describing what a puzzle piece looks like and having your partner find it.

Step up:

  • Explainer and Trainer: Children love to be the expert at a task. Have them teach a family member the game/how to puzzle or create an explainer video so that other people can learn how to play. Teaching is the highest form of understanding! 
      • On One Condition: Have your child choose one condition that will change how you play the game each round. Example conditions: Play it in under # minutes, play with a non-dominant hand, play with no speaking, limited resources (take out some of the parts). 
  • For chunky wooden puzzles:
      • Sensory Shutdown: Have your child complete the puzzle with their eyes closed, with a non-dominant hand, or instead of using their hands, they must describe where the piece should go to a partner. 
  • For higher-count puzzles:
      • Blank Canvas: Encourage your child to not look at the cover of the box to see what the finished picture is. 
      • Goalset: Have your child make a goal for completion (number of days, minutes, etc.) 


    • Tournament Time: Create a 2-month tournament to see who can win the game the most times or complete the puzzle the fastest. Option to create a bracket and post it in the house. 
    • Dealer’s Choice: Change the rules of the game or create your own rules to put a new spin on the game. Switch off who gets to make the rules. 
    • Disappointment Dance Off: If your child is struggling with losing, first, validate their feelings, and then offer that the person who didn’t win the game gets to pick a song to ‘dance it off.’ Even if they are reluctant at first, by the time the chorus hits, they may have to let loose and join in on the fun. 
    • Raise the Stakes: Create some friendly competition by adding in a silly reward like choosing tomorrow’s outfit, picking what you have for dinner next week, choosing the music, or picking the next activity.
    • Game Design: Using scrap paper and household materials, have children create their own puzzles by ripping/cutting paper or making a game board with tokens. 


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