Among the hobbies that never seem to wane are jigsaw puzzles. Jigsaw puzzles are believed to have been invented in the 1760s when cartographers would engrave or mount maps on wood boards and cut along the national boundaries. By reassembling the jigsaw puzzle, the user would learn geography by having to figure out where various countries were located and how they fit together. Modern puzzles range in difficulty from easy puzzles to difficult puzzles and in numbers of pieces from 300 to 500 piece puzzles to 1000 to 2000 piece puzzles. Here are some benefits to puzzles for users of all ages:
Puzzles build physical dexterity. This can be particularly helpful for the very young and the very old who need some practice in dexterity and physical coordination. For example, many senior care experts recommend jigsaw puzzles to exercise the fingers and hands. Similarly, jigsaw puzzles help children develop eye-hand coordination and dexterity.
Puzzles build short term memory and concentration. Again, this is particularly helpful for the very young and very old. In fact, studies have shown that puzzles and other games can help slow the advance of dementia and other forms of memory loss in the elderly. With respect to toddlers and school-age children, puzzles have been found to help with the development of memory, concentration, and patience.
Jigsaw puzzles are a microcosm of problem solving. To solve a jigsaw puzzle, the mind must recognize that a problem exists, propose a solution, test the solution, adjust if the solution does not work, and persist until the solution is found. While this process may seem like second nature to adults, children must learn this process and other cognitive skills. Jigsaw puzzles provide an opportunity for children to learn these skills in a fun way.
Working on, and solving, 500 piece puzzles is rewarding. In fact, the brain knows that this is rewarding which is why it produces dopamine, a neurotransmitter, when working on, and completing, a puzzle. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter that is released when the brain experiences pleasure and helps the brain to encode that pleasure in memory. This means that the brain remembers the pleasure of working on a puzzle and seeks out that pleasure again and again. In essence, the brain gets hooked on 500 piece puzzles.
Puzzles, particularly large 2000 piece jigsaw puzzles, are perfect as a group or family activity. Everyone can participate together, working toward a common goal. This is not only fun, but encourages cooperation and teamwork. At the same time, however, jigsaw puzzles can also teach independence when some are assigned to work on the edges while others work on portions of the picture. Working as a group can also alleviate some of the frustration that children may experience while working on a jigsaw puzzle since the cooperative effort will help solve some of the seemingly unsolvable problems.