By David Janelle, Creative Crafthouse

Wood puzzles have been around a long time.  They were a common form of entertainment prominent in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s when people finally had a little extra time and money.  With the advent of radio, motion pictures, Television, Internet, etc., traditional puzzles slowly faded into the background, emerging occasionally with specific hits like Rubik’s cube.

Puzzles are so rare these days that when our company does shows where we may display 150 puzzles, the kids think they are brand new, even though in some cases they may be centuries old! They love them! We’ve never once seen a kid walk away because you couldn’t plug it in or it didn’t have a joystick! It’s usually hard for parents to tear the kids away from our booths. This appeal often extends to adults also.

Yet, while they may perceive this as pure fun trying to solve the puzzle, there are some valuable learning experiences going on. The purpose of this article is to guide parents and educators in how to select and use puzzles and games as educational tools.

Puzzles in general will help develop these critical abilities which have application in most areas of life:

– Focus and Concentration
– Determination and Patience
– Problem solving skills
– Confidence

Nearly any puzzle of a difficulty level appropriate for the specific child, will help develop the above abilities. As the child does more puzzles and expands his experience, it is rewarding to see the gains that come in concert with the child having fun!

Beyond the general gains noted above, there are some specific areas that selected puzzles or games will develop.

– Spatial awareness
– Math skills
– Dexterity
– Creativity
– Social skills

It is amazing how quickly improvements can be made in each of these areas with the right puzzles, presented in the right way. Different puzzles will highlight certain of these learning opportunities.
Spatial awareness is the ability to perceive 2D or 3D relationships in your mind.  It’s a critical skill for mechanics, engineers, and architects and useful in everyday life, from how to pack the car or how to fit all your stuff into the closet. Key puzzles for developing this skill are Soma Cube (a best seller), Patience Box, Tangrams and Pentominoes. After skills are advanced, there are many difficult spatial puzzles available which will challenge the best of puzzle masters.

Math Skills is an area that I personally enjoy a lot, so we offer some special items.  Shut the Box game is the key item.  It’s a 700-year-old game, historically a high-sea sailor’s gambling game, but nowadays a great family and school game. We offer a number of different sizes and models.  Educationally, the #1-9 version is for pre-K to grade 2. It’s also the most common version for family play. The #1-12 version can use basic multiplication and is best for grades 3 to 5. Our copyrighted #1-48 version will allow complex equations using 4 or 5 dice and is best, educationally, for grades 5 to 10. All versions are great fun and develop both math and social skills.

A Dexterity puzzle is one that requires a degree of manual manipulation to solve.  These are usually fun items that require a good deal of focus and determination to conquer. Dizzy marbles, Champagne ball catch, marble maze are some of the puzzles in this area. The Snake puzzle ( a best seller) has an element of dexterity combined with spatial challenges and is the most popular puzzle for teens.

Creativity puzzles tend to appeal to the artistic mind. Foremost on our list are the Shapeshifter puzzles. This is a string of blocks connected by a strong nylon bungee- type cord. The blocks will turn in every direction by aligning slots. It is kind of a low pressure “what can you make” puzzle. There are 3 different lengths available, each one appropriate for various age groups.

Social Skills is an area that some puzzles and most games can be quite effective in developing.  We already mentioned Shut the Box, perhaps the key game. There is a series of puzzles that I often refer to as “magic” puzzles that can be great fun in a group where the child (or adult) can put on a show, solving the puzzle as a magician would and then presenting it to others to figure it out. Hooey Stick (Gee Haw, Whimmy Diddle), Magic Box, Idiot Stick and Dragon’s Egg are all key puzzles in this area.

CreativeCrafthouse.com is a small, family business specializing in wooden brain teaser puzzles and games. Our goal is to re-introduce these wonderful items by resurrecting old designs as well as working with current puzzle designers to bring forth new challenges and fun. We have the largest selection in the world and are constantly working on new items. Many of our puzzles are the result of research we do in old puzzle books or magazines or sometimes folks sending us old puzzles from Great Grandpa’s attic.

We work nearly daily with educators at all levels and encourage you to contact us if we can be of assistance in your educational goals. We love to talk puzzles!
www.CreativeCrafthouse.com, Spring Hill, FL, 352-683-6649.