Early childhood development encompasses the time from when the child is born, until the age of eight, which are their prime formative years. Although genetics plays an important part in the development of the brain; nurturing the child during this stage with emotional and general intelligence is of utmost importance as experiences form the neural pathways in the brain. These neural pathways remain active only if they are stimulated. So, if these pathways are not stimulated enough, then, it will affect the functioning of the entire brain in the years to come.
The numbers to show the importance of early childhood development
According to this article by The Economist, James Heckman, the Nobel Prize winning economist developed a curve that shows the relationship between the rate of return to investment in human capital and age. This has come to be known as the Heckman curve. According to him, “taking a proactive approach to cognitive and social skill development through investments in quality early childhood programs is more effective and economically efficient than trying to close the gap later on”. It “shows the economic benefits of investing early and building skill upon skill to provide greater success to more children and greater productivity and reduce social spending for society”. Likewise, better health outcomes research shows “significantly lower risk for serious cardiovascular and metabolic diseases, such as stroke and diabetes. These findings demonstrate the great potential of coordinated birth-to-age-five early childhood programs to prevent chronic disease, reduce healthcare costs and produce a flourishing society”.
In a social experiment in the US, it was found that young children whose education costed $15,000 benefited society by earning an average of $195,000 along with reducing crime and contributing to the economy, with maximum return between the ages of 0 to 3 years and lowering returns as the age increased. This has been backed by the World Bank, “evidence that an additional dollar invested in quality early childhood programs yields a return of between $6 dollars and $17 dollars”.
Joining the dots between education and teaching children through puzzles.
Teaching children through play is the best way to hold their attention. As parents, we have the responsibility to provide them with healthy entertainment. Puzzles are a great way to create curiosity, put our children’s creativity to use as well as develop their cognitive abilities.
The benefits of puzzles in early childhood development are as follows:
In this digital age, concentration is becoming an essential skillset no matter which path your child chooses. As children work through puzzles, they strengthen their concentration until the puzzle is completed, exercising their mind, muscle and stamina. Ensure that the puzzles you choose are appropriate for the age of your child.
2. Spatial Awareness
Puzzles require the analysis of colour, shape and position of each of the pieces in relation to the space they will fit into. Hence, building spatial awareness. Initially, children will need your help, but as the brain is trained, this will no longer be no longer required. Reliance on the trial and error method will end and the children can simply depend on their imagination.
3. Shape recognition
As each piece of the puzzle is different and has its own unique properties, children will learn to differentiate. Beginning with squares, circles and rectangles and progressing to the outlines of vehicles, buildings, people or nature. This is a crucial skill in learning for them to go on to identify alphabets, numbers and symbols later in their education and be able to use them together in creating geometric forms and sequences.
4. Topic-Specific Knowledge
Puzzles of maps, animals, numbers and colours teach children problem-solving, persistence, and shape recognition whilst arousing their interest in these subjects. Along with that, they can also be set up for challenges by timing the speed at which they are able to solve the puzzles, motivating them to be organised and efficient in their coordination.
5. Motor Skills
Fine motor skills by the subtle movements of the fingers, hands, wrist, feet and toes are improved when solving a puzzle. The younger the child, the more practice they will require in holding, coordinating and joining pieces of the puzzle. Like with any other skill, its beneficial to intervene only if the child is really in need of assistance. Otherwise, its best to let them develop the skill through practice on their own.
6. Hand Eye coordination
The pincer grip, used to hold pens, is vital for good handwriting. In some cultures, good handw is said to determine the character. Puzzles are particularly helpful in developing this skill as the brain needs to collate all the information on the pieces and coordinate the hands to piece it together.
7. Problem-solving skills
Assembling puzzle pieces according to their shape, colour and location on the picture makes children practice prioritisation and organisational skills. It also helps them plan and allocate their time on specific tasks which is a vital habit to develop in preparation for school and for later in life.
Meanings, colours and names of the images and the associated vocabulary are learnt by children as they fix the puzzle. Parents should encourage their curiosity by pointing out various parts of the puzzle and arousing the child’s interest through questions.
Puzzles exercise the short-term memory thoroughly, especially as it requires matching shapes and colours. As the brain is exercised in this manner, the neural connections of the brain function faster and more efficiently. By repeatedly solving the same puzzles at different occasions also improves their memory.
Solving a puzzle gives children a sense of accomplishment as they create a picture from the chaos of unordered pieces. It adds on their mental list of achievements and hence, contributes to their confidence which can be improved with positive reinforcement or encouraging words. As puzzles are self-correcting, they will also provide the creation of the dialogue with their self. As they are spoken to positively, they will be less likely to criticize themselves and also develop a positive dialogue, enhancing their self-esteem.
11. Social Skills
Collaboration and communication are part of the interpersonal skills developed while children solve puzzles together; from resolving conflict of ownership between pieces to requesting and working together to find the same shape or colour specific pieces.
12. Puzzles and Coding
There are puzzles available for programming languages that your child can pick up. These puzzles can speed up their learning process. Javapuzzlers.com is a website that offers free Java puzzles to be solved from beginner level onward. To make the most of them, enroll your child into WhiteHat Jr’s coding school where they will learn through one-on-one lessons to utilize the skills learnt from solving puzzles. To conclude, the happiness and bonding that happens over solving a puzzle or building an app, animation or game at WhiteHat Jr, with your child is a moment, to relish while they are still young.
As already discussed, there are a multitude of cognitive, physical, emotional and psychological benefits involved in solving puzzles. When these are implemented in early childhood, they form the right neural pathways in the brain, only to be stimulated as the child grows up. These skills are to be nurtured like any other habit with perseverance and patience.