The Versatility of Puzzles

By Rebecca Fry | Power Of Play

May 06

It’s Spring cleaning time!

That time of year far enough removed from the Holidays that you begin to assess what can stay and what needs to go. Time to decide which toys your kids have outgrown and are no longer relevant to their development and interests. But before you Marie Kondo your kid’s toy closet, let me make a case for holding onto those puzzles that no longer seem age appropriate. Sometimes toy rotation is more about how can you reimagine a toy and less about getting rid of it. And if you are buying new toys for a young child, chunky, knob, peg, and sound puzzles make a great gift that is lasting and can be used across age groups. These puzzles are an ongoing favorite around here with my 3 and 5-year-olds even though completing the actual puzzle no longer presents a challenge for them. Now we use the puzzle pieces themselves for a variety of activities.

Here are a few of our favorites:

Seek and Find

3 year old: For this activity, I use a box, any kind of sensory material (torn up paper, beans, rice, oatmeal, etc), and burry pieces from various puzzles. Then we choose a letter and I ask my 3-year-old to find objects that start with that letter. This game not only teaches letter sounds but also provides sensory input which enhances the learning experience and better solidifies information. My son loves this game and once prepared, he can spend time playing independently as he chooses new letters to focus on.

6 year old: For my older son, the basics of the game remain the same; a box, sensory material, and I bury all of the pieces from the peg alphabet puzzle. I will either ask him to spell various words and he will go on a hunt, digging through the box to find the right letters or I will let him explore through the box on his own to create different words. This makes spelling practice fun as well as adds that sensory component.


Land, sky, and sea – For this game, I set out three pieces of paper I have drawn pictures of the land, sky, or water on. Then I set out various puzzle pieces that align with each category. This can be done with animals (giraffe, duck, fish, etc) or transportation (firetruck, airplane, boat, etc). My son will then work to sort the items based on where they are typically found.

6 year old: Digraph sounds – I set sheets of paper with different digraphs written on them (th, ch, sh, ai, ie, or, etc.) and then have my son sort puzzle pieces based on what digraph is used to spell the word. For example, horse contains “or”, sheep contains “sh”, and chicken contains “ch”.

Alphabet Peg Puzzle

What’s that Sound?

This game works the same for both of my kids.  The Melissa & Doug sound puzzles work by light detection. Therefore, the puzzle piece does not need to be over the correct spot in order for the sound to play.  I will hold the puzzle board and cover up one of the puzzle slots to trigger the sound and they will find the puzzle piece that matches the sound. This is great for younger kids to learn different animal sounds and as they grow can identify instrument sounds, letter sounds, and numbers.  They also like playing this game together, taking turns holding the board and finding the right piece.


Using the puzzle pieces to stamp in Play-Doh or in the paint also keeps my boys busy and can be used as a learning through play activity.  Stamping with the alphabet puzzle pieces is a fun way to practice letter recognition and spelling. We also do stamping with numbered pieces to practice making numbers past 10.

Vehicle Sound Puzzle

Musical Instrument Sound Puzzle

Kid Charades

This is a family game night favorite.  We place the animal and vehicle pieces into a bag and take turns drawing a puzzle piece from the bag without showing others.  This is followed by silently (or at least not saying the name of the object) acting out the object while others try to guess it.  This is a great way to let pre-readers participate in this classic game.

Open-Ended Play

This is as easy and simple as it sounds. Even though my 3 year old no longer finds completing these puzzles challenging or interesting, he loves using the chunky puzzle pieces as figurines and creating a world for them and often times the puzzle boards can serve as a backdrop.    

Safari Peg Puzzle

Using any toys or objects you find around the house generally works for these activities, and often I do include additional toys for sorting and seek and find.  Still, the most common objects we use for these activities come from these puzzles we collected over the years because I love that with one puzzle I get multiple pieces to use as objects for learning and independent play and there is an easy and organized way to store them when not in use.  

About the Author

Rebecca, originally from Texas, migrated to Michigan with her husband and two boys aged 2 and 5 years old. Rebecca is currently a stay-at-home mom but has a background is psychology with a special interest in early childhood development and parenting. She keeps up to date in the latests techniques in both areas whenever she can!