Magnetic Puzzles

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Here’s a clever way to combine puzzle play with magnet play. It’s the perfect activity to engage any kid who loves to play with magnets at the fridge!

For the first round of the game, I took an old jigsaw puzzle and adhered a square of magnetic tape to the back of each piece. You could also set this up with regular magnets, but you’ll need to use hot glue to attach the magnets to each piece.

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Arrange on the fridge and let your little puzzlers go at it!

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It was readily apparent, though, that the jigsaw puzzle was much too complicated for Veronika, even though she liked moving the pieces around, so I quickly thought of an alternative that was more toddler-friendly.

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I encouraged the kids to draw their own puzzle on pieces of cardboard from a leftover cereal box. They both had fun drawing current favorite characters. Your kids can get quite creative with this part of the craft, using paint, stickers, glitter, or more!

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When the drawings were done, I cut each picture into 4 pieces, then added strips of magnetic tape to the back.

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Veronika loved that she could slot these puzzles together much more easily than interlocking jigsaw pieces.

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Puzzle solved!

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Learning with Blocks, Three Ways

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I love when I can draw Veronika’s attention to her blocks in novel ways, and here were three ways to grab her attention today. As a bonus, all of them involved different types of learning!

For the first, I typed up the alphabet in big letters and printed out the page, then cut it apart so each letter was an individual square. Tape one letter per one of your child’s building blocks, and each block becomes its own specific letter!

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As I taped them on, we said the name of each letter and its phonetic sound, and sang through the Alphabet Song several times. Then it was time for her simply to play! But as she built towers, I named the block she was holding. “Oh, you have the G block!” I could say, or, “B block is on top of A block!”

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I plan to leave these little labels on so that her familiarity with each letter symbol increases every time we dump out the bin of blocks.

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For the second novel way to play, we focused on two different skills: counting and listening to instructions. Thanks to a great tip from Hands on as We Grow, I used the cards from our Candyland board game to give her specific directions.

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Draw a card and ask your toddler to hand across whatever appears on it. “Can you find me one blue block?” I asked her, holding up the Candyland card with one red square. She was an ace at handing me one block of the appropriate color, whether the green, yellow, or red that followed.

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Things got a little trickier for her when I pulled a double color (a kid favorite when playing Candyland, of course).

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“Can you hand me two red blocks?” I asked. She seemed confused, so I pointed to the squares on the card. “One, two!” and then lined it up with two blocks. “One, two!” I repeated. It was hard for her to focus on this challenge, so we turned to game number three…

…which was actually a repeat of a block puzzle game we played a few months back, but last time I made the puzzle much too big. Tape out a small square or rectangle on the floor with painter’s tape and show your child how to arrange blocks in, puzzle-piece style!

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Veronika especially liked when there were small spaces to fill, like the semi-circle that completed an archway or a small circle inside a square block.

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Not, bad, with a little mommy help! Older kids can make their taped areas progressively larger as they grow more skilled at this.

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How does your toddler learn with blocks these days? Please share in the comments!

National Puzzle Day

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January 29 is National Puzzle Day, and if ever there was a day to stay cozy and warm inside with puzzles, the 10 degree day we had today was it! We played with puzzles in a variety of ways for my big kid and toddler both.

First up, we marked the holiday by learning a few puzzle trivia facts. Travis was wowed to learn that the jigsaw puzzle was invented as long ago as the 1760s, and that the world’s biggest jigsaw puzzle comes in with 54,000 pieces!

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Veronika celebrated too, thanks to toddler-friendly Cereal Box Puzzles!

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The bright pictures on the front of cereal boxes make perfect puzzles for toddler hands. I cut triangles from a few box covers (making one or two pieces, depending on the picture), and set her to puzzling over how to slot these triangles back in.

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You can make this task harder for older kids by increasing the number of pieces to put together. Big brother Travis wanted a turn, too!

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Next, I simply set out wooden puzzles for each of the kids. Veronika loves her chunky peg puzzles, or those that feature items like vegetables and shapes.

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Travis puzzled over a few classic jigsaws, which is always great to see.

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But don’t forget that jigsaw puzzles aren’t the only kind out there! Picture puzzles, word searches, or trivia all fit the bill, too. Even mama stole a moment for a puzzle or two.

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Simple Block Learning: Shapes and Colors

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This idea was an extension on recent block puzzle play with Veronika. But this time, she had to puzzle out two variables at once: color and shape.

To start, I laid down a sheet of butcher paper and began to trace some of her soft foam blocks, making sure to use a corresponding crayon color for every block color.

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She immediately was naming shapes and colors as I worked and wanted to trace (i.e. scribble) alongside me! In retrospect, I would set this up while she was napping for a cleaner piece of paper.

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But eventually, I had enough shapes traced for the real puzzling to begin. It was neat to see her mind work through this activity. She immediately put a red triangle in place when I pointed out the red outline.

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Rectangles threw her off since we had both short ones and long ones, and she tended to either mix up the two or orient her rectangles in the wrong direction.

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Often, she proudly laid down a shape in the right outline (e.g. square in square), without any regard for the color.

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And all of that was perfectly fine! I loved that this was a challenge for her, and how gamely she rose to it.

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The activity also lends itself perfectly to extended play. Once all those shapes were in place, we could start connecting them like bridges into ever-bigger structures and towers.

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Without any prompting, she trotted away and then brought back a toy car. Now we had tunnels for cars to go through or garages to park them in!

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We eventually re-positioned the blocks into one long road for her to drive cars down, which she loved.

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She played solo so happily and I caught her driving cars up one side of a triangle block and down the other, almost like it was a mini mountain.

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And through all of this, she kept up the narrative of shapes and colors to herself. This activity was a true joy.

Chock-Full of Blocks

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Here’s a fun spin on block play if your toddler is growing tired of simply building towers up and knocking them down.

I gave Veronika a small box and challenged her to fill the bottom of it completely with blocks so that none of the bottom showed. She didn’t understand at first, but I modeled the behavior and she soon joined in the fun.

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She did also try to build up a little once our bottom was covered!

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The box was quite small so we decided that we needed a bigger space to work with. Mark out a square or rectangle on your floor with painter’s tape and show your toddler how to fill that space with the blocks.

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This was a great way for Veronika to see how some shapes fit together to form others, too! Two triangles made squares in some of our corners, and two squares could make a rectangle. Obviously she needed a lot of my help for this activity, but it was a fun project to tackle together.

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As a bonus, she also loved the clean-up, throwing all the blocks back into the bin one-by-one until the tape square was empty once more.

Puzzle Pursuit

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Here’s a fun way not just to do puzzles with a toddler, but to make finding the pieces a part of the puzzle, too!

Veronika and I played around with this idea in two ways. For the first, I wanted puzzle pieces that were small enough to fit inside of plastic Easter eggs (well, they almost fit), leaving them slightly open and in very obvious hiding spots. I was hiding them for a two-year-old after all!

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I laid a few of the puzzle pieces out on the coffee table to capture Veronika’s interest, but then told her, “Oh no! Where are the rest of the pieces?”

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The bright plastic egg colors caught her eye, and she was soon trotting off to bring the pieces over.

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A jigsaw puzzle is beyond her abilities, but she loved watching the images of favorite trucks come together.

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She even slotted in the final few pieces!

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For the second version of the game, I used a chunky toddler puzzle that she can solve all by herself. Once more I hid the pieces, although “hiding” was again a relative term, really just scattering the pieces under nearby pillows.

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She was so delighted when she spotted them and immediately knew how to fit each animal over its image on the puzzle board.

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Hmm, she was missing three pieces. Was anything hiding under the scarf?

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Ta da!

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I loved watching her brain do double the puzzling in this fun activity.

Solve with Me Panda Crate

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Veronika’s latest Panda Crate, Solve with Me, was easily her favorite yet. With an emphasis on shapes, puzzles, and problem-solving for kids (aged about 18 months and up), here’s what she received.

One: Peg Puzzle

First up was a classic shape puzzle, with a square peg for squares, triangle peg for triangles, and so on. To start I simply laid out all the pieces and she had to figure out what went where.

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As soon as I asked, “Can you put the triangle on the triangle?” she had the idea. The puzzle is also great for colors (“How about the blue square next?”) and for counting, since it ranged from 1 circle to 3 squares.

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Two: Lacing Beads

This was the best child’s lacing toy I’ve ever seen. The “needle” is actually made of stiff felt, but pokes easily through the wooden beads. Peek-a-boo, pull it through!

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She loved that she could master this lacing all by herself. She also loved when I showed her a pattern (early math!): square, semi circle, triangle, repeat!

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The thread and needle also come with two giant buttons, so you can even teach your older toddler how to make a crisscross. Parent bonus: you can store the beads right on the lace.

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Three: Squishy Shapes

These giant shapes were Veronika’s favorite of the lot, first of all because they were just so squishy and big, like stuffed animal friends in geometric form!

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We laid them down and first used them for gross motor skills. Give your toddler instructions like “Hop to the triangle!” or “Run to the square!” and watch him or her happily comply.

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She had a blast with this game. Then I held her hands and helped her “trace” each shape with her feet, almost like mini balance beams.

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Toddlers can also trace a finger along the inside of each shape, which has immediate tactile rewards and larger learning benefit for pen control later on.

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Finally, we sorted the other items from the crate onto them, which was great for helping her categorize shapes.

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Four: Beanbag Shapes

These classic beanbags, one each for triangle, circle, and square, extended the squishy shape play. Firstly, each one nests perfectly on the inside cut-out of the corresponding squishy shape.

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“Let’s the put the triangle here!” Veronika proudly said, and narrated this play solo to herself for a while. Don’t forget to point out size comparisons, like how the beanbag makes a little circle and the squishy shape makes a big one.

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Second, we played hide and seek! I tucked a beanbag under its corresponding squishy shape and she proudly found it each time.

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Finally, it was gross motor skills time! Move the squishy shapes back a few steps and take aim with the beanbags. Veronika also adored this part, and we’ll work up to throwing from further away.

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Five: Board Book

As with past crates, I was disappointed in the caliber of the book. There was so much more that could be done for a shape-themed book, starting with having the book come in a fun shape. Still, Wonder magazine suggested using this book for a shape hunt.

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You can extend this idea to your child’s favorite books from home. Veronika spotted diamonds, triangles, and more in one of her go-to books!

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In Wonder magazine, parents can read more about the benefits of letting your toddler puzzle solo, as well as tricks for when those little brains get frustrated.

We did a final activity of a Shape Scavenger Hunt in two ways. First, I drew shapes on 4 index cards in big bold colors.

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Time for Veronika to pick a card! As we went through each one, we made a pile of items in that shape on the floor.

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Rectangle was the only one not included in the crate, so I could see her brain working extra hard when it came to finding items in that shape.

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As a variation, I then traced several shapes onto white paper, this time including heart and star for some outliers.

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You can head off around the house and find one item for each shape. Or, use the paper more like a shadow-matching puzzle and have your toddler fill it in with 3-D versions of each shape.

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Since music always aids in learning, we sang a shape song to the tune of The Farmer in the Dell:

A circle’s like a ball,

A circle’s like a ball.

Round and round,

It never stop.

A circle’s like a ball.

Make up verses for every other shape your toddler knows, too!

Finally, it was storytime. We had fun checking the following three out at the library:

  • Shapes, by John Reiss
  • Curious Baby Everyday Shapes Puzzle Book, by H.A. Rey
  • Sweet Shapes by Juana Medina Rosas

Puzzling Plates

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These easy one-piece puzzles are great for toddlers who are just beginning to fit pieces together.

Start by covering the center of paper plates with any easy-to-identify picture. If you have large photo prints of friends and family, those would work great. In a pinch, I cut pictures out of magazines that depicted familiar items (a house, a cat, vegetables) and glued them on.

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Cut one “wedge” from each puzzle pie and scramble them. Now see if your toddler can tell which wedge goes where!

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The hardest part for Veronika, more so than matching a piece to its correct puzzle, was making sure the wedge was oriented in the right direction when she slotted it back into the pie.

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But once she got the hang of it, she aced the game.

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You can make this activity harder as your child gets older simply by cutting multiple wedges from each puzzle pie!

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Craft-Stick Matching

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Here’s a great DIY puzzle for toddlers who have recently learned their shapes. Matching up the outlines of craft stick is great for fine motor skills, too!

To set up, I arranged jumbo craft sticks on plain white paper and traced the outlines. I made one page each for a triangle, square, and diamond, and decided to trace each shape with a different color just in case we wanted to add a color component to the game.

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I also then colored on the craft sticks with crayon in corresponding colors. We now had a red triangle, green square, and purple diamond.

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Now slip each shape into a zip-top plastic bag and show your toddler how to line the craft sticks up over each outline.

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Because there’s nothing to hold the craft sticks in place as in a puzzle board, Veronika’s shapes were always a little askew, but she certainly had the right idea!

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There was even a happy victory dance after she finished the triangle!

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I loved watching her puzzle through exactly where each stick should go.

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It turned out that she mixed and matched the colors, rather than placing a purple stick in a purple outline, etc., but that was just fine, too.

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Puzzle Pail

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What do you give your toddler to play with after a Building Bin? A Puzzle Pail of course! Today’s “invitation” for Veronika was a pail (from our beach toy collection) appropriately filled with puzzles. I liked the alteration here, but of course any container would work, not necessarily a sand pail.

I set out the puzzles in a few different ways. Bulky ones (including one with latches and another with farm animals behind flaps), I simply set out on the ground.

But for more standard puzzles, I separated them into pieces and each puzzle got its own zip-top baggie. I then put these baggies into the pail. Veronika immediately grabbed at all the bags, emptying her pail out.

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She wanted to tackle the shape puzzle first. There must have been a leap in her brain, because she solved the entire puzzle without any help!

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All I had to ask was a prompt (“Where does the rectangle go?” and she immediately knew.

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When it was complete, it was fun for her to load the pieces back into their zip-top baggie.

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In fact, your child might find the bags and pieces the most interesting part of this activity, rather than solving any puzzles.

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Next up was an animal puzzle. And she solved this one without any assistance, too!

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I guess my girl has earned her animal stripes (and spots).

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I also included an animal sound puzzle to add a fun auditory element.

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I loved seeing her busy with all the different puzzle varieties throughout the day, and only occasionally needed to jump in for assistance. This one truly lived up to its intention as a solo activity.

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