There is something peaceful and contemplative about the start of a new year. The bustle of the holidays is past, the decorations come down, and the weather encourages coziness and hibernation. A new year stretches before you, full of possibility and hope. It is a time for slowing down, for relaxation and for connecting with loved ones over quiet activities.
If you are a parent of young children, that last sentence is probably about where you spit out your caffeinated beverage of choice! Young children and quiet activity go together about as well as oil and water. Still, there are benefits to unplugging our kids from electronics and introducing them to activities that encourage them to slow down and to focus. Two of the very best activities for teaching just that (and more) are puzzles and LEGO, or other similar building sets.
What’s more, puzzle and building brick play present great opportunities to bond as a family and to model that there is value in playing with things that don’t go fast, make noise or require batteries. Without realizing it, your kids will be learning valuable skills that will help them in life, and you’ll be bonding as a family through shared experience.
Benefits to puzzle and brick play
- Concentration and focus
Puzzles and LEGO help your child to work on his focus and concentration as he searches for and fits puzzle pieces or follows building instructions. Even the most eager children learn the importance of slowing down to focus on the task at hand in order to accomplish the desired end result.
- Fine motor skills and dexterity
Picking up and manipulating puzzle pieces or building bricks is a great way for your child to improve her fine motor skills. Younger children, who might be using blockier puzzle pieces or the larger LEGO DUPLO blocks, are improving their dexterity as well as their finger and hand strength. For older builders, fine motor work is an essential component to handwriting improvement.
- Spatial awareness
Spatial awareness refers to the awareness of objects and one’s body position relative to those objects. It is a complex skill that children begin to develop from an early age and one that parents can promote with puzzle and LEGO play. Solving visual, piece-based puzzles allows your child to learn how different pieces need to be manipulated to create the larger image. Considering how building bricks fit together, and how they should be placed to create a desired outcome, also encourages the development of a child’s spatial abilities. Numerous studies have shown that better spatial awareness correlates to stronger abilities in math, science, art and design. And, it’s never too late to strengthen spatial awareness skills! Adults can improve their abilities through puzzle and LEGO play, as well.
Parents, you’re an important part of the play! As you create together, you’ll be talking about what you’re working on – sharing ideas about which structure to build, or which puzzle piece you’re hunting for. That back and forth is a natural way to model and reinforce appropriate give and take in a conversation.
- Teamwork and sharing
Whether you’re following building instructions, creating your own vision, or putting together a puzzle, you are teaching your child that teamwork is the best way for the two of you to accomplish your goal. You won’t be successful if you can’t work together on your strategy, or if one person ends up hogging all of the pieces. By playing together, you help your child strengthen her social skills and practice conflict resolution, so that play with her peers can be a positive experience.
- Perseverance and frustration tolerance
Even adults can reach a point when a puzzle makes them want to throw in the towel! By hanging in there together when the going gets tough, you are teaching your child perseverance. Over time, your child will build his tolerance for handling frustration, which translates to benefits in many areas of life. There is value, too, in modeling how to take breaks when things get frustrating or tiring, so that you and your child can see things through to the satisfying end.
- Creativity and imagination
There is no “right” way to play with building brick sets like LEGO. If your child loves to follow the step-by-step building instructions, great! If your child loves to dump everything out of the box and free build, also great! Some of the most fun comes from dreaming up an idea, and then creating it in building brick form. The possibilities are endless when free building, and your child will practice the important skills of thinking outside of the box, brainstorming, trying new ideas and being creative.
Playing together as a family is one of the best ways to build strong relationships. When you choose an activity that causes participants to unplug, slow down, imagine and communicate, not only are you creating fond memories, but you are helping your child to develop lifelong skills. So, the next time your child asks you to play with him, leave the game system behind, dump out the puzzle or building brick pieces – and get creating!
Alison Bogle is an Austin-based freelance writer and mom of three.