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The best types of puzzles for your toddler

Puzzles teach toddlers problem-solving skills, improve their concentration, and develop fine motor skills. These brain teasers vary in difficulty level and types. Most kids start with basic shape sorting cubes, move up to multi-piece jigsaw puzzles, and try every other puzzle in between. Stock up on different styles to keep your little one’s mind sharp and engaged. Take a look at these parent-approved puzzles for your tot.

Toddler playing with shape sorter
Oksana Kuzmina/

Shape sorters

These puzzles are some of the very first types your toddler will encounter from their infancy. Typically, you have a cube with various shaped openings on all sides where your little one can push the right pieces through. Common shapes include squares, circles, heptagons, triangles, etc.

Introduce this puzzle early on as soon as your toddler can hold the shapes in their hands. They’ll quickly distinguish the different colors, shapes, names, and textures. Upgrade to puzzles with smaller openings and more complex shapes as your toddler gets older.

Wooden shape insert puzzles

Also called knob puzzles, these types are flat pieces with small knobs little fingers can pick up. Popular styles include shapes, numbers, farm animals, cars, and people. The pieces fit into their outlines on a flat board, typically made of wood or plastic.

Choose a wide range of content beyond your toddler’s favorite subjects to expand their interests. If they enjoy learning about animals, introduce plant insert puzzles. If their favorite thing to talk about is dinosaurs, introduce body part insert puzzles — you get the idea. The toddler years are when their brains are most like information-absorbing sponges, so now is a strategic time to familiarize them with loads of new learning material.

Wooden ABCs insert puzzles

On a similar note, this is also a good time to introduce, study, and memorize the ABCs through play. Wooden ABC insert puzzles make learning the alphabet much more fun than pointing at a paper poster and reciting it. Choose puzzles with corresponding words, e.g. A with an apple, B with a ball, C with a cat, etc.

Wooden tangram puzzles

If your toddler has gone through all their puzzles and needs a more stimulating activity, a tangram puzzle is definitely a good choice. One container made of different size and shape pieces combine together for numerous figures and silhouettes.

Adult-oriented tangram puzzles are available in plain, unpainted pieces, but opt for colorful shapes for your toddler. Almost every tangram puzzle includes a shape-making guide to help create endless models.

For now, your toddler might just stack and pile up the pieces haphazardly, but in time they’ll learn to recognize the different structure possibilities. Some tangram puzzles fit neatly into a square or hexagon container, which is another puzzle itself. However, don’t expect your toddler to master this solution in a day. Keep trying, though! You’ll be surprised at how quickly they learn.

Jigsaw puzzles with or without outlines

Another classic puzzle style is the jigsaw. For toddlers, a four- or six-piece puzzle is challenging enough. Purchase several puzzles in different sizes to gauge their skill level. Introduce more difficult puzzles as they beat each new level.

Choose familiar figures like animals or iconic scenes like a barnyard to make it easier for your little one. Puzzles with multiple pieces also sometimes come with outlines for guidance. You can add this neat little feature yourself — just grab a marker and outline each piece against the board.

Hidden-object puzzles

This scavenger-type puzzle is a little less about feel and motor skills and more about visual dexterity and concentration. Print out a page full of objects, people, and animals specifically for toddlers or any page from a magazine. Ask your toddler to point out specific objects or people.

If the items are too small, you can also point to each one and ask your toddler about its shape, size, color, and what sounds they make if applicable.

Beyond songs, writing, and singing, puzzles keep toddlers’ minds and hands busy. Not only will these brain-boosting games teach your toddler shapes, colors, numbers, and letters, they will enhance your tot’s problem-solving skills. There’s seriously nothing cuter than the pride on their face as they celebrate every solved puzzle. So tickle their brains with these different kinds of puzzles from traditional jigsaws to colorful tangram puzzles.

If you’re looking for more, check out our list of children’s classic toys and games.

Two young kids playing with tangram puzzle

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