Puzzles offer playtime fun for all ages


We love puzzles for playtime, and while many people feel inclined to wait until about babies are a year old to bring them out, we find that babies as young as 8 months old can already work with certain kinds of puzzles.

Babies are often curious about recessed puzzles which have large knob wooden pieces that fit into specific slots on a board and feature different knob sizes that are easy to manipulate. Even if babies are too young to put the pieces back in the right place (the lobster in the lobster “hole/slot”), pulling them out and handling them helps in so many ways such as hand-eye coordination and finger manipulation from full palmar grasp to tripod grasp to a more sophisticated pincer grasp. 

These are some of the advantages of encouraging babies to handle and play with puzzles:

  • Build fine motor skills by grabbing pieces by the handle, knob or peg.
  • Develop hand-eye coordination that will create a cerebral/intellectual problem-solving learning environment.
  • Exercise core rotation and side-sitting when puzzle is placed off from the center. Core rotation is very important for strengthening abdominals and core muscles. Applying upper body weight over one arm during side-sitting and reaching for a puzzle piece will enhance the next most important milestone—crawling.
  • Verbal skills can also be encouraged as parents model sounds when handling specific puzzle images; for example, while using a farm animal puzzle set with a cow image, caregivers can say a “MOO” sound for an 8 month old; “COW” word for an 18 month old; “WHITE COW” for a two year old.

In many ways we find that a baby playing with puzzles is actually doing Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and Speech Therapy (PT, OT, ST), all in one!

From this point forward the possibilities are endless and puzzles continue to be amazing toys and exploring tools for children and grown-ups of all ages. Older toddlers can begin to use their imagination, pretend play, count and sort into categories (shapes, animals, fruits, etc.). They can also learn how to put basic jigsaw puzzles together. Preschoolers love the challenge of more pieces in their jigsaw puzzles and oversized floor puzzles, and they can also practice teamwork when working as a group on the bigger puzzles.

I recently spent a few days at a sunny Florida beach with some friends and the central entertainment was a 1,000 piece puzzle which featured a beautifully illustrated map of Florida complete with county and city names and full of highlights of our State. Grown-ups spent hours chatting over coffee and piecing together our major highways, while children loved seeing manatees, alligators and flamingos slowly come together, and this was a great reminder of the fabulous stimulation that puzzles provide for all ages and the whole family from siblings to grandparents.

Happy puzzle playing!

7 Tips to encourage good posture in children

Many parents ask us about ways to help their children improve their posture. The following article from NBClatino.com by Monica Olivera Hazelton summarizes a few interesting tips that are worth trying with your kids. Proper posture is a habit that will benefit kids not only during childhood, but also throughout their adult lives.

7 Tips for teaching your kids good posture
by Monica Olivera 04/04/2013

Good posture is becoming harder to find nowadays. It makes sense because over the last century we have moved away from an industrial and agricultural society to an information-based one. Now, hunched over our desks and computers, our perfect postures are slowly eroding into slouched hunchbacks.

But ironically, societal assumptions haven’t changed that much. People with good posture are still assumed to have grown up intelligent, educated, and wealthy. They look successful, confident, and alert. As it turns out, good posture is important – and not just for the way that others perceive you. According to the Ririan Project, good posture has many physical benefits. It allows you to breathe better, improves your circulation and digestion, helps your muscles and joints, maintains a healthy spine, and even improves your frame of mind.

Having good posture – and the physical benefits mentioned above – may also turn out to be good for students. A positive frame of mind makes learning easier, and active brains definitely need good circulation and plenty of oxygen.

More schools are starting to explore ergonomic furniture and even yoga balls to help their students learn. Research suggests that physical activity improves learning. The yoga balls engage the lower body, causing the body to make small adjustments to maintain its balance. These small movements stimulate both hemispheres of the brain, which improves the students’ memories and helps them to focus. For fidgety children, the yoga balls are a valuable tool for academic success.

So what can you as a parent do to improve your child’s posture? Consider these 7 tips:
1. Be conscious of good posture
As they say, “Awareness is half the battle.” Make good posture a priority and soon your child will become more tuned in to his or her own body and how they are sitting or standing.
2. Praise your child
Children need positive reinforcement. When you see your child standing up straight, tell your son how tall he looks, or compliment your daughter on how grown up and mature she appears. Soon your child will be motivated to stand straight all the time.
3. Lead by example
Encourage your child by having good posture yourself! If you have a desk job, your posture may have deteriorated without you realizing it. So be conscious of your own stance.
4. Try yoga or tai-chi
Activities like yoga and tai-chi place a lot of emphasis on body awareness and movement. Many of the salutations and other positions require a straight spine to allow for deep breaths and proper extension. If your child is too self-conscious to join a class, pick up some videos to do at home. Don’t worry about him being too young; you can even find DVD programs on yoga for kids!
5. Enroll your child in ballet
Have you ever seen a ballerina who walks around slouching? Me neither.
6. Play a game
Take a page from My Fair Lady and have your child balance a book on her head, then walk around the house without dropping it. This is impossible to do when your head is tilting forward or backward!
7. Invest in ergonomic furniture
Learning is always easier with the right tools. There are a few companies that are carrying ergonomic furniture that promote good posture, like PostureInStyle and Kidsomania. And if you can’t find any you like or that are in your price range? Don’t forget, there’s always the yoga ball.

Download this article as a PDF.

Monica Olivera Hazelton, NBC Latino contributor and the founder and publisher of MommyMaestra.com, a site for Latino families that homeschool, as well as families with children in a traditional school setting who want to take a more active role in their children’s education. She is the 2011 winner of the “Best Latina Education Blogger” award by LATISM.

Introduction to toddler years

Recognize toddler behaviors one at a time and transform them from rock concert into symphony orchestra. 

Recognize toddler behaviors one at a time and transform them from rock concert into symphony orchestra. 

Toddlers in general are non-compliant and can be unpleasant specially when they say "NO", hit, bite, pull hair, interrupt cell phone conversations, constantly whine, throw tantrums in public places, scream during a migraine, and above all… throw food at you or across the floor.  Enough is enough, what do we do about it? If you are ready to throw the towel, STOP! Reflect on the fact that this child is a gift and wonderfully created for a greater purpose. Our goal is to recognize these behaviors one at a time and transform them from a radical rock concert to a symphony orchestra.  Each behavior is an instrument and you (mother, father, grandparent, or guardian) are the conductor.  As this blog evolves, so will the composition of your musical piece (household) evolve too.

FIRST we must understand the composer: YOU! Stay tuned as we'll have more details soon (Infant Mental Health Journal article published in Jan-Feb, 2012).