What jigsaw puzzles tell us about child development

July 28, 2020

They've been used as an educational toy for hundreds of years and are thought to develop skills such as hand-eye coordination and problem solving.

But little has been known about how children learn to do jigsaw puzzles.

Now, new research led by the University of East Anglia (UEA) has put jigsaw puzzles to the test - and found that children only learn to do them once they have reached a certain stage of development.

The study, published today in the journal Child Development, reveals that three-year-olds use trial and error, but four-year olds are able to use information in the picture to complete the puzzles. The research team say this understanding is the foundation of drawing and painting.

Lead researcher Dr Martin Doherty, from UEA's School of Psychology, said: "We looked at children's ability to do jigsaw puzzles. Surprisingly, there's virtually no research on this, despite the common assumption these are good educational toys.

"We were interested in children's understanding of pictures as representations. Jigsaws require assembly of a picture, so if children understand how pictures work then they should be better at jigsaw puzzles."

The team, which includes researchers from the Universities of Edinburgh Napier, West of Scotland and Warwick, worked with 169 children aged between three and five, to see how they put together different types of puzzles at different ages.

Some of the children worked on traditional jigsaw puzzles with a picture, jigsaws with no picture, and picture-based puzzles made up of equal-sized rectangular pieces. Half of this group were given a picture guide showing what the completed image should look like.

The researchers recorded how long it took the children to complete the puzzles and the number of times they attempted to join puzzle pieces.

Another group of children were given a jigsaw puzzle with a piece missing, and different options to fill the gap.

The children were also tested on their level of representational understanding, including how well they understood other people's beliefs. The researchers argue that understanding the relationship between a belief and the part of the world it is about develops alongside understanding the relationship between a picture and what it is about.

Dr Doherty said: "This is the first investigation of how children do jigsaw puzzles, and we were particularly interested in how they use their understanding of pictures to complete them.

"We found that children who passed tests for representational understanding were able to complete picture jigsaws faster and more efficiently. In general, efficiency increased between the ages of three and five years.

"The really unique thing about this study is that we are showing the age and stage of development at which children gain a fundamental understanding of the nature of pictures.

"We think this lays a vital foundation for learning to draw and paint," he added.
-end-
'Piecing together the puzzle of pictorial representation: How jigsaw puzzles index metacognitive development' is published in the journal Child Development on July 29.

University of East Anglia

Related Children Articles from Brightsurf:

Black and Hispanic children in the US have more severe eczema than white children
A presentation at this year's virtual American College of Allergy, Asthma and Immunology (ACAAI) Annual Scientific Meeting reveals the disparities that exist for Black and Hispanic children when it comes to Atopic Dermatitis (AD), commonly known as eczema.

Black children with cancer three times less likely to receive proton radiotherapy than White children
A retrospective analysis led by investigators from Brigham and Women's Hospital has found racial disparities in the use of the therapy for patients enrolled in trials.

The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health: First Europe-wide study of children confirms COVID-19 predominately causes mild disease in children and fatalities are very rare
Children with COVID-19 generally experience a mild disease and fatalities are very rare, according to a study of 582 patients from across Europe published today in The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health journal.

Children not immune to coronavirus; new study from pandemic epicenter describes severe COVID-19 response in children
- While most children infected with the novel coronavirus have mild symptoms, a subset requires hospitalization and a small number require intensive care.

How many children is enough?
Most Russians would like to have two children: a boy and a girl.

Preterm children have similar temperament to children who were institutionally deprived
A child's temperament is affected by the early stages of their life.

Only-children more likely to be obese than children with siblings
Families with multiple children tend to make more healthy eating decisions than families with a single child.

Children living in countryside outperform children living in metropolitan area in motor skills
Residential density is related to children's motor skills, engagement in outdoor play and organised sports. that Finnish children living in the countryside spent more time outdoors and had better motor skills than their age peers in the metropolitan area.

Hispanic and black children more likely to miss school due to eczema than white children
In a study that highlights racial disparities in the everyday impact of eczema, new research shows Hispanic and black children are more likely than white children to miss school due to the chronic skin disease.

Children, their parents, and health professionals often underestimate children's higher weight status
More than half of parents underestimated their children's classification as overweight or obese -- children themselves and health professionals also share this misperception, according to new research being presented at this year's European Congress on Obesity (ECO) in Glasgow, UK (April 28-May 1).

Read More: Children News and Children Current Events
Brightsurf.com is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com.