Why is it that your kids are constantly complaining they have nothing to do, yet your home is so full of toys it’s practically a hoarder’s paradise? Sorry, that’s one problem we can’t solve. But we do know a boredom-busting activity that will keep screen time to a minimum and make your kids smarter, to boot: Puzzles. Some serious mental gymnastics are required to complete a classic jigsaw puzzle, like hand-eye coordination, shape recognition, abstract thinking and problem-solving. And research shows that the benefits of this brain-boosting exercise can have a long-lasting positive effect on spatial task performance. Check out our pick of the best puzzles for kids for the gift that keeps on giving—they’ll have hours of fun, all while sharpening critical thinking tools (and Mom will finally get a chance to hop in the shower).
16 of the Best Puzzles for Kids to Boost Their Development (and Keep Them Occupied)
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1. melissa & Doug 100 Piece Ballet Recital Puzzle
A jigsaw for kids who are ready to graduate from large format floor puzzles but not quite up to the task of a more grown-up 1000-piece puzzle (the manufacturer recommends this guy for ages 6 to 9). Regular size pieces require fine motor skills and the ballet theme is ideal for capturing the attention of tiny dancers who might otherwise get restless on a rainy day.
2. ravensburger Thomas & Friends Night Work Glow-in-the-dark 60-piece Puzzle
Skip the landscape scenes and stick with jigsaws that speak to your child’s interests. The Thomas the Train fanatic in your family will enjoy fitting the pieces together to form the characters from their favorite show; and unlike screen-time, this job demands focus and critical thinking, so it’s time well spent. Bonus: This puzzle glows in the dark, so your child can admire his hard work both day and night.
$25 at Amazon
3. likee Pattern Blocks Animal Montessori Puzzle
This guy has all the same brain-boosting benefits as a traditional jigsaw, with additional opportunities for creativity. The brightly colored tiles and charming animal activity cards are hard to resist. But don’t be fooled by all that cuteness—visual reasoning and fine motor skills are put to the test as kids try to recreate images by sliding and layering pieces in the proper arrangement (meaning that a lesson in frustration tolerance is built-in, too). Fortunately, kids can take a break by making an abstract image of their own design if they start to get too worked up.
4. mudpuppy Search & Find 64-piece Jigsaw Puzzle
This clever jigsaw follows the standard puzzle formula, with a surprise twist. Sit your dino lover down with the task of completing this 64-piece picture, and make sure you mention there’s another phase of fun coming once the job is done—the extra motivation should help your child muster the concentration and hand-eye coordination needed to accomplish the mission. Don’t worry, you weren’t bluffing. Look inside the box for a list of more than 40 different dinosaurs to identify in the image—kids will have a blast searching for the various breeds, all camouflaged in a canvas of vibrant color.
$17 at Amazon
5. wood City Tangram Tetris Puzzle For Toddlers
A brain-teaser that combines the fun of Tetris (sans screen time) with the skill-strengthening power of a standard puzzle. This toy can be played in several different ways so you don’t have to work to keep your kid interested. Your mini can arrange the colorful, wooden shapes to create different graphics, or take on the ultimate challenge of finding a way to fit them all into the wooden playing board. Either way, critical and visual reasoning skills are sure to get a boost.
$11 at Amazon
6. melissa & Doug Usa Map Floor Puzzle
Turn the task of teaching geography into a game with this 51-piece jigsaw. Puzzles require a plan of attack—and the best strategy for putting together this map of the country is to learn the shape and location of all fifty states. After a few sit-downs (and some head-scratching), kids can master this puzzle and learn the lay of the land.
Buy It ($13)
7. galison Vintage Motel Signs 500-piece Puzzle
The cute retro design will reel in the tween in your home so digits can be exercised with something other than texting. This 500-piece puzzle helps older kids hone their abilities to solve problems and stay focused. How so? Because the size of the project means commitment and follow-through are required. (Luckily, it’s more fun than cleaning up one’s bedroom.)
Buy It ($14)
8. infantino Soft Foam Puzzle Mat
It’s never too soon for tots to start flexing their mental muscles with a jigsaw challenge. Introduce a soft foam puzzle mat and prepare to be amazed as you watch your mini's problem-solving skills bloom. The outer pieces of the mat fit together just like a jigsaw and the interior pieces can be removed and replaced, helping little ones learn about shapes and sorting. Best of all, there’s potential for a physical workout, too—when your babe is done playing this puzzle doubles as a soft space for tummy time.
9. cat Stax, The Purrfect Puzzle
Great for feline fans, this whimsical logic game comes with 48 three-dimensional pieces (cat-shaped but dander-free) and just as many different brain-teasing tests to encourage reasoning and determination. The suggested activities vary in difficulty so kids of all ages can problem-solve their way to success with or without the help of a grown-up.
10. melissa & Doug 4-in-1 Wooden Jigsaw Puzzles With Storage Box
These durable wooden pieces have different shapes printed on the back so children can practice skills of perception with a required sorting activity—either before or after the main event. The box includes four 12-piece puzzles, all featuring boldly-colored images of beloved dinosaur breeds. And the handy storage box makes this fun activity ideal for travel. Recommended for kids aged 3 to 6.
11. crocodile Creek Day At The Space Museum 48-piece Floor Puzzle
This sprawling floor puzzle is best for younger kids who lack the patience and focus to fuss with small pieces. Each part of the whole resembles a standard jigsaw piece, but ten times the size to better suit small hands. Little ones can learn without feeling discouraged and the finished product is big enough to inspire a feeling of wonder and plenty of pride. The beginner’s astronomy lesson that’s built in is just an added benefit.
12. mindware Fruity Poolside Scratch & Sniff 77-piece Jigsaw Puzzle
Nothing beats the novelty of scratch and sniff, and this fun feature will help children get excited about this goofy jigsaw (and maybe about fruit, too?). The activity is calm, quiet and, with 77 pieces, quite a challenge for concentration and critical thinking skills alike.
Buy It ($14)
13. melissa & Doug Self-correcting Wooden Number Puzzle
Young ones can exercise problem-solving and fine motor muscles while learning how to count with visual cues. The numbered pieces lock into those that display a colorful image with the matching quantity. Oops...was that banana counted one time too many? No problem—after trying to force ill-fitting pieces together, your kiddo will figure out the issue independently and try again.
14. areaware Little Puzzle Thing
Despite your best efforts, your child survives on a steady diet of pizza. You might not be winning at mealtime, but with a little cunning, you can use the defeat to your advantage and nourish his growing brain with this pizza-shaped puzzle. With 70 small pieces, assembly is required but kids will get a kick out of the photorealistic manifestation of their favorite food. And you'll be pretty pleased, too—you just served up a slice of problem-solving and your child ate it all up.
15. galison New York City To Go 36-piece Jigsaw Puzzle
Can’t swing a vacation in the near future? Or maybe you’re about to take one and want a new way to beat in-flight boredom (without the aid of that screen on the back of the seat). Whatever the circumstance, your kid can take a trip to the Big Apple with this compact jigsaw that gets idle minds moving. The design is not a continuous image, but rather a collection of New York City sights and monuments, so children have to reference the included map to make the picture come together. The finished product fits on a tray table and the small, printed bag solves the problem of lost pieces without the bulk of a box.
Buy It ($10)
16. djeco Plum’zules Crazy Giant Floor Puzzle
The classic jigsaw takes on a new form with this artistic feast for the eyes and mind. The intricately decorated and unusually shaped puzzle pieces are interchangeable, so they can be combined to create multiple different masterpieces. The fruit of your child’s labor? A fantastical bird-like creature that will inspire both critical thinking and creativity.
$15 at Amazon