New study reveals how children learn to do puzzles


Children’s understanding of how pictures work is key to enabling them to complete puzzles, according to a new study.

According to researchers from the University of East Anglia (UEA), who conducted the study, children only fully understand how to solve puzzles when they have reached a certain stage of development.

The study, which looked at the cognitive processes underlying puzzle completion, found that the average child is able to use visual cues from puzzle pieces and the display of the box to complete the puzzle. puzzle around the age of four. Three-year-olds, however, use trial and error to put the pieces together.

Researchers say the developmental progress that children around four show when they complete puzzles is the ‘base’ of future drawing and painting skills.

Lead researcher Dr Martin Doherty, from the UEA School of Psychology, said: ‘We looked at children’s ability to do puzzles. Surprisingly, there is hardly any research on this, despite the common assumption that they are good educational toys.

“We were interested in children’s understanding of images as representations. Puzzles require putting a picture together, so if kids understand how pictures work, they should be better at puzzles.

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

Some of the children worked on traditional puzzles with a picture, puzzles without a picture, and picture-based puzzles made up of rectangular pieces of equal size. Half of this group received an illustrated guide showing what the finished image should look like.

Another group of children received a puzzle with a missing piece and different options to fill in the gap.

The children were also tested on their level of representational understanding, including their understanding of the beliefs of others. The researchers believe this is relevant because representational understanding develops in children alongside the ability to see an image and understand what it is about.

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

“We found that children who passed representational comprehension tests were able to complete picture puzzles faster and more efficiently. In general, effectiveness increased between three and five years of age.

“The really unique thing about this study is that we show the age and developmental stage at which children acquire a fundamental understanding of the nature of images.

“We believe this is an essential foundation for learning to draw and paint,” he added.

  • The research, “Piecing together the puzzle of pictorial representation: How jigsaw puzzles index metacognitive development,” published in the journal Child Development, is available here