I have mentioned before my love for traditional Montessori materials because of how they tend to isolate one concept for children to work on. But they can sometimes be hard to find and expensive. We have two Montessori jigsaws, a single circle and three different sized circles, they were a great way of introducing Althea to jigsaws but they were not easy to come by and we have some non-montessori jigsaws that I’d like to make use of, so I wanted to address how we might go about using normal jigsaws in a more montessori way.
When can I introduce Jigsaws?
Perhaps earlier than you think, as soon as baby starts grasping. Now she’s not going to be completing jigsaws at 3 months but presenting a few (2 or 3) jigsaw pieces in a low sided basket or on a tray during tummy time encourages reaching and grasping. Remember babies like to mouth objects though so make sure it is safe for her to do so (not too small, no knobs that will come loose and pose a choking hazard, non-toxic paint). Once she is sitting you can place a few more pieces in a treasure basket for her to explore.
What sort of Jigsaws should I start with?
The best first jigsaws are those with large wooden knobs that involve using a palm grasp, but there is no harm in also using ones with smaller knobs which encourage them to use a pincer grip (thumb and forefinger). One with fewer pieces is best to start with and simple shapes are an ideal place to start as they tend to have less corners to work with. Melissa and Doug do some of my favourite first jigsaw puzzles and this is the one I would recommend starting with.
What can I expect my little one to do?
This is a rough outline of how your baby might progress although don’t be surprised if your little one goes straight to taking them out one at a time, not all children are tippers.
Stage 1: Grasping and mouthing
Stage 2: Emptying/Tipping out
Stage 3: Taking out one at a time
Stage 4: Putting in (making attempts, not always successful)
Stage 5: Problem solving (trying different spaces until they find the right one)
How can I support in a Montessori way?
Initially just allow them to explore the materials on their own terms, when you notice they are using their palm grasp or pincer grip to remove individual pieces this is a good time to demonstrate how they go back in. Simply sit with your child and choose the easiest piece and then, without saying anything (talking can be distracting, there will be plenty of time later on to introduce new vocabulary) demonstrate how it goes back into the space and comes back out again. If she seems interested hand her the piece and let her experiment but don’t worry if she does not try for herself straight away. The next time you present the jigsaw it might be worth only putting the easiest shape out, at first leave it in the jigsaw but eventually once she shows an interest in putting it in you can leave it out next to the correct shape.
Simply place the Jigsaw on a low shelf or on a mat as a focus activity with all of its pieces intact.
Once they start showing an interest in putting in (this was around 9 months for Althea) then you can isolate the easiest shape for her to work on.
Once she has tried placing it back in the space a few times you can place the shape next to the space to encourage her to find the correct space place for it. You can repeat this with all the shapes, isolating one at a time starting with the easiest. EDIT: A lovely reader pointed out that my original order didn’t follow easiest to hardest, oops, so here it is again: The circle, the square, the triangle, the rectangle/the oval. Observing Althea with this particular jigsaw she actually finds the oval quite easy so it goes to show that also observing and following your child is important! Credit goes to ecel for spotting this, thank you!
Once you notice that she is trying to problem solve by trying the shapes in different spaces before finding the correct one you can introduce a few pieces, again starting with the easiest.
Eventually you will be able to present all the pieces either on a tray or in a basket.
Make sure you allow lots of uninterrupted time for her to work on these skills. Try to take a step back and observe. Sometimes if Althea has been trying for a long time I will quietly step in and demonstrate the skill she is trying to master again or I will occasionally encourage her to try a different space by pointing.
I’d love to hear what jigsaw puzzles your little ones love and how you incorporate them into your Montessori home!