I was taking care of my 3 year old the other day. He had a couple puzzles he wanted to try to put together, and so I joined him. I thought he might be a little too young to be able to put a puzzle together (the box said for ages 5-8), but I also thought that it might be fun. Although in my house the odds of all the puzzle pieces actually being in the box were slim at best, I decided not to worry about that. Fun for him, fun for me, a bonding experience — that was the extent of this moment. And so we dumped the puzzle pieces on the table and we began our task of finding out, of discovering, what the image was.
Now there are a few types of people but most notably, you have the people who look at the picture on the box while they put the puzzle together and the people who prefer for it to be a surprise. One way is a little easier than the other, there are pros and cons to each, but they both work.
Me personally, I have always been a “no box” kind of person. I thought part of the “fun” of putting together a puzzle is that you don’t know what the image is going to look like. You don’t have the picture and so you need to figure it out. It’s why, when someone tries to tell me about the movie they saw, I ask them not to reveal too much. I would hate for them to “spoil” it for me. Anyway, my son and I dumped the pieces down and we looked for pieces that might be meant to go together.
I noticed early on that my hunch was right. I tried to teach him that the easiest way for us to do it, the way I always do puzzles, is to look for the end pieces first. I started sorting out the end pieces, grouping them by what appeared to be the color of the piece, and I asked my 3 three year old to help me. Of course, I could do the puzzle myself, but I didn’t want to do that. I wanted to do it with him.
Much to my chagrin, he started grabbing pieces that obviously didn’t belong together and putting them together just the same. “See Daddy, these go together” he would say. But they didn’t, and he wasn’t even close. I tried to explain it to him. “No buddy, see how this one doesn’t have a straight edge on it and this one here does, the straight-edged ones are meant to go together.
But he didn’t understand. He actually grabbed 2 straight edged pieces from the pile we had going and then, because they weren’t supposed to go together, spun one around so the edges were on opposite sides and said, “See Daddy, these go together.”
I began to get a little frustrated, but I persevered. “Hey, I got an idea” I thought… and I grabbed the box. I put it prominently on the table for us both to see. It was an underwater sea life picture puzzle. I then looked to my son, “Do you see how it is supposed to look? See this, what’s that?” I asked. “A turtle!” he exclaimed. “Yes I said, that’s right. And here is a puzzle piece that looks like its a part of the sea turtle’s flipper. Let’s put that right over here, because we know that is where it is supposed to be in the end.” I knew where the piece must go if we, him and I, were ever going to put the puzzle together.
But he didn’t like it there. “No Daddy,” he said. Now he was getting frustrated. He grabbed the puzzle piece and looked for another place to put it. And then he put on his grumpy face and said, “I don’t like this piece” and threw it to the ground. And that was the end of our puzzle building experience that day. I picked up the piece that was discarded, put it with the others, and made careful sure that I put all the pieces back into the box. It’s always a bummer to put a puzzle together only to find out you’re missing a piece — no body likes that.
I boxed up the puzzle and put it away for now. I’ll wait until he’s 4 and then try again. One day, when he’s ready, it will be fun for us to put the puzzle together…