By Laura Jean Whitcomb
Science abounds on the benefits of puzzles: enhanced visual perception, improved coordination, better memory and heightened creativity. There’s left brain (logic) and right brain (creative) powers at work when you try to put together a puzzle. Puzzles are even a learning toy, encouraging children to follow simple steps to (successfully) solve problems.
But kids don’t care about any of that research. They just know that puzzles are fun. Parents and grandparents, on the other hand, like to know that they are giving more than a toy; they are helping a child’s brain grow and develop. “When you give a puzzle to a child you are giving more than a fun toy,” says Dee Rogers, co-founder of Platinum Puzzles in Canaan, N.H. “You are fostering skills that children will use all their life.”
For all ages
Dee and her husband Steve have been making custom wooden jigsaw puzzles for more than 20 years, and founded their company, Platinum Puzzles, in 2006. They started with adult puzzles, ranging from nostalgia to fantasy, limited edition to really tricky, and worldwide to local artists. A few years ago, they designed and made their first children’s puzzle. “We were hooked,” says Dee, and Platinum ½ Pint Puzzles was born.
“Steve and I both came from large families; Steve has five brothers and sisters, and I had seven. We found growing up in large families taught us skills, like how to compromise, share, and problem solve so there was harmony,” says Dee. “By the time our youngest was 11, I was working at Stave Puzzles, and there were always puzzles on our dining room table waiting to have just one more piece placed in. You learn a lot about an 11-year-old boy while sitting across from him working a wooden jigsaw puzzle!”
As the Rogers attended craft fairs and art shows, they made sure their puzzles were available for play. “When children play with our puzzles, we watch closely,” says Dee. “Very young children are just having fun, the image on the puzzle makes them happy, but school age children are on a mission. Their total focus is on the task before them and they block out the rest of the world as they strategize their moves.” This market research helps the Rogers develop ideas, such as adding a deliberate clue (a shape or solid color) to help a child solve a tricky area.
With a twist
Dee and Steve make two types of puzzles: an art image cut up and ready to be put back together, and puzzles they design to have a twist. “You get to pick how many pieces are in your puzzle — no one knows your child better than you and how many pieces they can confidently work,” says Dee. “You also get to pick whether or not to have the image in the bottom of the tray (great for young tots) or no image in the tray (great for 3 and 4 year olds) or no tray at all (great for 4 and up).”
Because all the puzzle pieces are hand cut, Dee and Steve are apt to add a bit of whimsy. A puzzle piece may be shaped as an animal (a butterfly, cat or deer), or it may be an umbrella (their logo). Not only do they help a child solve the puzzle, the shapes are fun to find.
The puzzle images come from artists all over the world, and the Rogers also design puzzles as well. “We have touch and feel puzzles with textured material,” says Dee. “Some puzzle pieces are shaped as an animal that can stand up and be played with on its own. Our ‘Mommy’ puzzles are layered puzzles, three layers, containing a mommy, an egg and a baby. To be able to develop and create wooden puzzles for small hands is so rewarding for a designer.”
Safe and nontoxic
No worries when your toddler picks up a puzzle piece and starts chewing. When it comes to safety, Platinum ½ Pint Puzzles goes above and beyond. The Rogers start with birch plywood made with soy based glues and no added formaldehyde. They cut large, roundish pieces so no one gets poked and nothing gets swallowed. They sand edges and finish the back with handmade beeswax paste. “We always suggest adult supervision, but if one of our puzzle pieces ends up in the mouth of a child — and we know they will — we want to make sure nothing will hurt them,” says Dee.
With all the thought put into art, piece design and materials, the end result is a puzzle that will be passed down from generation to generation.
All children’s puzzles cost under $30. Learn more at platinumhalfpintpuzzles.platinumpuzzles.com