- Toddlers have specific milestones they should reach by a certain age. Motor skills are one of them and a fundamental one too. When it comes to motor skills there are gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills are larger movements that include your child’s extremities. Shape sorters develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor, cognitive, and language skills. Not only that but, matching puzzle pieces with a distinctive sound also develops auditory awareness and discrimination.
- Shape sorter puzzles are a classic choice to develop and strengthen motor skills for your toddler. Your child has a square-shaped puzzle piece with a picture of a horse on it and a rectangle with a cow on it. These are similar shapes and can confuse them at first, but they will take the puzzle and place it on the open spots. It has to be a precise fit for it to be correct. Then, they have to push it in until it “locks” into place. That’s physical and auditory confirmation for them which is important in STEM education.
- There are some easy ways to ensure your child has the right shape sorter puzzle for their developmental stage. Some questions to ask yourself are: Does he/she easily grasp and release? Does he/she relish every opportunity to” fill and spill”? Are his/her eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills well developed enough for his/her to fit a peg in a hole?
We all know there are various milestones to look out for, but will puzzles help our little ones get there faster, master it much easier or both?
Developmental Motor Skill Milestones
Before we answer that question, we should probably make sure we’re on the same page since there are different types of motor skills and different milestones per age group.
When it comes to motor skills there are gross motor skills and fine motor skills.
Gross motor skills are larger movements that include your child’s extremities.
Gross motor skill examples:
- Walk up and down the stairs while holding your hand.
- Run fairly well.
- Jump with feet together, clearing the floor.
- Jump down and forwards.
- Squat to play.
- Stand on tiptoe with support.
- Start to use ride-on toys.
- Throw a ball into a box.
These are important skills to have because it helps gain strength and confidence in their body. Plus, physical activity is extremely important. The more they learn and practice, the better prepared they are when they want to play sports in the future and as needed for everyday situations.
Between 12-18 months there are various things you’ll start to recognize that your child is doing.
Fine motor skills are smaller, more precise movements using smaller muscles.
Fine motor skill examples:
- Building a tower using 2 blocks
- Point with their pointer finger
- Remove their own socks
- Put a hat on their head
Ages 18-2 years fine motor skills:
- Build a tower with 4-6 blocks
- Put 4 rings on a stick
- Put large pegs in a pegboard
- Turn pages of a book, 2 or 3 at a time
- Turn knobs
- Throw a small ball
- Paint on paper using her whole arm to move the paintbrush
- Imitate you drawing a vertical line ( l ) and a circle (it may not be accurate)
- Begin to string large beads
- Feed herself using a fork and spoon
- Put large shapes into a shape sorter
Shape sorters develop eye-hand coordination, fine motor, cognitive, and language skills.
Not only that but, matching puzzle pieces with a distinctive sound also develops auditory awareness and discrimination.
Value-added features expand play possibilities. That’s where STEM certified puzzles come into play. STEM products ensure that your child is getting exposure to various subjects within education without it being overwhelming.
This style of learning actually caters to children efficiently because it helps them make connections between each subject area for a complete learning experience as compared to memorizing one thing per subject.
As they learn how to play with puzzles and games alike, it’s natural for them to use these skills while practicing hand-eye coordination, another added plus to hands-on play.
These skills help open doors to further exploration, learning, and creative expression.
Research shows that emphasis on purely intellectual activity – memorizing of letters and numbers, for instance, is FAR LESS USEFUL at this stage than those that encourage fine motor abilities and hand-eye coordination. – Parents.com
That’s because these are foundational skills that are extremely necessary for academic learning later on.
Shape Sorter Puzzles for Motor Skill Development
Do shape sorter puzzles help our little ones hit their age-appropriate milestone faster or is it something that they learn with ease as compared to other toys?
It can be both! These are parent’s top reasons to stick with shape sorter puzzles for toddlers.
Toddlers LOVE to take apart, put back together, pull out, in, and add on to their “masterpiece” while they “play”.
This is encouraging them to spark imagination and problem-solve.
To them, it’s playing, but we know that this is our mom hack to getting them to practice and develop crucial skills for their future.
By choosing open-ended puzzles it gives them a variety of engaging things to do while they practice their newly found skills.
One thing that stands out is as they build their logical thinking skills to determine how the puzzle fits and where it makes the most sense to try and fit it in the right spot, this is a newfound skill and another milestone checked off the list.
Here’s a great example of how shape sorter puzzles help your child practice motor skills and how they learn.
- Your child has a square-shaped puzzle piece with a picture of a horse on it and a rectangle with a cow on it. These are similar shapes and can confuse them at first, but they will take the puzzle and place it on the open spots. It has to be a precise fit for it to be correct. Then, they have to push it in until it “locks” into place. That’s physical and auditory confirmation for them.
- Your child has a pentagon and is flipping it multiple ways to see how it fits on the frame within the baseboard. Their hands and eyes are working together to ensure it will fit. They see that it matches, but have a hard time getting it to “click” this helps them work on their strength within their hands and arms.
- While playing, your little one (with your guidance at first) can learn the animals, colors of them, and shapes. Instead of memorizing, they are truly absorbing the information at their own pace because it’s something they are working through to solve the puzzle. They make connections to the real world as the pictures represent real-world scenarios.
Tips for Selecting Shape Sorters for Toddlers
There are many different types of shape sorters and there are all different types of children right?!
While one may not be a good fit for your little one, it doesn’t mean you should avoid them completely. It just means that style wasn’t right for your child and/or it wasn’t the right age-group or milestone for them and that is okay.
At this stage of development, toddlers are at the beginning of their shape recognition journey.
It’s best to limit the shapes to the basic ones. Some basic shapes are circles, triangles, and squares.
The goal is to balance a challenge with their likelihood of success. If you make it too difficult your child is more likely to give up and not like it moving forward before they’ve even had a chance to really try it out.
Always start with something easy so that they know they can accomplish it.
If you’re worried about it being too easy and them dismissing it, they will still want to play with it because of the satisfaction of doing something correctly is something we all love, especially kids.
As they learn and become experts with their current shape sorters, add more shapes like a star or rectangle. Adding similar shapes to the current mix is what makes it more challenging.
Another great feature to look out for is its inclusive play?
An example of that is, can they match colors and shapes as they play with a shape sorter?
Does it have an auditory component as well?
For example, does it make a noise when they get it wrong or right? Does the noise make sense with the shape sorter?
One example is when your toddler plays with shape shorters like the Lock and Learn it “snaps” into place so that the pieces stay there (your feet will thank you). Your child will hear a click, they’ll feel it, and they’ll see it as they pick it up to show you with excitement and you’re not running over to catch them as they fall because they stay there until they use their large motor skills to push on white tabs to release the pieces.
Another example of great shape sorter puzzles are those with animals on the picture and as they place the cow puzzle piece, does it make a cow noise if they get it right?
This is inclusive because it includes more than one sense that aids in learning concepts. They are learning the colors of an animal or puzzle piece, hearing it, and it’s hands-on.
Here are some very helpful questions to ask yourself as you see your child playing with shape sorter puzzles:
- Does he/she easily grasp and release?
- Does he/she relish every opportunity to” fill and spill”?
- Are his/her eye-hand coordination and fine motor skills well developed enough for his/her to fit a peg in a hole?
- Do they have enough strength to push a puzzle into place after a few tries or right away?
Another important feature to have is that it encourages exploration, logical thinking skills, and self-control.
We all know toddlers are irrational, self-centered, and convinced of their own omnipotence, but that’s just where they’re at in life. They’ll work their way out of it… in time. Be patient!
An example of how they can’t comprehend differences is when you’re giving the same scoops of ice cream to your toddler in a smaller bowl because they’re smaller and less likely to drop it. You give your older child a larger bowl with the same size and amount of scoops to them. Your toddler is PISSED. You gave your older child more icecream in their eyes.
This is a moment where we try to reason with them by reminding them of how there are differences in the sizing of bowls even though the spoon and scoop of ice cream is the same.
Sometimes this will work, sometimes it won’t.
But, I’ve got some good news for you.
Shape sorters help them understand the difference in shapes, sizes, and how each can fit into one another. This is how we help them develop logical thinking skills.
Another example of logical thinking skills is creating patterns using shape sorter puzzles.
By placing a red square first and blue circle second, they must guess what comes after. If they guess the red square, then you know they need to be challenged by adding another shape/color. If not, this is something they can work on.
Now that they’re working their way out of this stage, they’ll start to learn more self-control and patience.
Even though some of us adults have clearly never grown out of this phase, it’s definitely, probably because their parents never worked with them using puzzles and playing games.
Anyway, here are a few questions to ask yourself to see where your little one is at when they play with shape sorter puzzles or other games.
- Does your child have to wait for their turn?
- Do they sit nicely for someone else to finish their turn?
- If not, playing with others is a good practice for them.
- Do they throw tantrums if they don’t get something correct the first time?
- This is a teaching moment where you work with them on failure is normal and that’s when most of us learn our best.
I hope you’ve learned something new about shape sorters and that this helps you ease your mind on choosing the right shape sorter puzzle for your little one.
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