Watching My Toddler Do Puzzles

Roughly 6 months back, the toddler kept demanding we do 12 piece puzzles. No, she did not want to do them herself. We were slightly annoyed that we had to do them over and over again when she had no intention of trying them herself. She would watch intently. But frankly, we felt those puzzles were still way beyond her ability level.

But within a week, we were astonished to find she suddenly understood puzzles. And soon was able to do them on her own. She skipped over the 4, 6, and 9 piece puzzles and worked on those 12 pieces over and over again. Soon, it seemed too easy for her, even after getting some other 12 piece puzzle sets. 

This reminds me of when she started to climb stairs. And first showed interest in going up a ladder. As a parent, they all seemed too advanced for her. After all she had just started to crawl and just started to walk. It seemed beyond her physical capability, yet she had a strong interest. And not because anyone told her or showed her those things. More likely an innate drive to master all the basic motor skills. 

Trust where your curiosity leads you. Even a toddler instinctively knows when she will soon be ready for something.

On a whim, we bought a 64 piece puzzle set on one of our outings. Unlike the 12 piece, this wasn’t a cakewalk even for adults. At first we started by removing parts of the puzzle, like 20 pieces. She soon got a hang of that. So we increased the number of pieces we removed. And finally we attempted the whole puzzle.

The morning started with all 64 pieces scrambled in a pile. This happens to be a puzzle of ocean animals. She might find and connect a few pieces here and there. While going back and playing with a 12 piece puzzle of a goldfish. That puzzle she knows by heart and really plays with it. Intentionally sticking things the opposite way and laughing about it, for example. In between looking at the puzzles she will also run, jump, play with a ball, read, draw, squeeze play doh, watch a favorite show, etc. 

By dinner time, there might be three small clusters of connected pieces. And we wonder when she will get to the rest. Or if she might give up. But then she will start looking at the puzzle again and it still seems a bit difficult to find the right pieces. But she persists while sometimes going back to the little goldfish puzzle for awhile. Then when about 40% has been placed, everything starts to click and come together and within minutes the rest gets assembled, accelerating towards the end. Then she calls for us to take a look, pats the puzzle a few times, and with that pulls them right back apart. Sometimes she will leave about 40% and quickly complete it one more time before completely disassembling it again, ready for the next day.

This is a pretty neat analogy to our life and the life cycle of our creative projects.

Of course with our life and projects we usually don’t know the finished outcome, whereas with a puzzle we do know the big picture. But the way the toddler does the puzzle, it’s almost like she doesn’t know the big picture. Adults may use the finished picture to figure out in advance where some pieces go, the toddler doesn’t do that.

At first we are just collecting pieces. In the early stages we don’t know what we are working towards. And it seems painfully slow. We don’t know how these random seeming pieces will connect into a coherent whole.

Keep your pieces. Don’t discard those random seemingly disconnected projects you’ve worked on, finished or unfinished. Keep at least a private record and occasionally look through and organize them to the best of your ability.

Keep a playful smaller side project going. Something you can practice on and finish on a shorter timeline.

Keep coming back to your big project, while doing the rest of living. Keep active, healthy, play, and nourish yourself.

And when you finally do start seeing the overall connections, it’s time to buckle down, focus, and get the job done.

As practice or for revisions, you could pull it back apart and put it back together once more.

Celebrate with your loved ones, pat yourself on the back. Then no need to linger. Time to start anew.

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