A Dying Art of Brain Building


As a kid, I remember my grandparents always had a table set aside in their den, in their dining room, in the corner of their kitchen, wherever they could find a place for it. The table was always covered with pieces of the latest jigsaw puzzle they were working on. They kept it out and routinely worked away at it, bit by bit.

It wasn’t until I was looking to complete a list of advent activities for the kids last December that I really started to consider the benefits of this centuries-old activity. When we sat down as a family to work on the puzzle together, it became apparent that the skills necessary may have grown weak.

“I can’t find the right piece!” (Five minutes into it.)“How long is this going to take?”

There’s an art to it.

So, my husband and I began to show our boys how to build a large puzzle. First, they needed to find the corner pieces. Then, we asked them to hunt down all the edge pieces, so we could put together the border. Finally, we gave them groups of colors or images to look for that would bring a section together.

Many of you may be nodding your head by now. You are keenly familiar with this process. But, do you know what is going on in your brain while you are working on a puzzle? Most people know that puzzles help exercise the brain and strengthen it, but a lot of them don’t know the “how”.

Building a jigsaw puzzle is one of a few activities that simultaneously uses both sides of the brain. The left side of your brain sees all the separate pieces and works to sort them out logically. The right side of your brain sees the whole picture and works intuitively (with a gut feeling or awareness). When we exercise both sides of the brain at the same time, we create pathways between the two and increase our brain’s efficiency and capacity.

And while your brain is being revived, your body is settling into a meditative state where your heart rate and breathing are slowing down, and your blood pressure is dropping. It provides a relaxed atmosphere that promotes conversation and teamwork as a family.

Brain Building

Now, as an educator, I had a hunch about puzzles that piqued my interest when we were working as a family. My son struggles with inattentive ADD (Did you know there were two different kinds?). It is satisfying for him to use his laser focus on finding pieces that contain certain images or colors, and finally putting all the pieces together (Don’t we all feel that way?).

In doing some research about jigsaw puzzles, I discovered that the practice can strengthen spatial co-ordination. This has to do with organizing things or packing a bag so that everything fits and has a place. People who have ADD can have trouble keeping things organized and putting things together in a way that fits. Also, this has to do with mapping out locations or places in the mind, to know where things belong or where they can find them.

Puzzle building also strengthens observation skills, in seeing the picture as a whole, as well as each individual part. Those who have attention issues may have the ability to hyper focus on things they are interested in. But they can struggle with finding things or grasp the understanding of an entire process. Working on a jigsaw puzzle can strengthen the brain in these areas. It also helps with breaking down a project into tasks and letting something go for a while even though it is not complete.

I haven’t even began to mention the strengthening of memory, concentration and problem solving. Isn’t it amazing, all the benefits you can get out of such a simple activity.

So, when was the last time you put together a puzzle?

What was the biggest puzzle you ever worked on?

I hope it hasn’t been long.

You may find it’s just what your brain needs.

4 thoughts on “A Dying Art of Brain Building

  1. Cindy Quigley says:

    As always I love the BRAIN connections here!! I have begun using puzzles in my classroom, in the one extra table I have in my classroom.. the kids naturally gravitate towards it, and love putting together the pieces to make a whole puzzle. It has a way of unifying the class, creating a commonality , as wel as and a sense of togetherness and community. There is something gratifying, also, about completing a large puzzle. All of the children stood in awe of it, when it was done, and many were recalling their part in the unified whole! It also reminds me of the Lord… He is putting the puzzle pieces on the table of our life… sometimes we want to put the pieces or smoosh the pieces together, because we want to move on, but He waits until it is the right time, to put the correct pieces together, until, one by one, we begin to see the picture he is creating…drawing us closer to Him( hopefully giving us more patience in the continuing process). Thanks again for sharing your heart with us!! So blessed to see what God is doing in your life! Love seeing your smiling face when you sub at NCA!! 🙂

  2. Amber says:

    Great read!
    The last puzzle we did (by we I mean I) was at Christmas time. I buy one for an advent activity to do together. This last one had 300 pieces which were too many for the younger two so they didn’t last long. The oldest would come in and out of helping and hubby just looked on. It took “us” about three nights to complete and was shortly after taken down because of kittens trying to take it apart (it was on our coffee table).
    It would be nice to have a large enough space like your grandparents to have a puzzle going at all times.

  3. Lynn S. says:

    What a great alternative building a puzzle is to being on a device! It creates a platform for conversation and for working together.
    Every New Year my mom would set out a puzzle on a card table and sure enough it would call out my name!
    Two years ago I worked on my last puzzle. It was a large puzzle, old-fashioned candy 🙂
    Now that you’ve shared how beneficial this activity is maybe I should set up a new one;)

  4. Great to read your article about the importance of stimulating these brains we carry around inside us!! I do remember our parents and the crossword puzzles they spent hours putting together and I know, for sure, from reading articles about the hobbies we develop as we grow older that it is very important to keep our mental alertness stimulated. I absolutely love to do the word puzzles that are in the newspapers every night, and I just found out that these wonderful brain-teasers help us very much to continue our alertness and brain stimulation as we grow much older!! Good stuff!!

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