Thursday Therapy Thoughts: Puzzles

Who doesn’t love doing puzzles, especially on a rainy summer day? Puzzles can target multiple interests in children, from themes like: transportation, sea animals, farm animals, colors, shapes and beyond. No matter the preference or level, puzzles can offer fun for everyone. As speech pathologists, and parents, using puzzles is a fun, shared activity that can help facilitate the use and growth of language.

  1. Using puzzles to make a requests:

Whether your little one is a talker or not, requests can be made in multiple ways. Start by organizing the environment so you have control of the puzzle pieces. In this way, you, as the facilitator can provide pieces to the child when a request is made. If your child is not a talker, and can sign a request, provide them a puzzle piece for each appropriate sign given in structure. If your child is a talker, provide them with a puzzle piece when they express a request. [example, “puzzle?”, “more puzzle,” “(I) want puzzle”].

  • Using puzzles to promote Yes or No responses:

Understanding language is a big part of communication that we cannot ignore. Allowing children the opportunity to practice responding to yes/no questions is a way for us to confirm that the child understands what we’re asking as well as understands how we’re going to use the toy/tool. So, asking your child, “Do you want the puzzle?” gives them a chance to respond in a way that let’s you (as the parent) know whether or not this is something they want to do. If a child responds with, ‘yes’, you can further use yes/no questions to encourage further understanding.

For example, if the puzzle is a zoo animal theme, you can ask them:

  • Do you want the zebra or the monkey?

While holding up the pieces, have the child point/express which animal they would like. Depending on which piece they choose, you can work in ‘yes’ and ‘no’ responses to confirm they have knowledge of the object/animal they’ve chosen. So, if they choose the zebra, hold up the monkey and ask:

  • Is this the zebra?

In this way you can confirm whether or not the child has knowledge of the zebra versus the monkey. If they child says, ‘no’, validate their response [good job] and give them the piece they asked for [zebra] while also asking, ‘Is this the zebra?’ Play with functional ‘yes’ or ‘no’ responses once they get the puzzle piece they want.


  • Should I put the puzzle piece behind my back?
  • Should I put the puzzle piece on my head?
  • Should I put the puzzle piece on my nose?
  • Should I give the puzzle piece to you?

Appropriate responses gives you insight as to whether or not your child has a basic understanding of how to use the materials appropriately. If they answer incorrectly, it gives you a chance to teach them the appropriate response.

  • Using puzzles for functional skills, like: counting, categories:

We love any activity that helps to teach and promote basic skills, especially in young children. Puzzles can incorporate skills like counting and sorting.  

  • Counting: Give some puzzle pieces to your child and keep some for yourself. Help your child count their pieces. Then count your pieces. Determine who has more, or less, or equal amounts.
  • Categories: Themed puzzles offer such vivid images for kids to see. If they are working, for example, with a transportation themed puzzle, and see a boat, expand their thinking and sorting skills by asking, ‘A boat goes in the water, what else can you find in the water?’ Or, ‘a plane flies in the sky, what else do you see flying in the sky?’ These skills allow them to determine a function associated with an object (e.g. a fish swims in the water; a bird/helicopter flies in the sky).
  • Using puzzles to practice a target sound:

If a child has a specific sound they are working to produce, puzzles can be a great way to help target and practice this skill. As you are putting a puzzle together, determine a number of sounds/words/sentences that the child must practice before earning their next puzzle piece in order to complete the entire puzzle. For example, if a child is working on producing the /th/ phoneme sound at the word level, have them repeat 5 words before they are awarded with a puzzle piece. Depending on how many pieces there are to the puzzle, you could establish a quick drill pace, which will allow for effective and direct practice.  

  • Using puzzles to practice simple ‘wh’ questions:

Asking ‘wh’ questions is a great one-on-one or group activity that can be facilitated with the use of puzzles. For example, when working with an animal puzzle, you can ask the child(ren), ‘who has the cow puzzle piece?’ or, ‘what does the cow eat?’ or, ‘when does the cow get a bath?’, or ‘where does the cow live?’ or, ‘why is the cow eating hay?’

Using language in a play-based setting helps to facilitate language in a natural way allowing children the opportunity to use language instinctively.

Melissa & Doug has some of our favorite puzzles for therapy and play. Check them out by clicking here.