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Jigsaw Puzzles: Cheap Family Fun

By Edited Sep 22, 2014 7 14

Puzzles for All Ages

Ideal Family Activity

Puzzles are a delightful way for families to spend time together!  You can take your time working on them and everyone can contribute!

A holiday tradition in our home has long been the extremely large jigsaw puzzle that our family spreads out on the dining room table to enjoy during the weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Painstakingly, each member of our family will hover over the table to work for a few minutes on the intriguing picture … either alone or in small groups. We'll call out to each other in delight when we discover that missing corner piece, edge, or center portion that we have all been having trouble finding. Sometimes, just walking through the room, someone will happen to see a piece that everyone else has missed, as the mysterious creation slowly begins to take form. Once our annual puzzle is finished, the entire family celebrates!

Complex Puzzle

Jigsaw puzzles are a fun project that everyone in the family can enjoy. It is believed that the jigsaw creator … at least of the first commercial one … was John Spilsbury, a London mapmaker, around 1760. You could say that this first design was a real jigsaw puzzle, since he actually used a jigsaw to make it! Although Spilsbury made his creationss from wood, today most of them are made from heavy cardboard. However, jigsaw puzzles for young children are still often made of large wooden pieces and are frequently passed down within a family because they are so durable. Toddler after toddler can enjoy handling the same wooden pieces for years.

Jigsaw puzzles can depict almost any kind of scene … nature, photos, art, storybook images, and even nothing at all! Although they may be purchased very cheaply, they can provide hours of fun for you and your family.

Jigsaw Puzzle Maps of the World

When one of our son-in-laws was in the Navy, he was assigned to an aircraft carrier that traveled half way around the world. While he was gone, our daughter and their children put together a jigsaw puzzle map of the world. While they were assembling it, she was able to tell the children about the different countries, and how far away they were. After the puzzle was completed, she covered it with clear plastic, and used dry-erase markers to help her children map the route their Dad was taking. When he was in Hawaii, they drew a line to Hawaii … and then on to Australia, the Persian Gulf, Singapore, Guam, and back home. It was fun for the kids to see on the map where their Dad was traveling. In addition, when they realized that he was headed back, it helped them to understand why the return voyage was taking so long!

If you think you would enjoy finding a unique puzzle for your family to work on together, use this direct Amazon link to jigsaw puzzles.  You'll find a large selection available ... more than you will ever find in the typical store.  One of them is sure to be perfect for your family.

United States Maps

United States map puzzles have long been a staple of elementary school classrooms. It is a fun way for children to learn about the different states and how they fit together. Often, the jigsaw pieces show the state capital and major cities in each state. Sometimes, they also have little pictures depicting major crops or industries in each state. Not only are these maps fun to put together, but they are educational and make it much easier for young children to learn about their country.  (See the example at the end of this article.)

Maps of Other Areas 

Are you trying to help your children learn about other countries? You may want to purchase a Canada Map, a European Map or puzzles from other locals. These are wonderful items to pick up as trip souvenirs. Your children will have a wonderful time putting together maps of places they have visited and it will help them remember the trip more easily. 

The Human Body

Whether it is a picture of a skeleton or a partially clothed person, puzzles help children pay close attention to how our body parts are connected. Often, jigsaw puzzles of people are one of the types a young child will put together. The human body design can be as simple or as complex as you decide is appropriate for the age of the child. (See the example at the end of this article.)

Art Jigsaw Puzzles

Do you have a favorite artist? One of our daughters loved Georgia O'Keefe. Not only did our family put together several puzzles depicting her art, but we also added adhesive to the back to keep them together. Afterwards, we were able to hang them in our daughter's room. Everyone in the family had the pleasure of really noticing the detail in these paintings, as we assembled the puzzles, and then we had the delightful opportunity to enjoy the artwork for several years. 

3-D Designs

These creations are not designed to lie flat, like a 2-D puzzle, but to form a three-dimensional shape. The most common three dimensional designs are globes … depicting the earth or moon. As you can imagine, 3-D jigsaw creations can be much more challenging than your typical design. However, the resulting completed project can be spectacular!

Custom Photo Jigsaw Puzzles

Do you have a favorite photo? There are a number of online companies that will turn a photo into a puzzle for you. Your entire family will enjoy putting together a custom photo jigsaw puzzle of a vacation photo, family portrait, or the family pet. These designs have much more personal significance than puzzles of anonymous scenes, or people. In addition, while working on your creation you are likely to also share family memories triggered by the scene in the photo.

Crazy Patterns

For those who enjoy a real challenge, sometimes you may want to buy a jigsaw puzzle that does not depict anything other than a pattern. For example, sometimes people will pick a design displaying nothing but dots, or different shades of red, or a checkerboard. Hidden pictures are also a popular challenge. In these puzzles, an elaborate pattern is hiding a hidden picture, which you can only see once the puzzle is complete. Even then, you have to look at it in a certain way to block out the patterns and see the real, hidden picture! These types of puzzles are particularly difficult, because you don't have a photo to guide you in deciding the general area where each piece belongs. All the pieces look almost alike. If you love a challenge, try one of these wild, complicated designs.

Strategies for Completing Them

Although you can approach your puzzle any way you want, many people have found it helpful to find the corner pieces, first. Then, they complete the outside edge. The corner and edge pieces are unique, because they have at least one straight edge. Once these pieces have been assembled, you may want to look at the photo that is shown on the outside of the box, and start trying to put together a few pieces. Gradually, the puzzle will grow. The more pieces you assemble, the fewer loose pieces you will have and the easier it becomes to put the puzzle together.

Accessories You May Find Handy

The nice thing about jigsaw puzzles is that you don't really have to purchase anything, other than the puzzle itself. However, some people may wish to purchase a roll-up mat for their jigsaw puzzle, if they don't have a spare table where they can leave it set up. The mat allows you to work on the puzzle for a while, then roll everything up and put it away until you are ready to spend time on the project, again. You can also purchase special adhesive backing that will keep the puzzle in one piece, once you have put it together. In addition, you may want a frame or case, so that you can hang your favorite creation on the wall, or display it. However, none of these items are required in order to enjoy your jigsaw puzzles.

Are you looking for other gift ideas or activities that your family might enjoy? Listed below are links to some articles that may interest you:

How to Make Homemade Playdough Crafts

How to Enjoy Teaching Children to Cook

Fun Games for Kids: Cheap

Safe Use of Face Paint on Halloween

Halloween Safety Tips for Kids

Family Fun: Your California Beach, Golf and Disneyland Vacation!

Universal Studios Hollywood, a review 

Here's the Perfect Map to Help Your Children Learn about the States

Melissa & Doug Deluxe Wooden USA Map Puzzle
Amazon Price: $14.99 $10.48 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 22, 2014)
This is the perfect way to help your children learn their geography. It is so much more fun than memorizing a list of meaningless names!

Use This Design to Help Your Children Learn Biology

Learning Resources Skeleton Floor Puzzle
Amazon Price: $27.99 $24.35 Buy Now
(price as of Sep 22, 2014)
They'll have hours of fun putting this puzzle together.


Oct 25, 2010 9:17am
Most excellent and complete puzzle article. I love the puzzle that helped the children follow your son's travels while in the Navy. My sister and I are puzzle nuts and the mat comes in handy since we're in different cities but the puzzle always travels until we can get together. Thanks for the nice reminder and memory!
Oct 25, 2010 9:40am
This is terrific, I reckon at some time nearly all children would have played around with jigsaws. There was or is something about them that gets you in, like you say as you walk past you see a piece from a distance, yet if sitting next to it you would not spot it when it right in front of you. Great memories relived from this article of yours thanks.
Oct 25, 2010 10:24am
thnaks for all nice fun activeties I like most is Pattern Jigsaw Puzzles
Oct 25, 2010 11:42am
Terrific article! Thanks for sharing the story of your grand kids following their dad's journey. Sweet! You can give a gift of a personal photo puzzle you create yourself. Craft shops like JoAnn's sell small blank puzzles. You glue on a special photo then turn it over and cut out the shapes with a craft knife. It's really simple to do!
Oct 25, 2010 3:34pm
What a fun family tradition using puzzles! Also, I agree with divaonline about your daughter's idea to use a world puzzle to help her children understand where their father was while serving in the Navy! Wonderful article!!
Oct 25, 2010 4:45pm
I'm happy this article brought back memories for so many of you, and I loved hearing Diva's suggestion about turning your own photo into a do-it-yourself puzzle. Thanks!
Oct 25, 2010 7:21pm
I really enjoyed reading this article. I didn't know the history of jigsaw puzzles and I'm surprised to find they've been around so long. I particularly liked the tale of how your daughter showed where your son-in-law was sailing to your grandchildren. I found it very heart-warming as I'm an ex-serviceman myself.

My own tale of jigsaw puzzles isn't quite so nice. I found myself in hospital for a longish spell and my sister, who used to be a nurse, turned up one day and presented me with a jigsaw puzzle. There was no picture on the box and when I opened it, I found it was double-sided. She never liked me, that girl ...

Anyway, I finally solved it (three months, in case you wonder) but I got my revenge some time later. My sister has two beautiful little girls and I got one a drum and one a trumpet for Christmas. She won't give me double-sided puzzles again, that's for sure!
Oct 25, 2010 7:29pm
Great article Deb.
Oct 25, 2010 8:24pm
I always did jigsaw puzzles with my daughter and then my grandson's when they were young it does bring back memories. Excellent article on cheap family fun.
Oct 25, 2010 9:42pm
Jigsaw puzzles are a lot of fun! Great read.
Oct 26, 2010 1:52pm
I had no idea you could have a photo turned into a jigsaw puzzle! I can think of a couple of pictures, and individuals, for whom this would make a cool Christmas gift. Thank you for sharing this informative article; great job.
Nov 5, 2010 8:48am
Great article about a favorite pastime at our house, too. What a neat idea your daughter had to use a puzzle to teach her children about the world and to follow their dad on his deployment. Thanks for sharing this awesome article.
Sep 2, 2012 8:07pm
I absolutely love jigsaw puzzles, so much so that I opened my own personalized photo jigsaw puzzle business! Jigsaw puzzles are incredibly educational and provide hours of family fun. We find that they are much easier to complete when the picture on the front is of YOU! Great and very informative article...
The Missing Piece Puzzle Company
Sep 22, 2014 5:55pm
I love jigsaw puzzles, too. They were always able to keep our family busy during a prolonged period of bad winter weather!
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