Puzzle Centers

Priscilla Andre-ColtonExperimenting Our Ways into New Ways

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Last summer I was working on organizing the curriculum and support materials for our two youngest Sunday school classes. The curriculum recommended setting up a puzzle center. So I started looking for puzzles that coordinated with the topics and stories the children would be learning. We didn’t have any. The few puzzles I did find either had pieces missing or didn’t fit with the stories. So I decided we would  try to make our own.

Drawing from old curriculum and our files of teaching pictures, I pulled together images to illustrate many of the stories the children would be learning. (It’s important to note that we used only images that we had purchased with curriculum and didn’t use pictures or images from the internet.  And the puzzles we made were for our church only! We respect applicable copyright prohibitions pertaining to selling images created by others.)

Then I went to my husband, the woodworker, and asked how we might go about turning the pictures into puzzles. I wanted them to be sturdier than the cardboard variety, and since he has a shop full of tools, I was sure something would work. He suggested that we make a good color copy, adhere it to a piece of board, and cut it using a jigsaw. We did a test puzzle to see what worked best. We found that spray contact cement gave the smoothest, most thorough adherence and whiteboard (available at your local home improvement supply store) was the best surface to adhere the paper image to.

Why bother making puzzles? Because people of all ages enjoy playing—and learning—with puzzles. Puzzles can provide a springboard for conversation, developing vocabulary and language skills. Puzzling helps develop eye-hand coordination. Puzzles facilitate making connections between the images and ideas and the actual reality. And best of all, children have fun doing puzzles!

The first set of puzzles we made related to a unit about the sacraments. Using illustrations from our library of retired Celebrate curriculum, we identified four images, two for communion and two for baptism.  We made matching copies to put on the classroom bulletin board. The first Sunday the children saw the puzzles, they matched them to the pictures on the board. The teachers then talked with them about when and where they had seen the activities in the puzzles. Many of the children could identify that these were things we did in church. In the weeks that followed we left the puzzles out for the children to work with when they arrived.

The next set of puzzles focused on the story of Jesus blessing the children. We sorted through the variety of teaching pictures we found in the files and decided on three that were similar but had some differences. The first Sunday we hung just one picture on the bulletin board, and the teacher invited the children to do the puzzle with her. The next Sunday the other two puzzles and pictures were introduced. The children did the puzzles in groups (one puzzle per group) and then together they identified what was the same and what was different about the three pictures.

The last set we made centered around the Holy Week stories. We landed on two Palm Sunday puzzles and two Easter puzzles, selecting pictures from the curriculum storybook. The teachers also brought out the communion puzzles again to connect the events of Holy week with celebrating the Lord’s Supper. The children enjoyed showing off how quickly they could put the familiar puzzles together!

Looking ahead we plan to produce puzzles for three more units in the coming year. This time we have recruited artists from our church community to create new images to accompany selected stories. Once again we hope to stimulate learning, develop community, and have fun together in our puzzle center.

Priscilla Andre-Colton is a certified Christian Educator in the PC (USA), serving the Old Presbyterian Meeting House in Alexandria, VA. She previously served churches in Pittsburgh, PA and Jacksonville, FL. She is currently secretary for APCE.