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Weathering the storm: With Eunice on the way, here’s how to download and print puzzles for your child

Boost language, encourage problem-solving and aid planning skills with fun games, writes Chrissie Russell


Lana-Rose Breslin (5) loves puzzling at home

Lana-Rose Breslin (5) loves puzzling at home

Lana-Rose Breslin (5) loves puzzling at home

Puzzles, word-searches, colouring in — they’re the go-to entertainment that every parent needs to have in their arsenal.

More, now than ever, there’s nothing to beat handing over some (washable) pens or crayons and a bit of light entertainment in a bid to buy five minutes of much-needed peace amid the stress of working from home and the strain of home-schooling. That’s why we’ve got a full five days’ worth of puzzling and colouring in this week’s Irish Independent.

But while parents can enjoy a cuppa and moment of calm, they can also rid themselves of any guilt that the kids should be doing something ‘more’. Because puzzles, colouring and word games come with a host of physical, mental, social and emotional benefits — and they’re fun! “Puzzles and games are much more than just sources of fun,” says Andrew Fuller, author of Unlocking Your Child’s Genius and creator of mylearningstrengths.com. “My research shows that they promote learning strengths in children and young people.” He cites colouring-in as useful for helping to develop planning skills, word-searches are excellent for language, and completing mazes can encourage problem-solving.

“Children learn in many different ways,” explains Carol Duffy, Early Childhood specialist at Early Childhood Ireland. “Play is universal in nature and for centuries upon centuries it has been how humans have passed on skills and how young children have become educated in the ways of the world.”

Colouring-in improves hand strength, motor skills, pencil grip, concentration, colour recognition and hand-eye co-ordination. There’s the sense of achievement when a piece is complete. Neuroscientists refer to dopamine as ‘the reward molecule’ linking it to perseverance and a sense of accomplishment.

When kids (or adults, for that matter) finish a work of art, a puzzle or a word-search, they experience a surge of dopamine which leads to them feeling more motivated, boosting self-esteem and confidence.

“Word-searches, colouring, dot-to-dot, puzzles, board games, paint by numbers and jigsaws — all go into developing young minds,” reveals Ollwyn Moran, child development specialist and founder of Cognikids. “They offer the opportunity to learn about teamwork, patience, taking turns, following rules, winning... and losing, moderating responses, maintaining focus and attention [something that is declining due to digital distractions], planning, organising, problem solving, critical thinking and even making good decisions.

Word-searches are a wonderfully accessible activity because even kids who aren’t confident in their reading and writing can engage with them and gain a sense of achievement. They can help develop pattern recognition — knowing that a ‘U’ must follow a ‘Q’ and the identification of consonant clusters and vowel combinations. Studies show challenging the brain can improve its functions.

“We know that learning is taking place no matter what children do,” says Teresa Heeney, Chief Executive Officer, Early Childhood Ireland. “What might not be to the front of our minds is the hidden learning, the learning to be empathetic, to be self-reliant, to support Mam and Dad do their thing, to be resilient.

“They won’t know that but during the day, when the moment allows, we can tell them ‘Thanks for doing that colouring-in today, I really appreciated it, we are a great team, you know, helping each other’ or maybe even sit down and colour-in or draw together, whatever eases the stress of the day.”

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