Tag Archives: jigsaw

On puzzles and perseverance

The unschooling diaries: week two

This week, we have been building LOTS of train tracks, making an impressive amount of mess with kinetic sand, and getting increasingly confident on the scooter. We have been counting fingers and toes, being a doctor like daddy, and finding out which stones make the biggest splash in the sea.

There’s been more too, but rather than just run through all of the things we’ve done, I want to focus in this week on just one little bit of learning – what Arthur (and I) discovered when we put together a puzzle.


Arthur has a bit of a love-hate relationship with jigsaw puzzles. He’s drawn to them initially, but gets quite frustrated if he can’t work out how all the pieces fit right away. For my part, it’s tempting to help. To give him a strategy – like starting with the corners, and lining up all the straight edges. To show him how it works, how much quicker and easier he’d find it if he just did it that way.

I’m not really sure where that approach to putting puzzles together came from, for me. I’ve always found them a bit boring, and I wonder whether partly that might be because I’ve been approaching it wrong all along.

When I stopped myself from interfering, and started listening to Arthur and watching how he was making decisions about what bits went where, I realised that actually his approach was far more fun. He was focusing in on the characters first, on the trains he loves from his stories, and seeking out all the bits that made them. Then he looked for bridges, and flowers. It was all a bit haphazard at first, but it all started to come together.

There were moments when he got frustrated – I could see him fighting the urge to smash it all up and cast the pieces to the wind. I intervened a little then, but not to tell him how to do it. I asked him questions instead: why was he getting annoyed? What was he looking for? What was he trying to do? And through articulating his answers he calmed down, and refocused, and persevered.

It was only a short period of time (though longer than it would have been if I had made him do it my way), but it was so much more rewarding for me to step back and let him work it out himself. It was more rewarding for him too.

The process of putting that puzzle together reminded me a lot about learning in general. It might be possible to get to the end of a task quicker someone tells you how to do it, but so rarely is the completion of that particular task the most valuable goal. If you take your time, do it your way, find a way through the challenges that works for you, then not only do you have that sense of satisfaction of having succeeded by yourself but you are also laying down the foundations for deeper learning in the future.

Worth bearing in mind, I think, as we continue on our unschooling journey…