Saturday, August 2, 2014

31 Days of Fun: Day 2

So what if you're sick of playing in the pool?  Maybe it's just too hot to walk barefoot across the patio to get in it (which it really sometimes is here in the Nevada desert!), or your swimsuit is in the wash, or there's no lifeguard on duty? What then? Well, here's another way to wile away the long summer afternoons:


For classic  wholesome entertainment, and an amazing sense of accomplishment when you've finished, you just can't beat jigsaw puzzles!  Puzzles teach hand-eye coordination, attention to detail, and patience.  Don't tell the children, but puzzles are not just fun, they're superfood for the brain!  

Here's the Creepy Crawlies puzzle, first of the summer -- 500 pieces --
completed mostly by Anna, our resident Puzzle Maven.
Then, we worked a couple other puzzles...  a 750 piece and a 1000 piece...
(which, sadly, I can't find the finished pictures of)  The kids put together
each of these in less than a week, each and were working on the 1000 piece puzzle
 when the family descended upon us for our reunion in June.  So, yeah...
 Never finished that one -- and I'm afraid, in all the hustle and bustle,
pieces were lost...  Alas!  One downfall of big puzzles... One lost piece
and the whole thing is rather a wash...

After the disappointment of the crash-and-burn on the 1000 piece jigsaw,
we got this floor-sized puzzle map of the U.S.  With 50 states, 100 pieces,
they finished this one in less than a half hour. And got to work on their
states and capitals at the same time!  Win/Win!
Jigsaws Puzzles can be pretty intimidating, though.  Don't we know it!  Especially if you have a crowded busy house or toddlers around!  But they can be done!  Where there's a will, there's a way!

Here are a few hints to make them work for you:

1) Start small and gauge your time and interest before embarking on larger puzzles. You'd think this would be obvious, but we've made the mistake, ourselves, of biting more off than we could chew.  
 * With toddler puzzles, make a mark on the back of each piece with a specific color for each puzzle and
some pertinent initials, so it's easy to get all the pieces back together after your little one has hopelessly scrambled the pieces of 4 or 5 different ones.  Keep each puzzle in its own ziploc bag.

 *  By 4 or 5 years old,  most kids are ready to start with the 25 piece variety, but don't allow them to move up to the next level (50- 100 piece) until you know they're able and willing to complete the whole puzzle -- and be responsible for its proper care. (Proper care = putting the pieces back in the bag by themselves, not leaving a puzzle unfinished and lying around the house, not having a tantrum when they can't finish one, etc...)

    * In most cases, a  puzzle of 500 or more pieces needs to be under the supervision of some one at least twelve years old -- smaller children being permitted to help work it when someone is there watching. More trouble is started by little ones wrecking all the work of the older children.  Make jigsaw puzzle rules and expect them to be abided by!

2)  Keep them safe!  Nobody wants to work on a puzzle (or most people don't, anyway), locked away in a room by themselves.  Puzzles are usually a social cooperative.  But if you have toddlers or a lot of "horse play" in your household, you're bound to have problems! 

*  Dedicate an out-of-the-way corner of a living space, and provide a card or craft table to be used just for puzzles.  Have a Puzzle Table Dedication ceremony if you must, but make sure everyone knows that when a puzzle is being worked, no other activity is allowed on the table.  This will prevent a lot of trouble and bickering, trust me!

*  Make it a hard-and-fast rule:  No playing ball or wrestling anywhere near the jigsaw table.  No forts under the jigsaw table!  (Just trust us on this one!)

* If you have toddlers, especially, invest in a felt "roll up mat," so the puzzle can be rolled up and stored safely away from mischievous little fingers when they're not actually being worked on.  Outside of keeping the puzzle in a locked room, this is the only way to ensure safety from toddlers.  They live to destroy jigsaws!

*  When a puzzle has been completed, carefully disassemble it and store the pieces in a large ziploc bag and put it in the puzzle box, with a large rubber band securing the box.  Stored this way, it can be used again another time. 

3)  Find ways to afford them!  Puzzles are stupidly expensive!  Especially if you have a large family and/or you're trying to be frugal and responsible, entertainment as disposable (or likely to be ruined!) as a puzzle should not take much of a dent out of your budget -- and

it doesn't have to.

 *  You can buy puzzles used at your local thrift store! For obvious reasons, don't ever buy a puzzle in an already-opened box.  But, we never have trouble finding puzzles that have never been opened for a quarter the price of department store puzzles (or less!).  Just check to be sure they're sealed all the way around.

*   If a thrift store puzzle has 100 pieces or less, the management usually doesn't have a problem with you counting the pieces before you buy them.  We did this with the US floor puzzle we bought the other day, and ended up buying it -- in perfect condition -- for $2.99, when school supply stores sell the same thing for $12.99!

*  Share with friends!  If you know someone that does jigsaws, get a cooperative going with them.  Most people are anxious to be rid of a puzzle once it's been worked, and would be happy to work out a trade.  Ask around friends, family, church and homeschool groups.  

4) Have fun with them! 

* There are so many really fascinating kinds of puzzles out there now-a-days, both with beautiful imagery, and cool novelties.  You can find 3-D puzzles, optical illusion puzzles, I-Spy puzzles...  you name it. If you want to invest a little bit of money, the choices are practically limitless. Check out some of these sources:

Staves -- the "Rolls Royce" of jigsaw puzzle manufactures, so says Forbes magazine, and it's a fair title!  Their puzzles are beautiful, amazing, well-crafted -- and expensive! We're not just talking over $100 a puzzle, folks...The cheapest tiny "tidbit" puzzle costs $75, and many in their stock are priced at over $1000!  I personally can't imagine spending this much on a puzzle; these are the puzzles of the rich and famous, I guess. But it's just fun to peruse the catalog, if nothing else! --  a classic puzzle resource, with a user-friendly online catalog and hundreds of puzzles to choose from, usually under $15.

PuzzleWarehouse -- has a large selection of unusual 3-D puzzles, especially -- is an online jigsaw puzzle site, with hundreds of puzzle options!  If you don't have a safe place to put together a real puzzle, or don't want to spend a red cent, here's your prime option. -- allows you to make your own online jigsaw, using photos from your own files.

The Toymaker -- has templates that allow you to create real puzzles of your own, using your own images.

*  Most of all, try to make puzzle-working an enjoyable time for the whole family, not a one or two person hobby, fraught with tension and misery.  Make the rules to help protect your puzzle, but try not to get all bent out of shape when children forget rules, or cats jump on the puzzle, or teenagers spill soda on it, or a piece or two end up on the floor -- or get lost altogether... Because, guess what?  It's going to happen.  But, it's a game, not NASA launch plans.  Try to roll with it, when the inevitable happens.  Keep your cool and teach your children not to freak out.  

Even if they get down to the 999th piece of a 1000 piece puzzle and can't find the last one. Take it seriously but keep it light, and don't let them turn over the puzzle table in disgust. No missing-piece puzzle tirades are allowed.  This is the greatest challenge of jigsaw puzzles, my friends.  It's the real test.   (And you thought it was trying to match up all those tiny little interlocking pieces, didn't you?)

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