Monday, December 26, 2011

Puzzle Center

Puzzle centers are an easy, fun-filled addition to school libraries! All you need to set this up are a table, a puzzle, and a sign. How simple is that?

The puzzles engage students who check their books out quickly or who have wayyyyy overdue books and can't check out this week. They can go to this center, and use their energy to study and assemble a jigsaw that you've selected.
I display books related to the puzzle at this center, so that they get ideas for books they may check out next time. See the puzzle center above? I have the alphabet I Spy puzzle, and I put alphabet books on the table, replacing them as students check them out.
Our school libraries can combine reading, learning, AND fun!
I've found puzzles online, at craft stores, discount stores like Walmart, dollar stores, and online. Some library vendors also sell puzzles. Now I make it a habit to check out the puzzle section at Walmart, Target, and the dollar store. It makes me feel like I'm working while I shop!

Many picture books have puzzles based on a colorful illustration, like this Very Hungry Caterpillar puzzle that I found at Wal-Mart. Display more books by the same author on the table with the puzzle.

Some chapter books have jigsaws, too. There are several Diary of a Wimpy Kid puzzles. They have 200 pieces, so it takes SEVERAL class periods for these to get finished!(And if your school libraries are like mine, you know that I NEVER have any Wimpy Kid books available to put at this center. Those books are checked out as soon as they are returned!)

Do your kids love the I Spy books as much as my students do? I think I could buy these books in cast iron and they would STILL wear them out! Good news...the I Spy puzzles are just as popular!

The Can You See What I See books are lesser known than I Spy, but a great choice for more visual discrimination practice. I found these puzzles at my grocery store, of all places! What a happy surprise! (Working AND shopping, see?)
I do have to tell you that 300 pieces seemed to be a little too daunting for my students. Two hundred pieces seems to be the upper limit, in the time they have in the library. If your students have more time, maybe they could finish one of these.

I truly cannot explain why this USA puzzle engages my students so completely. They really enjoy talking about places they have lived, or traveled, or heard about in a movie. Anyone walking through the library can easily see that they are actively learning about geography! (This is not one of those really quiet school libraries.)
This is a floor puzzle of the solar system from Melissa & Doug. The extra large pieces make it easier to complete, and students typically complete it during every class period. I take it apart during transitions.

Update on the dollar store puzzles: I bought this Planet Earth penguin puzzle at Dollar Tree (for a dollar, of course). I was really excited about the great animal photo. But when I packed the puzzle away to change centers, I noticed that one of the pieces had torn. I think that these cheaper puzzles are made of a thinner cardboard. Surprise, surprise, they may not last as long as the more expensive puzzles.

I just found all of these puzzles at Target! (November 2011) In the Christmas department, I found the Cat in the Hat and Grinch puzzles for $3.99 each. They have 24 pieces and are "lenticular" which means the picture seems to move as you move the puzzle piece back and forth. I know my students will love that!
Curious George is a 24-piece puzzle for $4.04, from the toy department (and he matches the space theme in our library!). And the 100-piece puzzle is a Christmas alphabet--"N is for Nutcracker," "L is for Lights," etc. I hope your school libraries are filled with the happy sounds of students fitting together puzzle pieces!

You know that school libraries are the living room of the school, right? Sometimes I have students in the library because they're injured and can't go out to recess. Sometimes I have families in the library using a computer to enroll their students in school. I mean the whole family: mom, dad, grandma, the kids. I think I'm lucky they left the dog in the car! Anyway, the puzzle center has been a lifesaver for these unusual situations.

Are you ready? Did I convince you? I know that you'll be delighted with the change that this super-simple center makes to the environment in your school library!

Here are my favorite puzzles, available to order from Amazon.


  1. Thank you so much, Cari. I started 2 puzzle stations this week and the kids love them! I haven't shopped Target for puzzles yet, I just "borrowed" 3 from the play room :)

    You're right about stations making it possible to reach more kids. It's great when everyone is busy having fun I can answer questions from kids I haven't interacted with before. This is so much better than constantly redirecting off task behavior with kids whose names I've worn out.

  2. Dee, I'm so glad the puzzle stations are working for you! Thanks for letting me know!
    I think that's one of those activities that teachers and parents don't have time for anymore, but kids still love to do puzzles. Fine motor coordination, visual discrimination, sense of accomplishment, working as a team--it's all good!

  3. What does your puzzle center sign say?

    1. Anonymous,
      It's pretty simple. You can download it for free, along with 9 other center signs, here: