A puzzle book filled with natural history facts, jokes, and images of Alaska.
The Share a Story, Shape a Future theme today is Literacy Your Way, Literacy My Way.
As the theme suggests, there is more than one path to literacy. Reading with kids may be the expressway, but there are scenic byways that offer fresh views and fun while still getting us there. Puzzles are a scenic byway that shouldn’t be missed.
Puzzles–math, word, logic, you name it–approach words, ideas, and literacy in a roundabout way. They highlight the drama of language, the absurdities, the bizarre, and the fun. Puzzles tease us, make us laugh, challenge us, and surprise us. In short, they entertain us while leading us to our destination: literacy.
Just as a Sunday drive is associated with recreation and relaxation, puzzles are associated with games and play, even though they require reading, understanding, and following instructions. They are short excursions into brain work–they don’t require a huge commitment of time, and the reward comes quickly. As kids attempt more difficult puzzles, they build the stamina that reading longer books requires.
When kids solve puzzles they learn to play with words. They get comfortable with them and enjoy them. They learn that sometimes words don’t mean what they seem to mean and that sometimes they can mean more than one thing. Discovering the complexity of words introduces kids to their beauty, revealing what’s clever and what’s funny. When kids embrace words as play things, they aren’t intimidated by them.
Like unfamiliar roads, puzzles have an air of mystery. We don’t know where they’re going, but we’re eager to find out. In the process of solving the mystery, kids learn how to think.
Puzzles can help pre- and early-readers develop letter recognition and writing skills and build vocabulary. Solving more advanced puzzles requires critical and creative thinking: developing and using logic, reasoning, fluency, associative thinking, and identifying forced relationships.
The challenges posed by puzzles can encourage us to step back and take a panoramic view of a problem, searching for a new perspective. Learning to try different approaches and to see things from new angles teaches kids flexible thinking and persistence, useful skills as they tackle more difficult words and text.
I approach puzzles from the opposite direction: I write them. Making puzzles is as fun, mysterious, and surprising as solving them. It’s the same adventure, just in reverse. I start with an answer–riddles and trivia are great puzzle fodder–then select a puzzle style that fits the answer: is it a one-word answer, a sentence, a shape or picture, a number? From there I work backward to generate the necessary clues, seeking out twists and turns to challenge puzzle solvers.
We all want kids to reach a place where they can read and write effectively. How they get there doesn’t matter. Providing alternate routes entices more kids to find their way.
How do we improve kids’ chances for success and thereby improve the world? By way of literacy. Be sure to include puzzles in your itinerary.