When learning activities masquerade as puzzles and mazes, kids can get tricked into thinking! Practicing new skills while having fun is a great way to learn! No matter your students’ age or the subject you teach, many puzzles and mazes can be adapted to suit your needs in the classroom. Let’s look at some of the most popular kinds of puzzles and mazes to see how they can help kids learn the academic skills they need now.

### Mazes

Mazes are one type of activity that stimulates young brains into thinking critically while problem solving. Either simplistic or complex, the mind must process the choices presented at each passage in the maze. As children learn, they get better at foreseeing the consequences of their actions. When kids first experience mazes, they may make lots of mistakes because they are unable to see how their chosen routes are going to be blocked as they progress through the maze. When they reach an impasse, they must retrace their steps until they discover an alternate route through the maze. They are learning from their mistakes. After completing a few mazes, they will begin understanding how to mentally follow through the possible pathways to reach the goal. From mazes, children can learn how to evaluate their options before committing to a choice.

### Paint by Number

Variations of the all-time favorite paint-by-number activities have their place in the classroom too. Picture what this activity typically looks like before one has begun to work on it. A large picture is divided into several shapes, each labeled with a number that corresponds to a color. Using crayons, markers, or colored pencils, students fill in each numbered shape with the appropriate color. The result is a recognizable picture, and all students’ work will appear the same if each has completed the work correctly. Paint-by-number type puzzles train students to have an eye for detail as well as number and color recognition. Puzzles like this can be used to educate older students as well. Instead of numbering each shape with a number, replace the number with a math problem to be solved by the student. The solution denotes the color. An activity such as this is educational fun for those practicing both general and advanced mathematics.

### Jigsaw Puzzles

Tactile learners are especially drawn to jigsaw puzzles. Wood, cardboard, or paper jigsaw puzzles trigger critical thinking about how the shapes fit together and about the graphic information seen on each individual piece. The shapes of puzzle pieces can be quite elaborate. One fantastic fun way to teach youngsters about the geography of the United States is with a jigsaw puzzle that uses pieces shaped like each of the states. Jigsaw puzzles can be used to teach technical or course vocabulary as well as for practicing foreign languages. Make your own vocabulary jigsaw puzzle by drawing simple 4-sided shapes on a piece of paper. Before cutting out each shape, write a vocabulary word on each edge of one of the puzzle pieces. Then, write that word’s definition on the edge of the puzzle piece adjacent to the vocabulary word. Repeat this process and then separate all the pieces. When students work to put together the jigsaw puzzle, they not only have the shapes to connect, but they also have the words and the definitions to help them find where each piece goes. For practice with a foreign language, use the foreign word and its English translation instead of a definition.

### Word Searches

Like jigsaw puzzles, word searches are educational fun for all ages. Beginning readers and writers benefit from simple word searches by practicing the alphabet. Like scrambled words, word searches can help all ages improve their spelling, writing, and reading skills. Knowing the answer is right under their noses, people are compelled to find the words hidden in the puzzle. To increase a word search puzzle’s difficulty, replace the word list with clues or the definitions of the words to find. These kinds of clues can be given as hints for another popular type of puzzle: a crossword puzzle or crisscross puzzle. These kinds of puzzles challenge students to recall facts about the content information covered in their course.

Using puzzles and mazes is one easy way to help kids learn several skills. Look for ready-made reproducibles to use in your class or try building your own with the help of a puzzle maker like that at Discovery Education. Remember that these fun activities are not only good for using in class, but they are also appropriate for homework practice.

Have you used a variation of these puzzles or mazes in your classroom? Share your experience!