Jane (age 2) has been doing puzzles for a long time now, and has mastered all the wooden knobbed puzzles we have. Now, she is challenging herself on my newest purchase...the puzzle map of Europe. If anyone reading this blog hasn't tried to do a puzzle of Europe, at least try to picture the continent, and all those tiny little countries in the Eastern part...very challenging as a puzzle. Especially since when we opened the box it came in, the pieces were all out of place. Needless to say, I have been quickly learning the countries and where they are- I didn't know them very well. But Jane is fascinated with it, and just sees it as an extension of the wooden puzzles she knows.
I wouldn't ordinarily have let her use it, but my training class has taught me (and also knowing Jane) that it's ok to let the youngest children in the class (and they start at 2.5 in some preschools) touch EVERYTHING in the class. They also don't start with every material on the shelves, but gradually add the more challenging things (and things with smaller pieces) as the year goes on. The only conditions are that the children don't hurt themselves, others, or the environment.
Jane is definitely not hurting the puzzle, and it is also holding her interest for a long time. She is learning where all the little pieces fit in, and when she is old enough (maybe not for 2-3 years) she can learn the names if she wants to. Right now she's happy, and I'm happy.
Oh, and one more thing. The Olympics being on has been the perfect time to introduce the countries of Europe. A lot of the European countries are competing, and it's been fun to hear their names on television. The kids know how to say and read a lot of the countries, and decide to root for one or the other of them. I'm enjoying it much more (with the kids) than I have in the past just watching the Olympics. I think the map has helped me, too!