Puzzles, Progress & Programming

Puzzles, Progress & Programming

Categorized under: technology education for kids

My youngest child recently turned 7 years old. For many years, he's been into puzzles. When he first started putting together puzzles at 5 years old, they were just a few pieces.  Typically, the pieces were large and it would take him quite a bit of time to figure out how to put everything together. Every time he completed a puzzle, we would celebrate.

His 1st grade teacher also enjoys puzzles. During parent teacher conferences, she told me how much they enjoy working on puzzles together. She may not have realized at the time that he's been making puzzles for years. But, it was nice to hear that she knew enough about him to have discovered this interest of his.

Since he's been home from school, he decided to start building a 1,000 piece puzzle. The largest puzzle he had previously built was 500 pieces. However, he was confident that he could do it. So, why not? Without the opportunity to fail, you never truly have a chance to succeed. And, I believe that kids should be encouraged to take low risk experiments.  If he doesn't finish the puzzle, the world isn't going to come to an end.

So, every day, he would come into the living room and work on the puzzle. This past weekend, he finished the puzzle. In total, it took him about 4 weeks of continuous effort; meaning 5-10 minutes/day. What's that they say about compounding? He's 7 years old.

For many people, puzzles are one of the ultimate tests of patience and perseverance. As the number of puzzle pieces increases, so must your patience to try different pieces in different positions until you get it right. My son also likes building Lego structures which is a different sort of 3D puzzle with less guardrails and more opportunity to be creative.

Once he finished the puzzle that he had worked so hard on, we celebrated. He was proud of the work that he put in. But, he also realized that it was quite an accomplishment to complete a 1,000 piece puzzle. During his morning videoconference with his teacher, he told her that he had completed a 1,000 piece puzzle over the weekend. She was even more excited than me.

So, what does all this have to do with programming?

In many ways, we look forward to our kid's amazing websites or mobile application. We want their videos to go viral on TikTok or for them to have millions of YouTube subscribers. However, that's typically not how it works.

If you want your child to be successful in their technology journey, find a way for them to build their patience and perseverance with a series of small projects that increase in complexity. These small projects that are similar in many ways to larger projects are teaching your child how to continue building until they understand how to have a meaningful outcome. With small projects, like small puzzles, they can see that there are edge pieces, corner pieces and middle pieces.

And, regardless of how big the puzzle becomes, these pieces will remain constant. In programming, there are functions, classes, methods, loops, variables & conditional statements. The only difference between a small project and a big project is how you will incorporate these elements in your project. Will you modify existing code? Will you build a desired feature yourself from the ground up?

While it may be obvious, I think it's important to say.  I don't think my youngest child would have enjoyed puzzles as much if we had started him on a 1,000 piece puzzle.  Even though, the number & sizes of the pieces are really the only difference between a 10 piece and 1,000 piece puzzle, he likely would not be into puzzles anymore if this was his first experience.

Often we have a similar focus within technology development. There are often questions about when can my child build a website? Or, when can they create a mobile application? While this is certainly the ultimate goal, it makes for a terrible starting point.


Until they first enjoy building a small project, it is highly unlikely that they will have the patience or perseverance to build a larger project. And during this capability, capacity and foundation building, parents need to be just as excited about the small projects as they eventually will be about the big projects. Once your child feels supported, they have the confidence to do anything. So, if you want that next generation mobile application that we all know the next generation is capable of, make sure that you celebrate when they build their first 50 Scratch video games.

About the Author: Omowale Casselle is the Co-Founder & CEO of Digital Adventures.