If you’re the lucky parent of a kid that loves puzzles, you’re probably afforded long, quiet chunks of time while he or she is putting them together. Puzzles are great for developing analytical, spatial and focusing skills. Making DIY puzzles adds a manual dexterity and creativity to the list. For a child not so interested in puzzles, making one is a great way to pique their interest in actually doing one. Grab some glue and let’s piece this thing together.
First you’ll need a picture to turn into a puzzle. A cool angle is to use your child’s own artwork. If they have a drawing or painting that they love, or want to make a new one for this craft — perfect! However, you should make it clear that it is going to get cut up, else fits may be thrown. A picture cut from a magazine or printed from the Internet will also do just fine. In this case, you can use something your kid is into or wants to learn about, and the finished piece might be more challenging to put together too.
For older kids who can read, you could try a unique challenge: Make a puzzle out of a page from a book. Depending on how literate your nerdy one is this could be anything from a favorite Dr. Suess poem to a page out of Romeo and Juliet.
The next step is to glue the picture onto some pasteboard. That’s the thin yet stiff stuff that cereal boxes are made of. It’s sturdy enough, but still easy to cut through. Trim a piece to the same size as your picture, and make sure it’s flat and doesn’t have a bend in it. Use white school glue or paste, and coat the entire piece of pasteboard with a super-thin layer. You can use a paintbrush for this, to help spread the glue evenly. Younger kids will need help thinning the glue; they love making pools. Press your picture down, smoothing from one end to the other. For extra puzzle resilience, you can paint a coat of shellac over the front of the picture too. Mod Podge is a good one.
When the glue is completely dry, use a permanent marker to draw in the lines for the pieces on the back of the pasteboard. Kids can do this by themselves, and the size and amount of pieces they draw will probably jibe well with the level of puzzle difficulty they can handle. You can guide them in this. The pieces do have to be large enough to cut out, so curb those overachievers trying to draw tiny, complicated shapes.
You might want to do this step yourself. Using an X-acto blade or other art knife, carefully cut out the puzzle pieces. The kids can scramble it up and put it back together, or gift it to someone. It’s an awesome, homemade present, especially if the child’s art is used.
Cheater’s Version: Use an old puzzle that your kids are sick of, and revamp it. Put the puzzle together on some newspaper. Paint a coat of gesso or white paint over the picture. Then let your kids paint a new scene of their own. Once it’s dry, all the pieces can be popped apart pretty easily. You can also glue a new picture onto the old puzzle, and just flip it over and cut along the existing piece breaks. Bam! The kids have a new puzzle with a scene about whatever they’re into this week.