CVI DIY: Adapting Puzzles

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Puzzles are such a great activity! They promote and fine-tune functional vision in conjunction with cognitive and motor skills…and they are never too visually complex for a child with Cortical Visual Impairment (CVI), right?! I mean…wait.

But seriously. Puzzles really are a fantastic activity that can assist with a child’s development (we’re talking visual and shape recognition, concentration, patience, fine motor skills, and more!)…when a child with CVI has access to them.

Every child with CVI has some type of medical history that has caused this brain-based visual impairment (whether that history is fully known or not), so I recognize that some children with CVI may not have physical access to traditional children’s puzzles, but in sharing how I have adapted puzzles for my daughter I am focusing solely on the issue of visual access.

My daughter, Rosalie, is 2 years old, which I am pointing out in order to clarify that the only “puzzles” we are interacting with at this point in time are knob/peg puzzles or chunky puzzles – not jigsaw puzzles!

Obviously knob and/or chunky puzzles designed for babies and toddlers are “simpler” than jigsaw puzzles, but the visual complexity (colors/patterns/number of puzzle pieces/you-name-it) of these “simple” puzzles can be astounding. Mainstream baby and toddler puzzles are clearly not designed with visually impaired children in mind.

So what’s a CVI mom to do? Like many CVI parents that have forged the path ahead of me, I adapted some puzzles myself!

This is really straightforward: all you need (along with a puzzle) is some black paint and a paintbrush. I’ve even heard of some parents simply using a thick permanent marker to color the background or edges! Either way, this is an easy peasy DIY.

And when I say “easy peasy,” I really mean it! I rushed through painting these while all 3 of my young children were awake and playing together nicely (something that could end within seconds); by the time I finished the third puzzle the first was ready for a second coat. I did two coats of black acrylic paint on each puzzle (opt for the “matte” instead of “satin” finish if possible! The shine from the satin paint could be distracting for some kids with CVI).

Here are the puzzles I adapted with a bit of paint:

Jumbo Knob Puzzle

Shapes-wm
Before: large shapes puzzle with jumbo size knobs
Shapes2-wm
After: shapes puzzle showing empty puzzle piece slots, made less visually complex after painting background black

This Melissa & Doug Deluxe Jumbo Knob Wooden Puzzle is one I purchased specifically for our child with CVI. Why? Not only can it be used to help teach colors and shapes, but it has:

  • bright, solid-colored puzzle pieces (color, complexity)
  • jumbo handles (easier both to see and grab)
  • handles that are a different color from the attached puzzle piece (this contrast allows the handle to visually stand out)
  • large puzzle pieces (again, easier to see and manipulate)
  • puzzle pieces that look identical to its matching slot (i.e. the blue circle fits into the slot that also displays a blue circle), which makes each slot more recognizable and promotes visual (rather than tactile) matching

Chunky Puzzles

Collage2
Before: two chunky puzzles (animals and trucks)
Collage2-after
After: two chunky puzzles made less visually complex after painting backgrounds

Pictured on the left is the Melissa & Doug Safari Wooden Chunky Puzzle. Pictured on the right is the Melissa & Doug Construction Vehicles Wooden Chunky Puzzle. Chunky puzzles are great toddlers and/or children that do not yet have highly refined fine motor skills – because the pieces do not have any knobs or pegs. A child can simply grab and hold onto the puzzle piece itself, making it a challenge (in my opinion) that falls somewhere in between jumbo knob puzzles and those with smaller knobs or pegs.

Peg Puzzles

Farm-wm
Before: farm animal peg puzzle
Farm-wm2
After: farm animal peg puzzle made less visually complex with black background

This Melissa & Doug Farm Animals Sound Puzzle is one our family has had for years. The small red pegs used to pick up each puzzle piece make this a much more advanced fine motor activity. Rosalie is not yet ready for this level of challenge, but I figured I might as well adapt it now so we can at least start with the animal pictures and pieces whenever she becomes interested.

Sound Puzzle Tip: always keep the puzzle pieces in the board when not in use; the animal sounds will randomly go off if the puzzle pieces aren’t placed in the slots! It can make for spooky noises coming from the play room in the middle of the night, which I learned the hard way….

Zoo-wm
Before: zoo animal peg puzzle
Zoo2-wm
After: zoo animal peg puzzle made less visually complex with black background

This Melissa & Doug Zoo Animals Sound Puzzle is just like the farm animals one (above)…except with zoo animals! The small red pegs add an excellent fine motor challenge that is currently beyond Rosalie’s skill level – but we’ll get there eventually.

Additional Puzzle Tips

To reduce visual complexity even further, I recommend covering the puzzle slots not in use and focusing on one puzzle piece at a time. Personally, I use a black fabric square I picked up at Michaels (I’m sure all craft or fabric stores would have something similar!).

Because my daughter is so young, almost all of the images used in these puzzles (shapes, animals, trucks) have some level of visual novelty; to promote better visual processing, I introduce them gradually – and don’t necessarily pair it with the puzzle board in the beginning. By making the puzzle pieces more familiar, it becomes less visually challenging when it comes time to actually attempt to put them in the puzzle. In other words, the goal is for Rosalie to have enough visual familiarity with puzzle pieces that she can focus simply on placing the pieces in the puzzle – rather than struggling to process the picture on the puzzle piece while placing it in the board.

These are just some strategies I use to introduce puzzles (or any new toy or concept), but I would love to hear what works for you! Please consider leaving a comment with your own tips/tricks for other readers to find below.

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