Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Framed Puzzle Mat: DIY Puzzle Assembly Workspace for Kids

Whenever I'm at Target, Jo-Ann or AC Moore I always come across the $1 "puzzles in a bag". Since I love going to Target, Jo-Ann and AC Moore, our daughter has a large collection of puzzles! Which is a good thing because my husband and daughter love puzzles! I have visions of them working together on large puzzles when she gets older and it's such a sweet image... But in the meantime, she is hooked on any puzzle I bring home and I enjoy sitting down with her and coaching her through some of the more complex puzzles.

From the get-go, I noticed that she had a bit of difficulty starting out the puzzle. It seemed to me that it was difficult for her to define the size the of the puzzle and, therefore, lay out the edges and corners of the puzzle. For an adult or older child it's easy to just say, "Oh, the puzzle is 10 inches by 7 inches!" but a very young child, I feel, needs a visual. When she was starting out with puzzles, Target had pre-assembled puzzles on cardboard mats. I had the idea of extending this concept to the $1 puzzles.

So, I gathered our daughter's extensive puzzle collection and noticed that the great majority fall into one of two dimension categories (1) approximately 9.1 inches by 10.3 inches or (2) approximately 15 inches by 11.25 inches. These dimensions were consistent even when taking into consideration the number of puzzle pieces. There were a couple of puzzles that fell in between these two categories, but a mat made for the larger puzzles would accommodate an occasional off-dimension puzzle.

I decided to make the framed puzzle mat out of craft foam, because somewhere in my crafting past I discovered that it is amazing at holding cardboard pieces in place! Craft foam also has a few millimeters of depth to it, which is perfect for the mat's frame. You could also use cardboard for the frame, but craft foam is just so much easier to cut, the craft knife just glides right through it. It's also very cheap and comes in a rainbow of pretty colors!

So, to make the framed puzzle mat, you will need two sheets of 12 in x 18 in craft foam, foam glue, and a puzzle. As for tools, you will need a self-healing cutting mat (or piece of cardboard) to protect your work surface, a craft knife, a ruler, and a Sharpie. An optional item is a large heavy book (or books) for weight during the gluing process. 

I will be demonstrating how to make the framed puzzle mat using a 9.125 in x 10.375 in puzzle. Any other size framed puzzle mat could be made following the same process as long as the puzzle fits within the 12 in x 18 in limits of the craft foam sheets.

Step-by-Step Instructions:

1 - Since these are small puzzles, I chose a 24 piece puzzle and assembled it. Place the puzzle on top of one of the craft foam sheets and outline it with the Sharpie. This sheet will be the frame of the mat.

2 - With the ruler, measure the left-hand border and define an equivalent border on the right-hand side with the Sharpie.

3 - Using the craft knife, cut out the center of the frame by following the lines you drew in Step 1.

4 - Cut off the excess craft foam by following the line you drew in Step 2.

5 - Lay the frame over the puzzle to make sure it fits properly and make any necessary adjustments.

6 - The second sheet of craft foam will serve as the mat and is the same size as the frame. Lay the frame over the second sheet of craft foam and align the edges. Using the Sharpie, outline the right-hand border of the frame onto the mat.

7 - Cut off the excess craft foam by following the line you drew in Step 6.

8 - Apply foam glue to the fours sides of the frame.

9 - Align the two pieces of craft foam and press down firmly.

10 - Optional step: Place a heavy book or several books on top of the frame to help the frame adhere to the mat. Wait for the glue to dry (I let it dry overnight).

Time to play! (Besides developing problem solving skills, spatial awareness, hand-eye coordination, patience, persistence, and all those good life skills! Playing is the best!)

I made a second mat for the larger puzzles. The frame was made to fit the 15 in x 11.25 in puzzles. I would say that this size is probably the limit for a single 12 in x 18 in craft foam sheet.

In an up-coming post I will be sharing a scaled-up version of these framed puzzle mats for a 4,000 piece puzzle! In the meantime, I'll enjoy the simplicity and satisfaction of completing a 24 piece puzzle!

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