Teaching US Geography with Puzzles

My two young children have expressed a rapt interest in geography as of late. Teaching US geography with puzzles has been one of our favorite ways to play and learn so far. I knew introducing map puzzles would be a great way to feed the kids’ desire to learn, but I’ve actually been surprised by all the puzzles have taught the kids so far!  Not only am I going to share what we’re learning and how we’re doing it, I’ll share some of our favorite puzzles, too!

teaching us geography with puzzles

This post is part of the Introduction to US Geography for Little Kids series!  You can see all the posts in the series here.
This particular post is sponsored by Melissa & Doug.

Teaching US Geography with Puzzles

Why use puzzles to teach US Geography?

We already do LOTS of puzzles at our house, so one of my first inclinations when the kids started showing an interest in geography was to introduce United States map puzzles to them.  We’ve been using various map puzzles for a few days now, and I am so impressed by what the children are learning, including quite a few things I didn’t expect!  

Here are my reasons for why you should use puzzles to help teach US Geography to your kids:

* the introduction of map puzzles has really invigorated my oldest because the map component adds a new level of skill to completing the puzzle, and he has really risen to the challenge.

* my 5 year old has been paying attention to the state names and practicing sounding some of them out, so there has been an added beginning reading benefit.  I nearly fell out yesterday when he pointed to the country below the US on one of our puzzles, and said, “Mommy, is this Mexico?  I just sounded it out.  It has 3 syllables.  Mex-i-co!”

* the kids are paying attention to the extra pictures that some of the puzzles include along with the states, like special items found in each state.  Through our talks, they are learning about some special things in each state, and seeing the pictures on the puzzle each time they complete it, helps to reinforce that knowledge.

* the puzzles can be done with help or independently. I find it’s helpful to do the puzzles WITH the kids the first few times. We talk about state names, extra pictures included, people we know who live in those states, and places we’ve traveled as we work together. After we’ve done the puzzles together, the kids can also start completing them independently. I love listening to them talk as they work on their own. I often hear them repeating things we’ve discussed together!

* while doing the map puzzles, you can control difficulty level! To begin, only remove a few different state pieces from the framed puzzles. They can be from one area of the puzzle or from all different areas. Name the states with your kids. Talk about the shapes. Have them put the puzzle back together. We started with about 5 pieces at a time and are gradually increasing. This will help cut down on frustration as map puzzles in general will be more difficult than your average picture puzzle. It can also help kids to focus on learning specific states if you want.  We’ve found it helpful to start with some states that are easily recognizable like California, Texas, and Florida, in addition to our own state and a few that border it.

What kind of puzzles are good for teaching US Geography?

So far, we have used 3 different types of US map puzzles for kids in our homeschool, and they each have their own benefits and best uses!

All 3 of these I’m sharing today are made by Melissa & Doug; two were given to us for review and one we already owned. All thoughts and opinions expressed here are my own.

1. U.S.A. Map Wooden Puzzle (45 pieces, 5+)

teaching us geography with puzzles

This one has capitals written underneath the state pieces, and pictures on each state that you can talk about with your child.

teaching us geography with puzzles

This is a great puzzle to use for removing only a few states at a time and letting your child practice those first, while gradually building up to being able to complete the entire puzzle independently.  Eventually, the biggest challenge will be putting the puzzle together without the frame

teaching us geography with puzzles

2. United States of America Sound Puzzle (40 pieces, 5+)

teaching us geography with puzzles

This puzzle surprised me. I’m not a fan of most electronic “toys” or learning aids for kids, but I do really like this puzzle!

teaching us geography with puzzles

As pieces are put into place, the puzzle says aloud the state name and the capital. I love this puzzle for when the kids are working independently. I even encourage the kids to repeat what the puzzle says as they put in each piece. Just hearing the words and the repetition while seeing the shape of the state they are putting into place is great for them!! 

If it ever becomes annoying, the great thing is no batteries = no sound and the puzzle is still completely usable. 🙂

3. U.S.A. Map Floor Puzzle (51 pieces, 6+)

teaching us geography with puzzles

I love this puzzle because it’s huge!  Most of the pieces are in the shape of the state, so it’s great the kids can see these in such a large size.  

teaching us geography with puzzles

This puzzle also features special pictures on the states you can talk about, and has the oceans labeled. Since there is no frame to put this puzzle into, it is a harder puzzle by default, but is a great one to do together.

teaching us geography with puzzles

When we do this one, we lay out all the pieces and then I describe a clue that leads to what piece we need next — either the state’s name, color, picture that’s on it, or description of it’s shape. The kids race each other to find the piece I’m looking for and add it to our puzzle. If one kid starts getting more, then we revert to more of a turn-taking style so that they both get practice.  This puzzle spurred some great discussion about desserts and Redwood trees for us!

teaching us geography with puzzles

 Stay tuned for many more posts in our Introduction to US Geography for Little Kids series!  

teaching US geography with puzzles

Have you tried teaching US geography with puzzles? Which are your favorites?

This post may contain affiliate links.

Genny Upton

A former teacher turned stay at home mom to two preschool aged children. Creator (and writer) at In Lieu of Preschool and Parent Teach Play. Currently publishing my first children's picture book! http://www.inlieuofpreschool.com/ http://www.parentteachplay.com/

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  • Jenny says:

    You have a 5 y/o and a … ??
    Just wondering the age of the youngest to see if it would worth trying it w/my kiddo.
    Thank you!

  • Bea Jazz says:

    Great Post.. My son is 2 and half he already knows all the states and capital… The Melissa and Doug one is his ultimate favorite to so I guess is never too young to try 🙂

  • amy says:

    My 2 1/2 year old has the non-talking “harder” state map puzzle, and he’s learned to identify a few of the states already by name and proper placement. As a military kid, it’s an opportunity to talk about friends/family who in other states, and so he also can identify his states by the friends who live there..
    He loves this puzzle, even if he does try to pretend that Montana is a camera phone and Florida is a gun sometimes 🙂 Every young child should have map puzzles — they naturally learn while they are playing. PS. You can also get toddlers to sort the states by color.

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