My girls love putting together jigsaw puzzles. We often look out for cast-off puzzles at markets and garage sales. We come home clutching piles of old boxes, hoping all the pieces are inside. The girls like to work on huge puzzles that take days to put together. And though I can see putting together puzzles is satisfying work for them, it can be a bit frustrating for me: “When are you girls going to finish that puzzle? I’d like to use the dining table again.” (Not that I really mind.)

But there is one sort of jigsaw puzzle that doesn’t take up any table space. Nor are there ever any lost pieces. These are virtual computer jigsaw puzzles and although they are not quite the same as real puzzles, they have yet another advantage over the traditional puzzle: There is never any need to buy new puzzles.  There are endless free ones available to solve on the computer, at the click of a mouse.

We first discovered online jigsaw puzzles on a website called Garden of Praise. This website has resources for studying art (amongst other things). A number of artists are featured, and for each there is a biography; one highlighted painting, with others available for viewing in a slide show; quizzes, crosswords and word searches…. and puzzles. Quizzes, crosswords and word searches don’t really appeal to my girls. But what they do like are the jigsaw puzzles.

Each featured painting has been made into an online jigsaw. The number and shape of the pieces can be adjusted so Gemma-Rose can chose a fairly simple version of the painting puzzle to solve, while Imogen can have the challenge of lots of little pieces.

Last year I was lamenting the fact that the Garden of Praise site only has one painting per artist available as a jigsaw puzzle. I thought about this for a while: couldn’t we make our own computer jigsaw puzzles?  I did some browsing and discovered some free downloadable jigsaw creators. I’d soon downloaded Free Jigsaw Lite.

“We’ve got a jigsaw maker. Now all we need are some pictures.”

The girls started searching the Internet.

“I’ve found lots of paintings by Grandma Moses,” announced Imogen. “I’ll save them to the computer.” Minutes later she was using the images to make virtual jigsaw puzzles.

“Who wants to have a go? How many pieces do you want your puzzle to have? Do you want to race against the clock?”

We soon realised that the higher resolution images were the best because they could be separated into the greatest number of pieces.

After a few sessions of puzzle solving, the girls became familiar with many paintings by Grandma Moses and later, other artists. As they put the pieces together they discussed the painting. They soon realised what sort of subjects Grandma Moses liked to paint. They could recognise her style and remember the titles of her different works. They wanted to know more about Grandma Moses and went away to do some research and then we had some interesting discussions. 

When the girls are solving art puzzles they think they are just having fun. But I know they are doing much more than this: they are learning.

Another activity offered by Garden of Praise is colour-in pictures of famous paintings. Again, only one painting is featured by each artist. But I had an idea. I printed out black and white copies of each painting for the girls to colour in. But recently I had a better idea….

Actually it was Willa’s idea.  I read about it on her blog, The Quotidian Reader. Willa‘s post is called A Coloring Pages Tutorial. She explains how to produce colouring pictures from photos and other images, using the website, Picnik.

So now I am off to turn the art images we downloaded for the jigsaw puzzles, into pictures the girls can colour in. On second thoughts, I think I will tell the girls about Willa’s post and get them to do the producing themselves. They love using Picnik. A bit of computer work... paper in the printer... press the button and...

"Who wants to colour in a picture of Grandma Moses' painting The Quilting Bee?"

I am sure everyone will.


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