By Mary Rose McCarthy
Most people who complete a jigsaw puzzle may not consider themselves dissectologists but that is what they are. The first jigsaws were referred to as ‘dissected maps’.
Around 1693 the philosopher John Locke began advocating the use of educational toys including dice, with letters of the alphabet as teaching aids. This was the era when childhood began to be seen as separate entity and that children were more than miniature versions of adults.
The idea of learning through play was also seen as way of encouraging a reluctant student and at the same reinforced traditional teaching methods. These ideas quickly gained acceptance and from there it was just a simple bridge to the use of puzzles as a teaching aid.
It is widely accepted that the first ‘dissected map’ was made by London based cartographer John Spilsbury. The claim is that in 1760 he pasted a map onto wood and cut out the different countries to be reassembled by children as means of learning geography.
Historians contest this claim and counter claim that a French educator, Madame Marie Jeanne Le Prince de Beaumont, had used ‘wooden maps’ to teach young ladies in London in 1759. As nothing remains of these maps there is no definitive proof.