Need a good way to help the kids unwind after a busy week? Here's an idea: Turn on some calming music -- classical, jazz, smooth Latin rhythms -- and pull out some jigsaw puzzles to do together. The key is choosing puzzles of the right difficulty -- challenging enough for older kids, but not too hard for younger kids. In general, look for puzzles with 50 or fewer pieces for the five-and-under crowd, 60 to 100 pieces for young grade-schoolers and 200-plus pieces for older kids.
For toddlers, giant floor puzzles are fabulous choices -- their big, chunky pieces are easy for little hands to manipulate. (And you'll get some extra cuddle time in as they sit in your lap and examine each piece!)
With older kids, you can work on tabletop puzzles of greater and varying difficulty. Got kids of different ages or skill levels? If you choose to do a traditional jigsaw puzzle, assign each child different sorting tasks to start out with -- younger children can find all the "edge" pieces (and then work on the frame) while parents and older kids can find, group and build interior sections.
Mosaic-style puzzles, in which there is no set picture to make, are a lot of fun for families with children of varying ages -- since it's about creative expression, older siblings can't tell younger ones they are "doing it wrong"! You may be amazed at just how well your family can work together -- and that's relaxing in and of itself!