Play ideas for learning | He kohanga tākaro mō te ako

We have developed a kete | kit of play ideas for learning that offers suggestions for a wide variety of experiences and opportunities to support children’s learning and development.

Level of compliance Main audience Other


  • All Early Learning Services 
  • Educators, teachers and kaiako
  • Service managers
  • Parents, caregivers and whānau

Play for learning and development

In Te Whāriki, the early learning curriculum, children are positioned as confident and competent learners from birth. They learn by engaging in meaningful interactions with people, places and things. This is a process that will continue throughout their life.

Providing a wide variety of positive experiences and opportunities supports children’s learning and development in the early years. You can do this by giving children time, space and support to explore, experiment and try things out. You can also offer an environment with interesting play materials and opportunities to try new things.

We have developed a kete of play ideas for learning that offer suggestions for a wide variety of experiences and opportunities to support learning and development. Each card is grounded in Te Whāriki.

The cards were developed for playgroups but will be helpful to other early learning kaiako and to whānau as well.

About playgroups – Tāhūrangi(external link)

Provide experiences and opportunities

Tamariki learn when they:

  • find things that capture their interest
  • get involved and spend time playing around with and exploring objects
  • persevere with activities they find difficult or unfamiliar
  • test, share, and talk about their ideas
  • make up new ideas by themselves and with others
  • initiate or take responsibility for their own learning.

Play ideas kete

If you are an education provider, you can order physical copies of these cards from Down the Back of the Chair.

Down the Back of the Chair website(external link)

You can also find more resources for whānau and learning in the home on the Tāhūrangi website.

Learning in the home – Tāhūrangi(external link)

Adventure and junk play | Ngā tākaro mātātoa me te hangarua

Recycled or repurposed resources ("junk") can provide unstructured and spontaneous open-ended play experiences.

Tamariki often love to build their own creations using junk materials. These resources are cheap and easy to find from the recycled, natural and manufactured materials in the world around us.

Adventure and junk play can help tamariki to:

  • solve problems, plan and reason
  • develop their ideas and make sense of the world
  • play, imagine, invent and experiment
  • work with others, share and take turns
  • learn about mathematical ideas such as fitting in spaces, going under, over, through and between
  • respect te taiao, the natural world
  • recycle and repurpose as part of caring for the environment.

Download the adventure and junk play card

Blocks | Ngā poro rākau

Blocks can promote opportunities to develop maths, science, art, language, physical and social skills. They provide plenty of opportunities for developing persistence, problem solving, and creating 3-dimensional structures.

Blocks can help tamariki to:

  • learn about gravity, stability, balance, weight and trial and error
  • understand shape, size, space, depth, width and height
  • develop hand-eye coordination
  • learn to plan and ask questions – gain confidence in their own abilities
  • learn to collaborate – show respect for the rights and perspectives of others.

Download the blocks card

Books and storytelling | Pūrākau pānui pukapuka

Books and storytelling play an important role in building language and literacy
skills from birth onwards. Books and storytelling build tamariki imagination and understanding of themselves, others and their wider world. Sharing and discussing stories strengthens their vocabulary and ability to tell their own stories. Books also help build concepts about print and the written word.

Books and storytelling help tamariki to:

  • learn new and unusual words and meanings
  • connect with their own culture and feel good about themselves
  • see others' point of view
  • develop imagination and interests
  • share experiences with other tamariki and adults
  • understand how books work and that print and written symbols can be read.

Download the books and storytelling card

Carpentry | Tārai rākau

Carpentry gives tamariki the opportunity to develop and practise a wide range of skills. It encourages creativity and problem-solving and can teach tamariki basic principles of physics and engineering. Tamariki can experience a sense of accomplishment and pride when they create something with their own hands.

Carpentry can help tamariki to:

  • gain increasing control over their bodies, hand-eye coordination, manipulative skills and muscular strength
  • develop problem solving and critical thinking skills
  • practise safe risk taking and being responsible with sharp and heavy objects
  • develop their sense of space and measurements such as size and length
  • learn to observe, plan, predict and experiment
  • express their creativity in a 3-dimensional way
  • learn to share and cooperate with others.

Download the carpentry card

Clay | Uku

Clay is a natural resource that encourages creativity and expression. It can be
cut, pinched, rolled, squeezed and moulded into different shapes and its texture can be changed by adding water. It is an environmentally friendly resource as it can be reused and recycled when it is dry. Clay can be used to create long-lasting shapes.

Clay can help tamariki to:

  • develop hand-eye coordination, manipulative skills and muscular strength
    by squeezing, patting, pounding, poking and pinching
  • be creative and experience making 3-dimensional objects
  • manipulate through moulding, rolling, cutting and shaping
  • make sense of form and structure creating different shapes and structures
  • express feelings and ideas through creations.

Download the play ideas card

Collage | Mahi toi

Collage involves combining different materials such as paper, fabrics and natural objects to create art. Collage encourages creativity, fine motor skills, decision making and using your imagination. Tamariki can choose their own materials and create something that is entirely their own.

Collage can help tamariki to:

  • be creative and learn about multi-media art and design, patterns, dimension and composition
  • experiment with different materials, textures and colours
  • learn skills such as glueing, sticking, taping, stapling, cutting and tearing
  • work alongside other tamariki to share materials, tools and ideas
  • explore the pictures, patterns and words of their own and other cultures.

Download the collage card

Digital technologies | Te hangarau matihiko

Digital technologies are part of the wider world that surrounds young children’s lives. Adults play an important role in ensuring that children use digital technologies in healthy and safe ways that contribute to their learning. This means using technologies that encourage children to explore, create and produce their own work, and empower them as active learners.

Digital technologies can help tamariki to:

  • record their work and achievements
  • create content such as art works, stories and games
  • think flexibly and develop a sense of wonder
  • revisit and retell past experiences, which in turn helps develop memory
  • develop critical thinking skills through reviewing photos or videos.

Download the digital technologies card

Family and dramatic play | Ngā whakaari ā-whānau

Family and dramatic play helps tamariki to use their imagination to act out
familiar and unfamiliar roles, characters and situations. They might pretend to be a parent, doctor or animal or act out feelings and events. This kind of play can help them to make sense of what is happening in their lives and the world around them.

Family and dramatic play can help tamariki to:

  • use their imagination and be creative
  • explore taking on a role, pretending and acting out ideas
  • express their feelings
  • make up their own stories, songs and chants
  • make sense of the world around them
  • learn and practise social skills such as cooperating and understanding another person’s point of view
  • learn language and practise using it
  • practice and develop manaakitanga, whanaungatanga, responsibility, and self confidence.

Download the family and dramatic play card

Loose parts and sensory treasure baskets | Ngā tākaro rāwekeweke, kete taonga tairongo hoki

Loose parts and sensory treasure baskets are safe everyday objects for infants,
toddlers and young children to explore. Loose parts and treasure baskets enable open-ended play with no right and wrong way of doing things.

Loose parts can help tamariki by:

  • use their senses to explore objects – the smell, texture, sound, taste, weight, how they balance, fall, fit together
  • take an interest, focus and pay attention
  • tinker, imagine, invent and experiment
  • explore mathematical concepts by sorting, classifying, counting, measuring, sequencing and to reason and problem solve
  • build language and name and describe objects and experiences and support their conversations and storytelling.

Download the loose parts and sensory treasure baskets card

Manipulative equipment | Ngā taputapu rāwekeweke mō te tākaro

Manipulative play refers to activities where tamariki move, order, turn or screw
items to make them fit. It allows tamariki to take charge, make decisions and
problem solve, and to develop fine motor skills and coordination.

Manipulative equipment can help tamariki to:

  • practise making decisions
  • be creative
  • explore and develop understanding of mathematical concepts such as:
    • learning about size, shape, weight, length, height, space
    • learning about sequence, comparison, order, patterns, colours, textures
    • learning to analyse and solve problems
  • develop concentration and perseverance
  • learn about cause and effect
  • practise fine motor skills and coordination.

Download the manipulative equipment card

Maths | Te pāngarau

There are many opportunities for tamariki to explore maths in their play and in
the world around them. Maths includes counting, sorting, matching, measuring, estimating, pattern making, sequencing (for example, large to small), comparing items, size, colours, weight, volume and much more.

Maths can help tamariki to:

  • learn to count, weigh and measure
  • learn to analyse and solve problems
  • develop hand-eye coordination and muscles
  • understand shapes, sizes and patterns
  • solve problems, estimate, predict, compare, classify and notice differences and similarities.

Download the maths card

Music | Te pūoro

Music helps tamariki to develop listening skills, concentration, coordination, cooperation, communication and memory, as well as being a valuable resource for creativity. It is important to value the desires of tamariki to repeat activities as this is one way tamariki practise being musical and gain control of musical forms.

Music can help tamariki to:

  • express their feelings through voice and body
  • strengthen their links to whakapapa and tīpuna
  • develop rhythm and harmony
  • be creative and have fun
  • recognise and enjoy sounds, instruments and different music
  • value their own cultural music knowledge
  • participate in and appreciate the music of other cultures.

Download the music card

Natural resources | Ngā rawa māori

Natural resources are gifts from Papatūānuku (Mother Earth). Hands-on
experiences in nature and with natural materials offer tamariki opportunities
to develop ideas about how things work in the living, physical, material and
spiritual worlds.

Te ao Māori perspectives, such as the tikanga associated with
using natural resources, can guide these experiences and foster the valued role
we all have as kaitiaki | guardians of the natural world.

Natural resources help tamariki to:

  • develop an appreciation and understanding of the natural world (animals, birds, insects and plants)
  • develop a sense of curiosity
  • use scientific methods such as observation and classification
  • understand the importance of kaitiakitanga.

Download the natural resources card

Painting | Te waituhi

Painting is a way tamariki can explore colour, shape, form and texture. It supports and extends children’s creative expression and non-verbal communication.

Tamariki will use different techniques to explore symbols and concepts from their own and others cultures. They will often paint what they know and feel rather than what they see, so it is important that adults let them paint in their own way. Painting allows tamariki to hone their gross and fine motor skills.

Painting can help tamariki to:

  • use shape, form, and colour to express themselves
  • experiment with colour and texture
  • represent and explore ideas
  • show moods and feelings
  • show appreciation of a work of art
  • recognise the symbols, styles and modes of their own and others cultures
  • develop hand, eye, arm and body coordination
  • develop finger and hand muscles.

Download the painting card

Physically active play | Ngā tākaro korikori tinana

Tamariki love moving. Being physically active is an important part of everyday life. Finding ways every day for tamariki to use large and small muscles allows them to gain increasing control over their bodies.

Physically active play can help tamariki to:

  • develop large muscles, strength and balance
  • develop flexibility, rhythm and coordination including hand-eye coordination
  • develop skills such as throwing, catching, hopping, skipping, climbing and balancing
  • develop mathematical concepts such as long/short, big/small, wide/narrow
  • develop awareness of space, such as over/under, in front/behind, on top/beneath, inside/outside
  • learn their limits
  • learn to cooperate and share
  • learn about games and rules from their own and other cultures
  • understand that physical activity is fun and can release tension.

Download the physically active play card

Play recipes | Ngā tohutao tākaro

This selection sensory play recipes can be made with tamariki at playgroup and at home. Use everyday ingredients to create fun, open-ended sensory experiences.

Download the play recipes card

Playdough | Te parāoa pokepoke

Playdough is a versatile sensory material that encourages open-ended play and can support children’s creativity, imagination, and fine motor skills. A popular and often calming activity, playdough has a texture that can be very soothing as children focus and explore squeezing, pulling, pinching and rolling the dough.

Different cultures will have different beliefs about using playdough in play
because kai is used in the making of it.

Playdough can help tamariki to:

  • explore different textures and sensory experiences to develop their sense of touch and smell
  • make sense of their social world such as pretending to prepare and cook kai
  • experience success – there is no right or wrong way to play
  • be creative and use their imagination to create and problem solve
  • learn about science and maths – preparing, weighing, measuring
  • tell stories, learn and practice language and vocabulary (talk about colours, textures, actions)
  • strengthen their finger and hand muscles, develop fine motor skills, and improve hand-eye coordination.

Download the playdough card

Puppets | Ngā karetao

Puppets provide an interactive and engaging play resource for tamariki that
stimulates their imagination and creativity. Through playing with puppets,
tamariki can learn communication skills, empathy and social interaction. They can make sense of their world through exploring different roles and characters, and expressing themselves in a safe and playful environment.

Puppets can help tamariki to:

  • practise vocabulary, sentence structure, and communication skills
  • learn to take turns and cooperate with each other
  • express and explore feelings
  • think outside the box and develop their own ideas
  • explore and express their identity.

Download the puppets card

Puzzles | Ngā panga

Puzzles develop important cognitive skills and dispositions, including problem solving, patience and persistence. The experience of matching shapes and colours can be challenging yet rewarding. It can build children’s confidence, boost self esteem and can offer a sense of accomplishment.

Puzzles can help tamariki to:

  • practise spatial awareness and logical thinking
  • develop hand-eye coordination and dexterity
  • learn to reason and solve problems
  • learn to persevere, deal with frustration and be patient.

Download the puzzles card

Puzzles | Ngā panga [PDF, 210 KB]

Sand | Te kirikiri

Sand provides a rich sensory experience that promotes physical, social, and cognitive development. As tamariki explore, they develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. They can use their creativity and imagination to build and invent stories, promoting their social and emotional development.

Playing with sand can help tamariki to:

  • learn about the properties of sand, such as texture, temperature and weight by touching, shaping or digging it
  • strengthen their hand muscles by scooping, pouring, sifting and digging sand
  • develop social skills like communication and problem solving by working with others
  • explore mathematical concepts such as measurement (quantity, volume) as well as ordering, sorting and estimating
  • boost their creativity, imaginative play and language development.

Download the sand card

Science | Te pūtaiao

Children are born scientists – they are innately curious about the physical environment and naturally open to making meaning through their exploration of
the world around them. As competent, confident explorers, tamariki can discover science through many experiences and opportunities. 

Science can help tamariki to:

  • learn to observe, question and investigate
  • explore cause and effect
  • investigate living things and learn about the natural world
  • care for the wellbeing of others, including plants
  • experiment and problem solve with concepts like gravity, velocity and water displacement
  • design, tinker and engineer.

Download the science card

Sensory play | Te tākaro tairongo

Sensory play is any activity that stimulates children’s sense of touch, smell, taste, hearing, or sight. A lot of early learning happens through the senses. Giving tamariki materials and time to explore sensory play builds a curious and active brain. It also encourages physical ability and language development. Fingerpaint, slime and gloop as well as mud and clay give tamariki opportunities to learn about different textures and materials.

Sensory play can help tamariki to:

  • relax – it can be a very soothing activity
  • experiment with and explore the properties of the medium. For example, does it hold its shape or pour or run? What happens when substances combine?
  • learn new vocabulary, for example,"this mud is gritty"
  • learn about colour mixing, patterns, design, texture and rhythm
  • develop hand-eye coordination and practise pouring, measuring, mixing, scooping and beating skills
  • share in group activities.

Download the sensory play card

Visits and outings | Ngā haerenga

Trips and outings provide opportunities to explore people, places, resources, and events that have shaped your local community. Trips to places outside the playgroup or visits from people to the playgroup can provide tamariki with hands-on experiences and increase their understanding of the world around them.

Visits and outings help tamariki to:

  • learn about the community they belong to
  • discover the local history and culture
  • experience new sights, sounds and smells
  • question and explore
  • learn new vocabulary and engage in conversations
  • build confidence, social skills and a sense of belonging.

Download the visits and outings card

Visits and outings | Ngā haerenga [PDF, 541 KB]

Water play | Te tākaro ki te wai

Water play allows tamariki opportunities to explore scientific and mathematical concepts, hone gross and fine motor skills, promote language learning and work with and alongside others. Water is versatile, easy to set up and can provide a range of experiences for tamariki, from calm and soothing to active and energising.

Water play can help tamariki to:

  • integrate sensory information, for example, feeling water temperature, texture, and weight and hearing the sounds it makes when pouring or splashing
  • understand mathematical concepts such as measurement, capacity and volume
  • understand concepts like heavy/light, float/sink, full/empty and shallow/deep
  • use scientific thinking, for example, guessing, testing ideas and repeating what they find out
  • learn to concentrate, persist and solve problems
  • learn to share and cooperate with others
  • respect water as a taonga with spiritual qualities
  • learn the importance of conserving water.

Download the water play card

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