The Power of Play in Education - Native Birds Of New Zealand Puzzle

The child’s love of learning is intimately linked with a zest for play
— Almon, Joan (2003) The Vital Role of Play in Early Childhood Education

There are strong links between play, design and learning according to constructionist learning theory. The process of constructing, placing, organising, adding and arranging without teacher or parent-led instruction results in knowledge construction or a meaningful context for learning. Play is a child's work - and the 'work' of learning needs to be playful.

People tend to forget that play is serious.
— David Hockney - Contemporary British painter

'Nga Manu O Te Aotearoa' or Native Birds of New Zealand is a playful 24 piece puzzle designed for children aged 2 and up (up to 10yrs) that encourages play with different body parts of birds. Learners can put them together and 'find' eight New Zealand birds - Huia, Kokako, Kereru, Piwakawaka, Pukeko, Takahe, Tui and Kakapo. Once matched, each bird (each made from three matching pieces) can be flipped over to reveal written information about habitat, appearance, diet and special characteristics of each distinctive New Zealand bird.

The learning doesn't stop there - such is the power of play! 

In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior. In play it is as though he were a head taller than himself.
— Lev Vygotsky, Russian Psychologist, 1896-1934

The pieces of the puzzle are able to be mixed and matched and experimental play is encouraged. What happens if you put long Pukeko legs onto the stocky body of a Kakapo? What happens if the Huia's tummy is removed and a new bird that is 'all head and feet' is made. The potential for learning stories and new narratives are endless as the process of the play IS the learning. Social constructionist theory suggests that learners learn the most when learning by making and older students can take it to the next level and start designing new native birds on their own.

What would you call this new and interesting bird?

What would you call this new and interesting bird?

What about another step? The puzzle supports a learning as inquiry or discover learning model where learners can now take what they know and build on their knowledge through play. Flipping the cards to engage with the text only and mixing and matching commentary on habitat and habits allows learners to start imagining new possibilities for their own creative direction. Parents and teachers can facilitate the play and coach kids into some fun next steps.

How about adding a digital dimension? Aurasma would be an appropriate app to take a snap of a new drawing of a designed bird and record an app-activated voice recording of information or the bird calls it might make. Similarly, older students might make their own stop motion animation to show where the bird lives, what it eats and what its interesting habits are. The video could be uploaded and shared to disseminate the newly constructed knowledge much further afield - maybe the child could even start their own discovery learning blog! Even older students could extend their learning by writing an algorithm for how to recognise NZ native birds... with play and discovery learning as the focus, the possibilities are endless.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. Printed on solid card, each bird is an original illustration by me and each piece is approximately business card sized perfect for small hands (and mouths). My puzzle has been chewed, stacked, dominoed and colour-coded and it is a favourite for playing because they are so much fun - even when you ignore the bird stuff. 

How can we keep small minds busy? By giving them big ideas, but allowing them to use play as a powerful exploratory device to discover knowledge for themselves. 

Puzzles are $39. I have sold out of my first batch (I know!) of this collaborative project with Busy Bags. You can order one here OR email me to go on the (short) waiting list for the next lot.