Play is whānau bonding time

Play is a powerful bonding time for whānau and tamariki. The beauty of this learning and growing time is that the motivation for a young child to play is already there – it’s fun!

When it’s shared with another person, especially one who loves you, it’s even more enjoyable.

You don’t need anything special

Don’t worry – you don’t need to have a special ‘playtime’ or any fancy toys. Doing things together that you enjoy – that’s play!

Anything can be play

Parents and whānau are a child’s first and most important playmates. Anything can be turned into play. Getting dressed, household chores, hanging out the clothes, sorting the washing and shopping are all opportunities to have fun and watch children learn and grow.

Vicky Ellison shares her top five play tips

Talking about maths with young tamariki

There are lots of opportunities around the whare to incorporate maths. You could sort socks by pairs and colours, pegs by colours, and pencils and crayons by size and colour. On your daily walk around your neighbourhood you couldpoint out objects of different sizes. For example if you’re looking at leaves, you could say something like ‘Here are some big ones, can we find some small ones?’

Try these maths activities

Select the activity for instructions on how to play.

Stepping stones

Why do it?

  • Jumping activities help a child build confidence, improve co-ordination and strengthen large muscle skills.
  • It’s an opportunity to practise jumping and stepping and maybe even a little leaping.
  • The child can help design the path of steps. This lets them take the lead, promoting their problem-solving skills and self-expression.
  • Activities like this contribute to a child’s overall health and well-being.

How to do it

  • It’s best to play outside as stepping stones on indoor flooring can be too slippery.
  • A stepping stones path can easily be drawn on concrete using chalk.
  • Start by drawing oval shape steps which are big enough for two feet, which can be jumped in with one or two feet.
  • Your child can help decide where the path should go and when to have steps, leaps and jumps.
  • They can decorate the stepping stones with chalk.
  • Later you can extend the challenge by reducing the size of the stepping stones or increasing the distance between them so that a leap might be required.
  • Stones could be different shapes, for example a square, circle, triangle, heart and they can also vary in size.
  • Play this together, both trying the path. If possible, let the child be the leader. Only go first if you need to show them how to use it.


Why do it?

  • This activity appeals to young children because you get to eat what you make!
  • Cooking is an all-round learning opportunity to:
    • weigh and measure ingredients (maths)
    • mix and cook things (science)
    • time the cooking (maths)
    • follow a recipe, modelled by the adult (literacy).
  • The child will have first-hand experience of the importance of following a sequence of instructions.
  • Baking provides an opportunity to create and observe transformations (dry ingredients are made wet, and wet things become solid when cooked).
  • The child can make a contribution and give pleasure to the whānau.

How to do it

  • Choose a simple recipe — Anzac biscuits are great.
  • Let the child help you to get out the ingredients and other kitchen tools you might need for baking, such as measuring spoons and cups, and baking trays.
  • The adult needs to take the lead, especially in everything to do with the oven. You want this to be fun learning not sad burning!
  • Help them measure, stir and roll mixture into balls, before putting the biscuit mix onto the oven trays. Then they can fork the balls flat.
  • You can talk about what you’re doing and what they’re doing and where the biscuits are up to.
  • If your oven has a window and a light, show them what’s happening.


Why do it?

  • Matching things that are the same is a thinking skill which helps a child learn skills they will use later on in maths, reading and science.
  • Your child is likely to be noticing a lot more details by now and this will help them learn to see the differences and similarities between things.
  • Matching more than two things with a common characteristic is called ‘sorting’. Two examples are sorting cutlery into knives, forks and spoons or sorting blocks into red, green, and blue blocks.
  • Grouping things that are alike in some way is called ‘classifying’. Two examples of classifying are shopping that belongs in the kitchen and shopping that belongs in the bathroom.

How to do it

  • Collect pairs of things on walks (pebbles, leaves, sticks, shells and so on) and bring them back for matching. You choose one of a pair and ask ‘Where’s another one like this one?’
  • Sometimes children have their own ideas about matching. Accept what they offer and ask ‘what’s the same about this one?’ Remember it’s not a test but an exploration activity.
  • Use words like ‘same’ and ‘different’ to talk about colour, shape, size or texture.
  • Play sorting with cutlery (shape), pegs (colour) and shopping (size, or where it is stored in the house).
  • Classify laundry, for example ‘That’s mine, baby’s, mum’s or dad’s’.

Try using more te reo Māori

Here are some easy kupu Māori you can incorporate into play activities with your tamariki. 

Kia ora — Hello; thanks

Ka pai — That’s good

Tino pai — Very good

Mīharo — Wonderful, amazing

Haere mai ki konei — Come over here

Ko wai? — Who?

He aha? — What?

He aha tēnei? — What’s this?

He … — It’s a …

Kei hea? — Where?

Me tākaro tāua — Let’s (us two) play

Me tākaro tātou — Let’s (all of us) play

Me tīmata tāua? — Shall we (you and me) start?

Me tīmata tātou? — Shall we all start?

Anei te … — Here’s the …

Homai te … — Give me the …

Iti — Small

Nui — big

Whakarongo mai — Listen here

Kōrero mai — Talk to me

Titiro mai — Look this way

E noho — Sit down

Kia tau — Settle down

Kimihia — Look for it

Taihoa — Wait

Ka taea e koe — You can do it

Kua mārama koe? — Do you understand?

Kua mutu? — Are you finished?

Aroha mai — I’m sorry

Kei te pēhea koe? — How are you?

Māku e āwhina — I will help

He aha māu? — What would you like?

Horoia ō ringaringa — Wash your hands

Me kai tāua — Let’s (us two) eat

Me kai tātou — Let’s (all of us) eat