Let's begin by looking at the key zoology puzzles. While there are a number of options available, the five core puzzles include a fish, turtle, frog, horse, and bird. This is intended to cover the major classes of animals, including fish, reptiles, amphibians, mammals, and birds. Some individuals choose to include a representation of an arthropod, such as a butterfly. But don't worry if you have something different or don't have the full traditional set. You can work with whatever you have.
The activities have been divided into four categories and can be applicable to a wide variety of ages.
Work the Puzzle
This is the obvious one. A young child may need more trial and error, but an older child can practice placing the pieces correctly without the need to wiggle them.
Assemble the Puzzle on a Control
Once a child is competent with building the puzzle in the frame, they can try building it on a control. This is something you can easily create by taking a piece of paper and outlining each piece to recreate the puzzle frame. The child then matches each piece inside the outlines with the correction of the frame.
Play What's Missing
Once a child is familiar with the names of the various parts, you can play an elimination game. Place the puzzle in front of the child. Have the child turn around or cover his/her eyes. Remove a piece from the puzzle and place it out of sight. Ask the child to name what is missing. You can vary the difficulty and interest. Try removing two pieces at once or instead of answering verbally, ask the child to write or draw the missing piece.
Work the Puzzle Blindfolded
By simply placing a blindfold on the child you can completely change the aim of the activity. When working blindfolded, it is often easier if the puzzle pieces are all placed to one side first.
Play What is This
Pick a piece from the puzzle and place it in a small bag or mystery box. If you do not have anything applicable, you could also use a blindfold. Have the child try to identify the piece by feel alone. You could also place multiple pieces in the bag at once and have the child identify them one at a time.
Recreate the Puzzle (cut or pin punch)
Tracing pieces is a great pre-writing activity. You can make it more interesting by having your child cut out each piece and glue it to a piece of paper to recreate the puzzle image. A child who is not quite ready for scissor work can use pin punching to cut out the shapes.
Create a Puzzle Control
For this activity, have the child create the control for the puzzle. It's more challenging than tracing the pieces individually because this requires the child to line up each piece correctly as they trace.
Once the child knows the name of each part, you can use the pieces to play I spy. Remove the pieces from the puzzle and lay them out. Then say, "I spy something that starts with ___ " and give the beginning sound of a familiar piece. In the beginning, you will want to start with only 2-3 pieces until your child understands the game. From there, you can advance to more pieces at once. You can then play the game with ending sounds and finally, middle sounds.
Match to 3 Part Cards - Picture Card
Three part cards are readily available for the common puzzles. In fact, The Helpful Garden has a set for free. For a pre-reader, you can have the child match each piece to the corresponding picture card from the three part card set. You may need to be selective with the cards you provide because sometimes card sets offer more parts than the puzzles.
Match to 3 Part Cards - Label
For a child who is beginning to read, you use the label cards from the three part card sets to label each piece with the correct name. If you do not intend to make the three part cards, you can simply write the names on slips of paper.
Create Own Labels
A child who is beginning to write can create his/her own labels for the puzzles. As with all early writing exploration, it doesn't matter if the child can spell things correctly at this stage. A child who has not yet mastered the mechanics of writing but is competent with sounds could label parts with the moveable alphabet.
Add Definition Cards
Definition cards can be provided for each piece for a child who has mastered the labels and is reading. Definition cards are often an extension of the three part cards. They provide a short description of the purpose of each piece. You can see an example of definition cards at Montessori Print Shop.
Hopefully this gives you some idea of how you can get more out of your zoology puzzles. I'd love to hear any ideas you have as well.
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