Heuristic Play Part 1 - The Treasure Basket
Heuristic play is a term coined by child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid in the early 1980’s. It describes the activity of babies & children as they play with and explore the properties of objects from the real world.
We live in a world where plastic toys dominate the shelves of toy shops, but plastic is dull and disappointing for babies, and while each rattle may look different, each one smells, tastes and feels the same - it is unstimulating to a baby’s senses. Heuristic play with babies stimulates all the senses, creating a rich learning experience and revolves mainly around the use of the treasure basket and sensory bottles. Treasure baskets can be used with babies from the time that they can sit unaided to around 16-18 months.
Use a ridged, low sided round basket filled with objects made from any material but plastic and from a variety of sources in nature and the around the house. It is through handling and exploring these objects that a baby develops contact with the outside world and begins to make their own choices and decisions. Constantly change some of the objects to keep the basket interesting and fresh to play with. I could usually tell when it was time for a change when the boys started to fling things out without even looking at them.
The predominant way that babies discover and learn about their world is through sensory motor development. During this stage a baby's primal instinct is to explore objects by handling and mouthing them to find out about their physical characteristics. By using a treasure basket with your baby, you are providing them with rich mental stimulation, which not only activates the growth of the brain, but also provides richly satisfying experiences.
For a treasure basket to be an effective tool in the play and development of babies, the most important factor is an attentive and calm caregiver, who creates a relaxed atmosphere and is available to the child during their play and exploration. The adult’s role in the use of the treasure basket is to sit nearby and be attentive, responsive and unobtrusive - the baby needs to be able to make their own choices about which objects they are going to pick up and how they are going to explore them without interference. To an outsider looking in on a baby exploring a treasure basket, it may appear that the adult is doing nothing. Babies will have a much richer and more stimulating experience, developing confidence and concentration when they can explore at their own pace, without being 'shown' things and 'how' to use them by an adult, as there is no right or wrong way for a baby to explore or use the materials. Never leave your little one unattended during the play session.
Another important factor in the effectiveness of the Treasure Basket as a learning tool, is when, where, how often and how long each play session lasts. The treasure basket should never be left out 24/7 for your baby to play with, as they will soon bore of the objects and become uninterested in them. It is important that the time of day you allocate to a session exploring the treasure basket is when your little one is fed, well rested and calm. The environment in which the play session will be must also be calm, turn off the tv and your phone, remove any distractions and make sure there is minimum disruption. Ideally each play session should last between 30 minutes to an hour, and a baby should have opportunity to explore the treasure basket every day, but only if all the conditions are favourable.
Over time objects can be added, taken out and replaced. You can collect objects on outings to go into the basket (e.g. shells from a trip to the beach or pine cones from the forest) so that the basket grows, reinforces learning experiences and becomes a catalogue of memories. Every treasure basket will be a unique collection of objects. Aim to establish a collection of 5-10 objects to start with, which comprise a variety of textures and materials. You can add more to it over time, which will keep your baby interested with a new object to explore every now and then without getting overwhelmed by too many choices. You can really get creative with the content and even work with specific themes.
Below you will find a list of ideas of objects to collect for your treasure basket:
- Paper / cardboard objects: Egg boxes, notebook, sturdy cardboard tubes, greaseproof paper, laminated photos of babies (magazine cut outs), family photographs.
- Wooden objects: Door wedge, small turned bowl, dolly pegs, egg cup, wooden egg, spoons, curtain rings, coaster, bracelet, block, napkin rings, dowel, empty salt and pepper cellars.
- Leather, textile, rubber, or fur objects: Small knitted toy, bean bag, piece of flannel, velvet powder puff, bags of herbs, bag of lavender, leather key ring, coloured ribbons in different colours and textures, leather purse, pipe cleaners (tuck in the sharp edges).
- Rubber objects: Ball, bath plug with chain, soap holder, door stop, coaster.
- Metal objects: Honey spoon, an egg cup, curtain ring, egg poacher, measuring spoons, tea strainer, whisk, powder compact, bells, lemon squeezer, small bowl.
- Natural objects: A lemon or orange, coconut shell, grass rope, sheepskin, pumice stone, loofah, shells, pine/fir cones, driftwood, avocado stone, large pebbles.
- Brushes: Scrubbing brush, pastry brush, baby's hairbrush, nail brush, makeup brush, paint brush, shaving brush, wooden toothbrush.
- Other objects: small vanilla essence or food colouring bottle, hair rollers, small baby mirror.
Sensory or discovery bottles is another fun and engaging way to keep your little one stimulated. They are cheap and easy to make and long lasting, using recycled and everyday materials from around the house!
From glittering calm down bottles to hands-on science discovery bottles, you can create sensory bottles of every kind. Pop back next week for a post on ideas for creating these.
I hope you enjoy exploring treasure baskets with your little one. Please share your experiences and ideas in the comments below.