A parent’s guide to heuristic play and treasure baskets

What is Heuristic Play?

New mums often encounter the term Heuristic Play for the first time at a mother and toddlers group or when their child starts crèche.  Heuristic Play actually sounds much grander than it really is but do not underestimate its value: it is a term coined by child psychologist (Elinor Goldschmeid) who developed treasure baskets for babies and the heuristic play approach for toddlers which describes the activity of babies and young children as they explore objects from the real world.

The thinking behind it is not new and is something that we are all familiar with. Give a young child a present and more than likely, he or she wants to spend time scrunching the wrapping paper or eating it instead of playing with the toy itself. Our parents and grandparents already knew about this without even realising it. We played with saucepans and wooden spoons in the kitchen which we banged together, we stirred and poured rice with a jug and a funnel and a highlight was to have a basin of water!

Heuristic is defined as enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves. It is rooted in young children’s natural curiosity.  As babies grow, they move beyond being content to simply feel and ponder objects to wanting to find out what can be done with them.  By using a treasure basket with children at this age you are providing them with rich mental stimulation, which not only activates the growth of the brain but also provides highly satisfying learning experiences. Household or kitchen utensils offer these opportunities and can occupy a child for surprising stretches of time as they concentrate on stacking pots, exploring the objects or sometimes just enjoying the new and interesting banging noise of a wooden spoon on a saucepan!

Make it fun

We live in a world where plastic toys dominate the shelves of toy shops, but plastic is dull and disappointing for babies, and whilst each rattle may look different each one smells, tastes and feels the same – it is unstimulating to their senses.  Using heuristic play with babies stimulates all the senses, creating a rich learning experience as during this stage, a baby’s primal instinct is to explore objects by handling and sucking on them in order to find out about their physical characteristics.

Parents love watching their children discover and explore which is inherently what treasure baskets and heuristic play encourages.  It is not a novel idea as children have been fascinated with exploring household items for generations.  Nothing delights more than a child’s sense of wonder when they make a discovery and in turn it appeals to our sense of wonderment and delights as we observe children developing wonderment of their own!  When a child makes a discovery or an interesting sound is produced, they often repeat the action again and again, to test the result which strengthens cognitive development as well as muscle control and hand/eye co-ordination.

What should go into the basket?

 There should be a wide range of objects both natural and man-made that will stimulate all of the senses and that can be used as open-ended tools for exploration and imagination.

Include a good range of textures, shapes and materials and all should be non-toxic with no tiny pieces.

Consider some of the following……an old CD, a sparkly glitter ball, keys, hand bells, a bracelet, a serving spoon, saucepan and a lid, various sizes and shaped wooden spoons and implements, homemade shakers (plastic bottles containing coloured rice), castanets or wooden object to tap together, felt, silky ribbon, shiny fabric, a lemon, bag of lavender (safely tied!) and other objects of wonder which are found in the home.

Don’t forget …

it is an approach, not a prescription so the content of the baskets is up to you but will probably discover that your child will favour a particular item such as silky piece of fabric or a bell which they will always seek out first.
Rotate the content of the basket regularly so that your child’s interest is sustained and remember, do not leave it out all day as it will no longer be exciting and interesting.

(You need to use your own common sense about what may be dangerous and never leave your child unattended or with another child while playing with the basket).

Christmas fun with the family

Christmas is a fun time of year for children and their families.

Tuesday, December 6th, 2022

Read More

Have a spook-tastic weekend!

It is that wonderful time of year again where the witches and goblins are out on show and there are magnificent displays of pumpkins everywhere.  

Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

Read More

Making a plan to stay calm

Keeping calm…

Monday, October 9th, 2017

Read More

Risky Play – Teaching our children to trust themselves

Learning through play

Wednesday, July 5th, 2017

Read More

Travelling with Tots

Some helpful travel tips

Thursday, March 23rd, 2017

Read More

Making reading fun

Reading is an intrinsic part of our culture and a life skill.

Wednesday, March 1st, 2017

Read More

Staying fit as a Family

Staying fit as a Family

Wednesday, February 15th, 2017

Read More

Witches, Goblins, and Ghosts – Oh my!

Halloween is the time when scary skeletons, spooky ghosts and wicked witches roam the world. All of the Giraffe centres enjoyed the build up to Halloween last week, and the children and staff certainly got into the spirit of the festivities! The children were delighted to dress up for the whole day for their Halloween parties. For […]

Thursday, November 3rd, 2016

Read More

Tips for Toilet Training

Tips for Toilet Training

Wednesday, October 26th, 2016

Read More

Beating the winter bugs

Tips for preventing cold and flus this winter

Wednesday, October 5th, 2016

Read More

Managing Sibling Rivalry over the Christmas season

If you really want to break the cycle of rivalry and children clashing with one another, allow them to pick activities that they can do together.

Thursday, December 17th, 2015

Read More

Baby and Toddler Play – A parent’s guide to heuristic play and treasure baskets

Heuristic play and creating treasure baskets are a great way for babies and toddlers to learn about the world, writes our Director of Childcare, Dearbhala, in today’s Irish Independent. What is Heuristic Play? New mums often encounter the term Heuristic Play for the first time at a mother and toddlers group or when their child […]

Wednesday, November 4th, 2015

Read More

Supporting a clingy child

Supporting a clingy child

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Read More

Planning for the Potty

Planning for the potty is all about timing… it’s when your child is ready! You will know when the time is right when your child has developed enough physical skills to be able to walk and climb the stairs, to wash their own hands, and are showing an interest in what is happening in the […]

Tuesday, March 26th, 2013

Read More
Show Buttons
Hide Buttons