I've just written this article for our local NCT magazine as it's all relevant to learning I thought I'd post it here.
Treasure Baskets and Heuristic Play
What do you buy for your second child for their first Christmas? – there are only so many rattles / bead frame / pop up toys they need and we already had a good selection from when our eldest was a baby! I remembered that when the eldest started nursery on my return to work he really enjoyed playing with ‘treasure baskets’ so for Christmas we made our younger son one of these.
Heuristic play is the term used to describe play for babies, infants and toddlers that actively encourages exploration by using and developing their senses. The concept was developed over 30 years ago by Elinor Goldshmied, a child psychologist from her work watching children and the way they gained knowledge of the world around them. Treasure baskets are collections of objects should appeal to all the senses and are usually made of natural materials. Children will enjoy exploring the objects to see how they taste, how they feel, how they smell, how they sound and what they look like. Heuristic playhelps children to learn for themselves and make choices.
During the activity the children should explore by themselves, without interference. The adult’s role is to be close to the children as a support, to collect the items, to set out the activity and to observe the children whilst playing. The children can develop their manipulative skills, imagination, solve problems, sequence, anticipate and rearrange objects. There is no right or wrong way for the children to explore the materials. The activity also promotes the development of concentration skills, through the exploration of interesting objects.
Every treasure basket is unique to its creator but its purpose is the same. The best treasure baskets are organic – growing over time when new items are spotted to add – older children can also help select items for their baskets.
Our treasure basket is actually a large hat box which is leather like on the outside and has a suede type finish inside (I wanted something with a lid!) however traditionally the items are placed in a low sided basket. The treasure basket should be filled with approximately 60 different objects.
Some ideas for items that can be included are:
- Natural objects: fir cones, pebbles, shells, feathers, corks, pumice stone, loofah, conkers, natural sponge, avocado pear stones
- Wooden objects: clothes peg, small bowl, curtain rings, wooden nail brush, wooden egg cup, spoons , wooden bowl, honey dipper, wooden egg, pastry brush, shaving brush, small baskets, paint brush, rolling pin, cotton reels, wood off-cuts
- Metal objects: length of metal chain, spoons, tin lids, garlic crusher, metal beaker, brass curtain rings, bunch of keys, metal bowl, tea strainer, whisk, empty tin, bells
- Leather, textile, rubber, or fur objects: coloured ribbons, velvet powder puff, piece of leather, flannel, woollen ball, leather purse, rubber gloves, small soft toy, small flannel, rubber ball, tennis ball, fur fabric, small raffia mat, leather glasses case
- Paper / cardboard objects: notebook, greaseproof paper, egg boxes, sturdy cardboard tubes, the circles from inside sticky tape,
- Other objects: small jar and lid, plug and chain, hair rollers, toothbrush, scent bags, bone shoe horn, ceramic bowl and anything else that takes your child’s interest!
It is important to ensure that all materials are safe and age appropriate - remember not to include small objects for babies and there may be some items which you would need to remove for older children (for example, chains which they might swing and hit others with). Heuristic play is safe if the objects have been checked for any obvious hazards and the adult is sitting close enough to observe when there is an imminent threat (and can move the child's hand or take an object from them). Only choose items you are comfortable with your child exploring.
Children should be observed during the activity, by observing adults will be able to remove the materials as soon as the children begin to lose interest and notice popular items, which can trigger ideas for additions to the basket. Watching the children can also show skills which can be incorporated into their other play. As with all toys it is important that children do not have unlimited access to these materials as they then become bored of the items and will not discover anything new.
For more information
The Little Book of Treasure Baskets: Little Books with Big Ideas, by Anne Roberts and Sally Featherstone
Elinor Goldschmied – Infants at Play