Despite the dozens of toys my wee man has, from the moment he could crawl, his favourite things to play with were the vacuum cleaner (which forever sits in the living room, hoping to be used), door stops, and jandals. If the baby gate to the hallway is left ajar my little adventurer makes a break for it, as fast as he can, to get to the toilet paper roll or dog biscuits before being thwarted by a pesky adult. Outside, his faves are sticks, leaves and, unfortunately, chicken poo.
You get the picture, not only is my son a little bit gross, he loves things which aren’t toys. So often you hear of babies and toddlers being drawn to everyday objects – preferring the box that the present came in, playing with the pots and pans, rummaging through the tupperware cupboard or the peg basket. This is the essence of heuristic play; infants being able to learn about the world by exploring everyday and natural objects.
The term “heuristic play” was coined by Elinor Goldschmeid in the early 1980s and refers to babies being able to explore the properties of objects from the real world using all the senses – smell, touch, taste, sight and hearing. Many babies live in a world packed full of predominantly plastic toys which often feel, taste, and smell the same. Born naturally inquisitive, a baby relishes the opportunity to explore a wide variety of textures and materials. A baby’s first interest is “what is this object like?” and secondly “what can I do with it?”. By touching, mouthing, licking, dropping, shaking, banging and so on, your baby collects all sorts of information about the object and adds it to the encyclopedia of information they are forming about the world around them
We can provide a baby who is able to sit unaided the opportunity to explore real world objects by making them a heuristic treasure basket. The basket should have low sides so it is easy to reach the exciting objects inside. Some materials you can look out for include wood, metal, leather, fabric, cane, knitted etc. Have a rummage through your kitchen. Collect natural objects like shells, driftwood, pumice, and pine cones on your outdoor adventures. Find something with bristles. Get creative with the items you put in, or there are heaps of lists of ideas for objects online if you need inspiration.
Traditionally heuristic treasure baskets don’t contain items made of plastic. However, as plastic is such a common material in our modern world, it was recommended to me by our teacher at the Heart to Heart course that I should include some plastic objects for the babies to explore.
While putting together your treasure basket keep these few safety ideas in mind – avoid sharp objects. Don’t put in anything which is small enough to fit in an old 35mm film canister (or has bits which could easily come off that are this small) as they pose a choking hazard. If your baby is still mouthing objects please check that the coating on objects is safe to suck on and that small parts couldn’t be bitten off if your baby has teeth.
(Alternatively, there are several businesses around which sell ready made heuristic treasure baskets which saves busy parents the time and effort, and prevents them having to get out the treasure basket to find the wooden spoon each time they are baking!)
Bring your treasure basket out occasionally and put away for a day or two when your baby is finished so the items don’t become boring. You can help your baby get the best learning experience out of their basket by sitting nearby and being attentive and responsive but unobtrusive. Let your baby explore whichever items take their fancy, however he or she likes.
A heuristic treasure basket isn’t a static plaything. Your baby will love you adding, swapping, and removing items over time. While you are there – check the objects regularly for broken items.
Your baby will love exploring all the items in their treasure basket and you’ll be providing them a rich learning experience. All while hopefully distracting them from the jandals, toilet paper and dog biscuits for a little while!
Written by Kelly Laugesen, Mum of 8 month old Finlay and owner of Little Kea Treasure Boxes