Looking for Treasure: How Heuristic Play will Benefit your Child

Photography: Bloom and Blossom Studio

By Hannah Schenker

Picture this: your child is surrounded by many colourful, loud, moving toys – toys that you as parents, and your well-meaning friends and family, have showered on your child. Yet your child is more interested in a toilet paper roll they found in the bathroom. Why is that? Why are they so captured by ordinary, everyday objects? Shouldn’t they be playing with the toys you bought them?

Heuristic play, a term coined by Elinor Goldschmeid in the early 1980s, describes the play that happens when babies and children play with and explore the properties of objects – everyday items you find in your home. This play stimulates all their senses, and creates a rich learning experience. You can create a heuristic play “treasure basket” for your child (or purchase one ready-made) – gathering a few everyday objects into one low-sided basket. Objects like: a pinecone, a toilet roll, some string, shells, wooden spoon, a cloth, an egg carton, a tea strainer…A variety of objects that can be natural or man-made (or a balance of the two), that are safe for your baby to put in their mouth. Choose objects that are constrasting in shape, texture, colour, patterns and sounds. You will want to refresh the basket every so often for a greater learning experience (and for hygiene purposes too!).

Here are some of the benefits of encouraging heuristic play in your home:

Multi-sensory learning:

Infants and toddlers are working hard on their development – especially during play. Heuristic play objects offer multi-sensory play exploration. The child gets to decide which object to choose first, then the act of reaching out and grabbing, handling and moving around the various objects will help develop hand to eye co-ordination, fine motor skills and muscle control. Switching from the toilet roll, to say a piece of cloth, will help your child learn about the difference between the objects – how they feel, move, sound…building knowledge which eventually will help them with other activities like eating or handling tools.


Heuristic play is open-ended, that is – each item can be handled and used in a variety of ways, requiring imagination and creativity. This kind of discovery play can encourage deep concentration and as they grow they will develop more of their own ideas, think creatively, and explore how one item can be used in a variety of ways.

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