When Cakie was a small baby I used to take her every week to a lovely Sure Start play-group that was run by an early years teacher. The group was fantastic in that it had some very well planned activities for toddlers, such as sand and water, play-dough, puzzles, puppets etc as well as incorporating singing and story-telling (which they all raved about!)
It also had a wonderful little area that was lined with cushions and had a canopy of materials hanging over-head. This area was only for babies and was surrounded by shelves of baskets in all different shapes and sizes. These were “Treasure Baskets” and were extremely popular with all who pulled out their contents and marvelled at them (toddlers included!)
So, when Little Pop was about 4 months old I decided to make our very own treasure basket. It took no more than 10 minutes to pull all of the things together, find an empty basket and get going!
Here she is enjoying her basket of wonders back in July of this year.
Since then, I have done some research into the thinking behind these baskets and the link to early childhood development. The idea is called Heuristic Play, coined by child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid, and it simply means the discovery of the properties of objects. The thinking behind it is really nothing new. Give a young child a present and more than likely, she wants to spend time scrunching the wrapping paper and playing with the ribbon instead of with the toy itself. Our parents and grandparents already knew about this without even realising it. We were offered pots and pans in the kitchen which we banged together and explored. We poured and tipped and stirred and spooned with pasta and rice, a sieve and a funnel. We stacked up logs and rocks in the garden and made mud pies with grass on top. We didn’t have half of the junk our children have today, and actually, our imaginations and creativity were far better off because of it.
In Heuristic play sessions, you present your baby with a selection of natural or found objects, from around the house and garden and allow them the time and space to explore them using all of their senses. There should be nothing plastic or electronic as these are all very similar and closed in what they can do and therefore quickly become boring to the senses. The idea is to gather around 50 or 60 small objects (not too small of course!) and arrange them in a shallow, round basket so that a sitting baby can reach into it from all sides. You present this to your child just a few times a week to keep it interesting and exciting, and you regularly change and update what goes into the basket. Then sit back and allow your child to play and explore, without interrupting or showing them what to do with the objects. The experts say the ideal age for these is from when your baby can sit up to around 18 months.
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. There should be a good range of textures, shapes and materials and all should be non-toxic with no tiny pieces. Most things won’t cost very much, if anything and can probably be found in the woods, the beach, the garden or your home! (Obviously, 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.)
Little Pop is 7 months now and I have just put together a few new baskets for her. I decided to group objects into categories (although since then big sister has mixed them all up anyway!)
An old CD
A sparkly glitter ball
A serving spoon
A shiny napkin ring
A shimmering shell
A little watering can
Wood/ natural basket:
Various size and shape wooden spoons and implements
A beautiful, painted wooden egg
A wooden train
A large piece of cork
A wooden bell
Various other wooden toys or wooden implements
It would also be lovely to include some driftwood and some pine cones in this basket.
Noisy basket: (yes, this one does include some plastic, but it adds to the range of noises!)
Homemade shakers (plastic bottles containing coloured rice)
Painted wooden egg shakers
Click-clack wooden toys
Small drum with tassels for beating (is it called a tambour??)
Wooden objects to tap together
A piece of crochet
Knitted gloves and puppet
Velvet bag with silk tassels (no, it’s not an offering bag from church!)
Here is Little Pop enjoying all of the contents of the baskets. They started off in groups but quickly became amalgamated. That’s probably a better way anyway!
It was wonderful to sit back and watch her. Usually (pre-baskets!) I hand her a toy or a small range of toys and she gives them all a chew and a shake then discards them. She did the same thing with these objects, except that she continued to pull out one after the other and really explored them, examining them, tasting, feeling, banging with other things and had definite preferences for what she liked.
(Next time I’ll take notes and make observations for you Sue!)
A lot of concentration and happiness all around!
Not to forget Big Sis who also loved having a rifle through. She, of course, wanted to know what everything was for, not just how it felt or tasted!
Here is Pop having a good look through one basket.
“Nope not interested in that…next!”
“Ooooo, this one’s noisy! And if I bang it onto that it sounds even better!”
“Hmmm, what else is hiding down here?’
“Ta da!! A golden egg. Now we’re talking..”
And the golden egg has become her all time favourite treasure- just like that. As soon as I offer her a basket she immediately leans forward and roots through to see if she can find the egg, then she gets it out, plays with it for a while, then carefully “stores” it next to her while she continues to explore. Every now and then she will pick it up and see how it works in relation to something else eg will it go inside here? does it bash nicely against this? etc. But it all comes back to that egg. I would love to jump inside her curious little 7 month old mind!
This kept her totally absorbed for about an hour, when she started to get hungry! We will be doing this much more often. So, I am now on the look out for more wonderful objects to keep the baskets interesting and fresh. I also want to get a round, shallow one as the original idea suggests as I can really see the benefit in that. And after that, I plan to make a toddler version of this with more open-ended activities that can flow from the treasures. Those are going to be called “Discovery Boxes” and I can’t wait!