DIY Heuristic play

By Rachel McFedries

Babies don’t need many toys. A lovely way to provide a rich learning experience for your baby or toddler is with a heuristic play basket – also known as a treasure basket.

A heuristic play basket is a collection of items found in our everyday life and environment. These items don’t have push buttons or loud electronic noises, and baby is left to explore the items at his or her own pace. The word “heuristic” means enabling a person to discover or learn something for themselves.

A heuristic play basket needn’t be expensive to put together. And you can create this resource yourself. By simply combining easily found objects and textures, it will be all your baby needs to explore and nurture their naturally curious mind.

What items might you include?

  • Everyday objects from the home: e.g. wooden spoon, metal measuring cups, silicone pastry brush, jar lids, empty glass pottles, cardboard tubes.
  • A variety of textured fabrics: pieces of corduroy, leather, sheepskin, shiny fabric, heavy curtain fabric, sheer fabric.
  • Items from nature: large smooth stones, pinecones, crunchy leaves, pieces of driftwood, pumice, large shells, feathers.
  • Op shop items: op shops are a treasure trove of resources for heuristic play! Look for napkin rings, paper towel holders, bangles, small metal teapots, tea strainers, small whisks, small zipped coin purses, and any other random items that you think your wee one might enjoy exploring.

How to use it:
Keep the items in a low sided basket so that baby can easily access them. If you have quite a few items (20+), you might like to store extras away and swap them out every week.

Keep the basket in a cupboard or on a high shelf where baby can’t always access it, and bring it out when baby is in an exploratory busy mood and needs to be occupied. Like when you’re cooking dinner and baby is trying to get into the kitchen cupboards!

Put the basket within baby’s reach, turn off the TV, and watch them become engaged exploring the items. How they use them might surprise you.

The benefits of heuristic play:
Using heuristic play baskets is beneficial for baby because it engages all of their full senses: learning through touch, smell, sight and listening to the way different items sound when banged together! Of course, because they put all the items in their mouths – as that’s part of exploring and learning – be mindful of this when choosing items and only use under supervision.

Give your baby time and space to explore the basket of their own accord. It can be a delightful experience sitting at a distance and quietly watching how they use the objects in their own way. In the words of  famous child development expert Magda Gerber, “do less, observe more, enjoy most.” We need more opportunities to slow down and “just be” with our tamariki, and watching them use a treasure basket can be one of those moments.