Heuristic play is rooted in young children’s natural curiosity. As babies grow, they move beyond being content to simply feel and ponder objects, to wanting to find out what can be done with them.
Toddlers have an urge to handle things: to gather, fill, dump, stack, knock down, select and manipulate in other ways. Household or kitchen utensils offer this kind of activity as every parent knows and can occupy a child for surprising stretches of time. When toddlers make an enjoyable discovery – for instance when one item fits into another, or an interesting sound is produced – they often repeat the action several times to test the result, which strengthens cognitive development as well as fine muscle control and hand/eye coordination.
If you are interested and curious about the world around you, you are much more likely to have a sense of happiness and peace.
The mixture of textures, shapes and feelings of the objects in treasure baskets stimulates this curiosity.
2. Decision Making
When babies play with treasure baskets, it is recommended that the adult does not intervene in their play unless essential. One of the reasons behind this is to foster their decision-making processes.
The children are in control when they play. The decide which item to pick up from a selection of choices. They decide what they will do with it.
It is a process of becoming autonomous, and understanding they have control over their surroundings.
3. Practice Sitting
It is amazing the length of time that babies will sometimes engage with treasure basket play. Whilst being fully involved mentally and through their senses, this time will also be excellent practice for them in sitting up.
They will be strengthening their core, and many other muscle groups, as well as developing balance and coordination.
4. Gross Motor
Their curiosity and excitement about the objects will be motivating their bodies to touch and manipulate and explore.
Treasure baskets offer an excellent platform for developing physical skills, and gross motor movements in the arms. They also are a starting point for fine motor skills, as children will be using their hands and fingers to hold, touch and explore.
When fully engrossed in treasure basket play, babies are like scientists.
They select objects and experiment with them. They test their feel, their structure, their texture.
They create theories about reality, and test their theories.
Independence is a huge part of open-ended play such as treasure baskets.
Again, this is one of the key skills of life. Many people value their sense of independence as one of the most important things in their lives, and this feeling of being in charge of our own lives must start somewhere.
In treasure baskets play, the children are in charge.
They are the decision maker.
They are in charge of their own learning.
They are free to manipulate the materials however they feel and to find out whatever they can from the experience.
7. Begin To Understand Mathematical Properties Of Objects
Treasure baskets offer some starting points for beginning to think about objects in a mathematical way.
For example, they will be experiencing the different weights of objects, and how some are heavier, others lighter.
They will find out that some things are longer, some shorter.
They may experience rolling, or turning, bending, folding, and many other physical properties of materials.
8. Total Involvement
In the sporting arena, the phrase ‘getting in the zone’ is often used. It is the state were individuals are fully focussed on what is happening.
They are alive in the present, and fully attending on what is happening at a given moment.
Children will often be seen to get into this zone during their play. This is a beautiful and natural state that is the zenith of learning.
Treasure baskets can often provide this state of total involvement. Children get fully engaged in the objects and in manipulating them, and have no other thoughts than the items as they feel and examine them.
9. Begin To Choose Likes/Dislikes
This is again linked to decision making.
Babies will often really like some objects in a treasure basket, and seem to not like other objects so much.
It is a good idea to often repeat treasure basket play regularly, and these likes/dislikes will often become clearer as they use the same objects again.
One child will really like a leather glove, but not be interested in the shells. Another will like a wooden spoon, but have no interest in a lemon.
No one can really say why they like one thing and reject another. It is all down to personal preference. This is a good skill to take forward into life, however, as we are all of us faced with choosing those things we like and those we don’t.
10. Learning Through Feel
Babies are very kinaesthetic in their learning style, and receive a huge amount of information through touch things both with their hands and their mouths.
Treasure baskets provide the perfect outlet to focus this sensory learning, and to help them develop.
11. Develop Concentration
Treasure basket play is an excellent way of developing the child’s concentration and attention span.
They provide a means of focussing their attention, and lead them to remain focussed on one train of thought over a prolonged time.
I have heard a few parents remark about how amazed they were when their child has been totally engrossed in a treasure basket for 40 or 50 minutes. It seems amazing that they are capable of this level of attention.
12. They Are Multisensory
In treasure basket play, children are involved with all of their senses.
For example, they use sight to examine colour, size, shape and textures of objects.
They can smell some objects, particularly if you include objects such as leather, fruits such as limes, or natural wooden objects.
Babies will usually interact with objects with their mouths to learn more about them, and this will activate both smell and taste.
Noisy objects can be added to treasure baskets to stimulate their sense of hearing. Examples could be squeaky dog toys, bells, or objects in a glass jar.
The sense of touch has a huge part to play in treasure basket play, and children are continually touching, stroking, picking up and dropping objects.
13. Simple To Facilitate And Resource
This is more a benefit for the adults, rather than the children!
Treasure baskets are at worst either extremely cheap, or at best completely free.
The only part that might require a bit of an investment is the basket itself, but these are certainly not going to break the bank.
The rest of the treasure basket experience just requires you to find some random objects around your house, or beg, steal or borrow some from friends, family or colleagues.
14. Develop Their Eyesight
With their curiosity heightened, children are interested to examine objects with their eyes. This helps their eyes focus, and practices looking intently at close and medium ranges over an extended period.
Hands and eyes work together, both strengthening the effect and skills of the other.
15. Brain Development
Researchers have found significant evidence that treasure baskets provide a wealth of brain development opportunities.
This is probably not surprising, when you think about the level of concentration, thinking and curiosity that they generate.
16. Introduction To Loose Parts Play
Treasure baskets are normally used between the age of about 6 months to when a child can walk. Following that the play will usually develop into heuristic play which is quite similar to treasure basket learning. Following that, the children will engage in more complex forms of loose parts play when they are slightly older again.
It is great that treasure baskets are part of a continuum. They feed into heuristic play, that in turns develops into loose parts in more complex forms.
Many of the skills that the children are starting to develop during treasure basket play can be expanded and deepened through their later experiences.