Monday, 28 January 2013

Baby: Treasure Baskets

I never wanted a house full of all-singing, all-dancing baby gizmos, instead wanting to promote imaginative and exploratory play with simpler objects that aren't limited to one function. Before you laugh, point, and shout "Ha! First time mum alert!", I am in no way suggesting that Baby won't have piles of plastic toys that play music and flash lights (one Christmas in and she's already got more than she can play with, and loves them all) but in my mind, it's all about striking a balance.

When Baby was about 3 months old and becoming a lot more interested in the world around her, I started reading about heuristic play and the concept of treasure baskets. Heuristic play is a term coined by Elinor Goldschmied to describe the way in which babies and children can independently select the objects they want to play with in order to make their own discoveries. 

This book was especially useful (and oh my, how great did it make me feel wandering around the academic section of the library: "I've got a small baby and I'm getting my brain back! Wahey!") and great for reading small chunks at a time. The Imagination Tree also has lots of useful information, photos and examples.

The basic idea behind treasure baskets is something that parents all over the world have been doing since the dawn of time: giving household items to the baby to play with. (No doubt cave-babies were given pebbles to bang together, and sticks to wave around!) By putting the items together in a basket, it allows babies who are sitting, but not yet on the move, to investigate different textures independently. The independence of the baby is key - they are the ones making the choice of what to take out of the basket and how to play with it. The adult is there as support - faciliating the play, ensuring the safety of the baby and interacting when invited by the baby.

The contents of the treasure basket can be ever-changing. The book that I read recommended a variety of 50-60 objects made of metal, wood, rubber, and other natural materials. I think that's the 'strict' way of doing it - we've got some plastic and other man made fabrics in ours as Baby loves investigating them and there's a lot of value in that! We also only have about 20 items so far, but it's something we'll add to over time. I'm constantly scouring charity shops for new bits and bobs. Wilkinsons, Poundland, and the supermarkets have been good sources of items too.

We currently have the following in our treasure basket:

The treasure basket can keep Baby occupied for a looong time - she'll spend ages waving the wooden spoon, chewing on the whisk handle, hitting the wooden hoops together or trying to look through the hole in the CD. It's so interesting watching to see what she picks out first. At the moment she's a bit of a magpie: she's all about the shiny shiny shiny!

As Baby gets older, I'm thinking of sorting the items into themed baskets or bags e.g. shiny, noisy, fabric and wooden. At the baby sensory session run by the local children's centre that we go to, they have a basket entirely made up of different size and shape brushes that always proves popular with the babies!

Have you used a treasure basket or similar with your children? If you have one, or have a go putting one together, I'd love to see pictures! Any questions, please ask away!

(This turned into a bit of an essay - thank you for getting to the end!)


  1. Thank you so much for this post Helen, I love this concept. I am definitely going to give it a go. My little Miss is already a wilful creature, I think she'll love being in charge of choosing her toy. My mind is already plotting what I can use!
    Kate :)
    Just Pirouette and Carry On...

    1. Oh fab, I'm glad it's useful! Thank you for the prod to get writing it! I think that's the thing I find most fascinating - watching her choose which object she wants to pick up, and then finding out what she can do with it. (She was enjoying whacking the floorboards with the wooden spoon whilst lying on her side earlier on! Simple things!) Be sure to take some photos of it in action, I'd love to see!x

  2. My little ones are all older now ... the littlest will be three in April ... but when they were babies and toddlers I gave them things like these to play with ... a favourite was an empty plastic bottle with grains of rice inside ... a ready made rattle ... mine also loved saucepan lids ... the shine and bang factor ... they also loved wooden spoons and bowls ... for mixing, drumming etc ... the possibilities are endless ... it's funny my little girls favourite thing to do in her granny's is still to raid the kitchen drawer for playthings ... Bee xx

    1. I can just imagine my girl loving raiding the kitchen drawer - my mum always gives her utensils to play with. The spaghetti server is a favourite!
      We haven't tried saucepan lids yet, but as she's so into shiny things I'm sure they'd be a hit!
      The kitchen is the best source of toys!x

  3. Aha! I thought I recognised that baby! Lovely to find your blog... now we'll be able to follow our camera progress post-course. I have lots of unofficial treasure baskets around the house. Bits and bobs do seem to hold their attention so well don't they. x

    1. Thank you for coming over (so to speak!) - yes, we'll be able to help each other out when we feel like we're confusing our ISOs with our AWBs!x


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