Heuristic play describes the activity of babies and children as they play with and explore the properties of objects. These 'objects' are things from the real world.
We live in a world where plastic toys dominate the shelves of toy shops, but plastic is dull and disappointing for babies, and while each rattle may look different each one smells, tastes and feels the same - it is un-stimulating to a babies senses. Using heuristic play with babies stimulates all the senses, creating a rich learning experience.
Heuristic play with babies revolves around the use of a 'Treasure Basket' - the Treasure Basket can be used with babies from the time that they can sit unaided to around 16-18 months, during this phase the primary question a baby would ask if they could talk would be 'What is the object like?'. A 'Treasure Basket' is a low sided round basket filled with 'objects' from the 'real world' these 'objects' are made from any material but plastic, and come from a variety of sources in nature and the around the house. It is through handling and exploring these objects that a baby develops contact with the outside world, and begins to make their own choices and decisions.
The predominant way that babies under the age of one discover and learn about their world is through sensory-motor development, during this stage a baby's primal instinct is to explore objects by handling and mouthing them in order to find out about their physical characteristics. By using a treasure basket with children at this age you are providing them with rich mental stimulation, which not only activates the growth of the brain but also provides richly satisfying experiences for the baby.
A 'Treasure Basket' is not a static plaything, over time objects can be added, taken out and replaced, every time you go somewhere new, you can collect objects to go into the treasure basket (e.g shells from a trip to the beach or pine cones from a visit to the gardens) so that the basket grows, reinforces learning experiences and becomes a catalogue of memories. Every treasure basket will be a unique collection of objects. Aim to establish a collection of 20-30 objects, which comprise a variety of textures and materials. Once you have built up this 'base' of objects to go in your treasure basket, you can add more to it over time, which will keep your baby interested with a new object to explore every now and then.
Below you will find a list of ideas of objects to collect for your treasure basket:
Paper/cardboard objects: Egg boxes, notebook, sturdy cardboard tubes, greaseproof paper, corrugated cardboard
Wooden objects: Door wedge, dolly pegs, egg cup, wooden egg, spoons, curtain rings, coaster, bracelet, block, napkin rings, dowel, empty salt and pepper cellars.
Leather, textile, rubber, or fur objects: Small knitted toy, bean bag, piece of flannel, velvet powder puff, bags of herbs, a bag of lavender, leather keyring, coloured ribbons, leather purse, possum fur, sheepskin.
Rubber objects: Ball, bath plug with chain, soap holder, doorstop, coaster.
Metal objects: Honey drizzler, an egg cup, curtain ring, egg poacher, measuring spoons, tea strainer, whisk, powder compact, bells, lemon squeezer, small bowl,
Natural objects: A lemon or orange, coconut shell, grass rope, sheepskin, pumice stone, loofah, shells, pine/fir cones, driftwood, avocado stone, large pebbles.
Brushes: Scrubbing brush, pastry brush, baby's hairbrush, nail brush, makeup brush, paintbrush, shaving brush, wooden toothbrush.
Other objects: small vanilla essence or food colouring bottle, hair rollers, small mirror, scent bags, bone shoehorn, ceramic bowl
A note on safety - Be mindful of the size of objects you choose and that they are not a choking hazard. Avoid keys, as these frequently have lead and other heavy metals in them which can be ingested if mouthed - also ensure that you do not have any objects in your treasure basket made of pewter as this is also high in lead. If you use objects made from leather into your treasure basket, make sure they are genuine leather, and not imitation leather (which is made of PVC, and is very toxic for babies to be mouthing). Give everything a good wash and rinse before offering it to your baby to play within the treasure basket, and check the treasure basket regularly for broken objects.