My first Treasure Basket encounter was as a new mum at a baby class run by my local children’s centre… and I didn’t get it. I remember wondering why on earth they were passing round baskets full of strange household items, and not toys. Surely funding constraints weren’t as bad as all that? Unfortunately they were and my local children’s centre no longer exists, but that wasn’t the reason behind the basket of ‘stuff.’ What I know now is that the exploration of everyday objects by babies and very young children is an accepted approach to early years learning called heuristic play; by definition “enabling a child to discover or learn something for themselves.”
The Treasure Basket became a popular method of heuristic play following the publication of Elinor Goldschmied’s book People Under Three. She writes about the purpose and benefits of heuristic play and gives a set of guidelines for using heuristic objects with different age groups; a Treasure Basket being the preferred method for children under the age of two.
So what is a Treasure Basket?
A Treasure Basket is a collection of items chosen to provoke curiosity in babies and very young children. The items they contain are commonplace everyday objects that a baby can explore safely. A good basket will stimulate the senses by providing a variety of shapes, textures, smells, sounds and even tastes to provide a rich learning experience. The intention is to provoke curiosity and provide a unique sensory learning environment. Goldschmied was of the firm opinion that “none of the objects in the basket is a ‘bought toy’” (Goldschmied, p87) and “unlike a bought toy that remains the same until it is outgrown or broken, a Treasure Basket should be constantly changing and evolving” (Goldschmied, p90).
How do we play with a treasure basket?
An adult should present the Treasure Basket to the baby and then retreat to a nearby location to observe. Ideally babies will be in a happy, alert mood, preferably not hungry or tired. They should be in a comfortable sitting position, able to lean against something if so required. Babies use their senses to understand the environment around them and will often handle and mouth any objects that they encounter. This is perfectly fine and to be encouraged.
It is important that babies are allowed to explore the basket in their own way and in their own time, to make their own choice of which object to select and how to explore it. Adults must be unobtrusive and resist the urge to ‘show’ the items to baby.
“Perhaps one of the things which an adult may find it difficult to do at first is not to intervene, but to stay quiet and attentive”
Treasure Baskets are to be presented to the child for a limited amount of time only, approximately 30-40 minutes, depending on the level of engagement shown by the child and should then be put away. If it’s accessible all the time the items will lose their intrigue.
What will babies learn from a Treasure Basket?
“The concentration of a baby on the contents of a Treasure Basket is one thing that astonishes observers seeing it for the first time”
Here are my tips for creating your own Treasure Basket
The look of wonder on a babies face when they’re given a new basket to explore is simply priceless. Why not have a go!
You can buy ready made Treasure Baskets from Tinker Tray Play at www.tinkertrayplay.co.uk, or you can choose an empty basket and make your own selection of items from the Treasure Basket Top Up range and the Household Loose Parts range, and don’t hesitate to get in touch with any bespoke requirements! Happy tinkering 💕