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What's all the fuss about heuristic play?

 
Heuristic play is about playing with real-life, everyday objects and providing kids with an opportunity for open-ended discovery. When children are involved in heuristic play, they are using familiar objects in different ways. It is the process of exploring the different ways to use the objects that is important in the play.
Heuristic play is about playing with real-life, everyday objects and providing kids with an opportunity for open-ended discovery.

Even in this age of technology there are still fun things around your house that children can use to explore and experience different textures and sounds.
 

What is heuristic play?


When children are involved in heuristic play, they are using familiar objects in different ways. It is the process of exploring the different ways to use the objects that is important in the play.

The word ‘heuristic’ comes from the word ‘eurisko’ which means to learn, discover or reach an understanding of something.

And the phrase ‘heuristic play’ was a term coined by child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid in the 1980’s to describe the activity of babies and children as they play with and explore the properties of objects from the real world.

For babies and toddlers, Goldschmeid’s approach to heuristic play revolves around them using their senses and exploring a treasure basket filled with real-world objects made from any material (apart from plastic) that comes from nature and around the house.

It is through handling and exploring these objects that babies and toddlers begin to make their own choices and decisions and start to gain an understanding of the world around them.
 

Treasure baskets


To begin you will need to put together a treasure basket.

Find a low-sided basket, box or tin and fill it with 20-30 real-life objects. Over time add and rotate items to help encourage new and different learning experiences and to keep interest high.

Examples of heuristic objects to put in your treasure basket include:
 
  • Egg boxes, small boxes with lids, cardboard tubes, greaseproof paper
 
  • Preserving jar rings, rubber door stops, corks, rubber balls, measuring spoons
 
  • Napkin rings, metal teapots, metal whisks, keys on a ring, metal cookie cutters
 
  • Shower puffs, pot scourers, bottle brushes, pieces of flannel or material, coloured ribbons, pasty brushes
 
  • Pumice, coconut shells, large pebbles, driftwood, bark, pine cones, feathers
 
  • Wooden bowls, wooden spoons, wooden pegs, wooden curtain rings
 
  • Small mirror, bells , measuring spoons, tea strainers, a lemon or orange
 

Setting up the play area


For heuristic play to be effective you need to set up a relaxed atmosphere, placing the basket in an uncluttered space with all other toys cleared away.

Ensure that the TV is off and set up the area ideally after your baby or toddler has been fed and is feeling settled.

To maintain interest, 30 minutes a day playing with the basket is usually enough. Then put the basket away so that your baby or toddler doesn’t tire of the objects.

There’s no need to get the basket out every day. A couple of times a week is enough.
 

Your role as an adult


An adult’s role in heuristic play is to sit back and be unobtrusive, interacting only when invited.

Children should be able to move freely and explore without any encouragement or distraction.

Your baby or toddler will have a much richer and more stimulating experience when they can explore at their own pace.
 
Please remember small children should not be left alone, especially when they are constantly putting the items in their mouth and are susceptible to choking.
 

Beyond treasure baskets


Day to day life also offers a platform for heuristic play.

Simple ideas include playing with clothes pegs in a container, playing with objects in the bath or a bowl of water or even banging saucepans with a wooden spoon to make your own musical instruments. The opportunities for discovery are endless.

Being outside provides a natural heuristic play area for babies and toddlers too. They can grasp at grass, leaves and flowers in the garden or play with sand and seaweed at the beach. There’s so much to discover!
 

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Image source: calachildhoodpractice
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