As parents in the commercial world that we live in, constantly being bombarded by advertisements for educational plastic, battery operated toys it is easy to lose sight of the simple objects all around us that babies and children get great joy from playing with. We all remember the joy of pulling friends around the place in the car made out of a big cardboard box when we were children or being the TV presenter in the big box we used as our very own TV. In this type of play children are using their imaginations and being creative and interactive with each other. The box that the toy comes in seems to derive more imaginative and creative play than the toy that was once in it at times.

Treasure Baskets are a wonderful way of introducing this type of play with babies and toddlers. They will make a huge impact on a child if they are introduced, offered and developed sensitively.  Treasure baskets for babies and toddlers can be made up of collections of objects that are usually natural or man- made natural materials, such as rolling pins, fir cones, feathers, fruit and velvet. A lot of the objects you can include in your treasure basket when making it up can be found in your own home already. Evidence suggests that young children respond more intensely to natural materials and more subtle colours rather than the overly bright colours and manmade materials that a lot of toys are made from.  The natural materials in a treasure basket enables babies to explore the textures, taste, smell and sounds of objects, not just the look of them. An example includes holding an orange and exploring it, it engages all of a baby’s senses. Babies can explore treasure baskets from the time that they can first sit up, propped by cushions for steadiness. At this stage babies are not moving around freely yet and often get frustrated at not being able to reach the things they see. They are learning fast and need to be stimulated.

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Great fun!

Once you observe a baby interact with a treasure basket, you will be amazed to see the power the activity has.  Babies explore everything they encounter in the world with their senses and giving them a wide variety of items to feel, suck, see, listen to and smell helps their brains to make the necessary connections and offers great opportunities to learn. The items are not toys and children playing with them should be supervised. It is important to remember when selecting items that babies explore everything with their mouths so ensure all items are not too small and do not have bits that could come off easily.

Heuristic play means the discovery of properties of objects. When playing with a treasure basket, babies are very engaged while exploring the objects for quite a long period of time sometimes, considering their age. Babies or toddlers should be given time and space to explore the objects using all of their senses. They will continue exploring for a time pulling one thing after another out and examining them feeling, tasting, banging them together with other things. They may hold objects high up side by side as if observing the weight of each. They will listen to the sounds made when banging items or shaking them. During this type of exploratory play children make connections in their brain while playing also- dropping things, banging them together to see what would happen.

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Treasure Basket

They also get a chance to develop their hand eye coordination and fine motor skills. The fact that there are lots of new objects to keep pulling out of the basket and exploring using different senses means the baby is constantly stimulated and does not get bored.  The child is able to play independently choosing what they wish to explore for as long as they wish. Visually babies find waving ribbons stimulating.  They explore different textures with their fingers- for example a small sample of sheep skin, a velvet scrunchy or a smooth shell.  You will be surprised at how long your baby will stay engaged, sometimes until they have emptied every object out. During treasure basket play, the adults should be attentive, but should not intervene, except to ensure safety and maintain social contact with the baby. It is recommended that adults DO NOT participate in the treasure basket sessions, even to start play off. Allow the child to explore at their own pace.

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The possibilities are endless!

I’ve included an example of items included in a treasure basket my children loved to play with as babies as an example of items you could include. If your baby loves treasure basket play you can make up lots of different types for example you could have all of one colour items or a Christmas themed one. The options are endless.

Charlotte Lyne is a play therapist working both privately in her own practice ’Over the rainbow children’s centre’ in Midleton and in school settings. She accepts referrals from parents, carers, GPs, social workers and teachers. If you would like to discuss anything with Charlotte you can contact her on tel: (087) 9780593 or email:

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