Heuristic play: here's what's in my infant-friendly treasure basket

August 9 | Guest post by SaraBeth
Molly and Jack's treasure basket. Photo by Sarabeth.

Last week I was catching up on my blog reading and I caught a great question and answer session on Offbeat Mama about low-key things to do with an infant who can't leave the house. One of the reader's answers about creating a treasure basket was amazing!

Basically the basket allows children to explore heuristic play (exploring their world via play with objects). For my kids this would be shoving said objects in their mouths, crushing them or smashing them. All the same, it's comforting to know that the sword swallowing and Incredible Hulk routines are a normal part of development.

Take a minute and think about the toys that we provide for our infants, they are mostly plastic and feel/taste the same. Boring! The Treasure basket allows you to create a base basket full of 20-30 multi-textured, multifaceted, objects for your baby to explore daily for about half an hour to an hour. Eventually the basket can contain up to 60-80 objects as you slowly build more items to keep the baby interested.

Obviously you'll need to carefully supervise to avoid choking or in my case using the object to bludgeon a sibling. As alway with infants: EVERYTHING SHOULD BE DONE UNDER ADULT SUPERVISION, and the basket should be checked regularly for wear and tear and choking hazards.

Here's what I put in Molly & Jack's Treasure Basket so far:

What I'm still looking for:

  • large pine cone (which I will wash with warm water and soap as per my germaphobic husband's instructions)
  • unused feather duster
  • sponges (I bought these and then realized that they were pre-treated for my car's benefit/ making them poisonous for Molly & Jack and unusable)
  • chamois (I also bought one of these, unaware until I got home that it had been pre-treated with wax, also unusable)
  • chalk brush
  • wooden bristled hair brush
  • large square of silk material
  • suggestions!

Here's what I'm not putting in and why:

  • Seashells (Seashells smash, shards everywhere)
  • Rocks (I couldn't figure what would be the appropriate sized rock — I needed something small enough that it couldn't be a weapon and large enough that it couldn't be swallowed or choked on).

For more information on creating a treasure basket here's the link that was provided that I used as a starting point/guideline. My beginner basket cost me about $25 thanks to the dollar store and a little creativity around the house.

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    • Silk bandanas instead of long scarves if it was my daughter I was trying to make a basket for. She has this thing with wrapping longer fabrics around her neck and it makes me feel uneasy.

      She also enjoys wearing colorful washcloths on her head and chewing on them if they're tied in a knot (don't ask me, she's the one who came up with it).

      3 agree
  1. This is great. I remember reading in one of the "Dad" books that even though everyday items seem mundane to you your baby has never seen them before. Here baby play with this coaster!

    5 agree
  2. I love this and I'm going to do it!! The description on the site you linked to is interesting… I was all set to say I already do this, since we have a toy basket, but this is very different and beautiful. I think my 9.5 month old daughter will love this!

  3. My little one loves scrunchy things. For his treasure basket I cut up squares of a foil emergency blanket. Also good for them to lay on too, making noise as they move their arms and legs!

    1 agrees
  4. This treasure basket sounds like the catch all drawer in my kitchen. NEW USES FTW!

    2 agree
  5. We found that huge (read, larger than their fist) river rocks work well. They are hard and smooth and cold, and my son has never swallowed one. Use with supervision, of course. I'm also a big fan of small, child proof containers (like pharmacy bottles or baby food jars) with rice or whatever in them to make noises.

    4 agree
    • Totally agree with the home-made shakers. Also cool if you can fill something like an old spice jar with things that smell strongly but won't make a mess (lavender, rosemary, whole coffee beans, cinnamon sticks, dried orange peal, paper soaked in vanilla extract). Like the shakers, you can seal the tops with nontoxic glue so the scent just drifts out through holes in the lids.

      3 agree
  6. My baby loves Ramen packets. They crinkle, and (once they're banged up a bit) they shake. He played with the same two for about two or three months before they finally burst. I just swept it up and handed it him a new one. And no great tragedy if he did manage to eat some of the filling because its food (kinda :-P)

    3 agree
  7. Love this idea. I do something similar, but instead of one basket with 60-80 items, I like to make several smaller ones with 15-20 items each. Then I can switch up which basket I offer and keep things more interesting and less overwhelming.

    4 agree
  8. This might be common, but our daycare has clear bottles filled with interesting objects (seashells, pasta, fruit loops, mulch, etc) for the babies to observe, shake, roll, gum, etc.

  9. A lava rock would be nice. It is light so it can be big. Jar tops are nice to my girl loves to make them PoP.

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