How to Make a Treasure Basket for Babies and Toddlers Heuristic Play

Have you heard of treasure baskets?  Developing from the Montessori approach of holistic learning for the whole child, they are baskets of safe, interesting, open-ended items for babies, toddlers and young children to explore.  Sounds complex but you can easily make your own treasure basket of interesting objects to inspire heuristic play.

What is a treasure basket?

A treasure basket is the perfect antidote to our society's emphasis on a multi-coloured plastic filled baby and toddlerhood.  They are a collection of safe, interesting materials for babies to investigate.  Items are usually made from natural materials: rubber, stone, wood, felt, cork, metal.  Simple household items and things from nature are also included.  The container used should be a low sided basket or a strong wooden or cardboard box.

How do you use a treasure basket?

From the time they are sitting up and able to start grasping items, babies will love to explore a treasure basket.  The process of experimentation and exploration is a wonderful way to build up neural pathways, make connections - and have fun.  The baby's parent or other caregiver should always be close by, but should not interfere with or lead the exploration.  Try to stay quiet.  Any comments should be acknowledgements or observations rather than offering solutions, ideas or praise.  This is baby's world, let them lead.  But never leave a baby alone with a treasure basket.

What are the benefits of a treasure basket?

It is amazing to see how baby's curiosity is piqued by a treasure basket and to see them engage and explore the objects, sometimes for up to an hour at a time.  The sensory experience of mouthing, sucking and handling items helps baby learn about weight, size, shape, texture, sound and smell.

Here are just some of the other benefits:

  • Autonomy
  • Imaginative play
  • Promotes early development
  • Fosters learning: properties of materials, cause & effect
  • Baby can explore, discover, experiment and make choices at their own pace
  • All of baby's senses (touch, sight, sound, smell, taste) are engaged

How long can a treasure basket be used for?

Forever!  Treasure baskets are completely open-ended in every sense, so their play value can continue throughout childhood.  The photograph above shows some of the items in our treasure baskets.

Yesterday the cork coaster and make-up brush became stage make-up for a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream our 6 year old was leading, the purple scarf was Titania's cloak, and the round brush was used for cleaning the stage after Bottom had an accident!  (Never work with donkeys!)

The day before the rings had been stacked up as Rapunzel's tower with the pine cone and egg cup becoming a tree for her to climb up to hide during her escape.  The possibilities are endless!  Just keep introducing more objects for variety.

What can you put in a treasure basket?

Safety is paramount as a baby and even a toddler may mouth the items.  As long as the objects are large enough not to be swallowed and are free from small parts and sharp edges, anything goes really.

There should be an emphasis on natural materials and items from nature, rather than man-made, unsustainable materials such as plastic.  See below for a comprehensive list of what to put in your treasure basket.  For babies 6-15 items is sufficient, then rotate them regularly.

You don't have to go out and buy a whole load of new things, look around your home first to see what would be suitable, then pick new items up on your travels.  Oxfam and Traidcraft shops have lots of handmade objects that would be perfect, but don't forget to check out your local DIY or homewares store.

What to Put in a Treasure Basket

Here are some objects that can be included in a treasure basket to encourage your baby or toddler's imagination for some true heuristic play:
  • Avocado stone
  • Baby hair brush
  • Baby food jars securely closed with beads inside
  • Baby socks
  • Baking parchment sheet
  • Ball of wool
  • Balloon whisk
  • Bamboo bangle
  • Bandana
  • Bark
  • Bath plug and chain
  • Beaded necklace or bracelet (check the string is secure)
  • Bean bag
  • Bike bell
  • Bobbin
  • Bottle brush
  • Bouncy ball
  • Bracelet
  • Bunch of keys
  • Buttons on a strong cord
  • Castanets
  • CD or DVD
  • Chain
  • Cinnamon stick
  • Closed tins filled with rice or gravel
  • Cloth napkin
  • Clothes pegs (dolly type)
  • Coasters (IKEA do a pack of 2 cork coasters, as pictured above)
  • Coloured ribbons
  • Cookie cutter (not sharp)
  • Cork
  • Cosmetics brush
  • Cotton reel
  • Cubes and short pieces of wood
  • Curtain rings
  • Cymbals
  • Discovery bottles (plastic bottles filled with materials like colored rice and tiny objects to spot, with the lid glued on)
  • Doilies
  • Dried vegetables and fruit slices
  • Driftwood
  • Drum
  • Egg carton
  • Egg cup
  • Empty salt and pepper shakers
  • Empty tins and lids (check edges are smooth)
  • Empty tissue box stuffed with fabric squares
  • Fabric book
  • Fabric swatches
  • Feathers
  • Felt purse
  • Felted wool balls or circlets
  • Funnel
  • Garlic press
  • Gift bows
  • Golf ball
  • Greaseproof paper
  • Hair rollers
  • Hand bell
  • Hand mirror
  • Harmonica
  • Hats – cotton, velvet or wool
  • Honey drizzler
  • House painting brush
  • Jar lids
  • Jewellery boxes
  • Kitchen sponge
  • Kitchen roll sheets
  • Kitchen roll tube
  • Knitted items
  • Lace
  • Large conkers
  • Large corks
  • Large curtain rings
  • Large rounded pebble or stone
  • Large shells
  • Large walnuts
  • Lavender bag
  • Leaves
  • Lemon or lime
  • Lemon squeezer
  • Length of rubber tubing
  • Little baskets
  • Little notebook with spiral rings
  • Makeup or powder brush
  • Maracas
  • Measuring spoons
  • Metal balloon whisk
  • Metal flan tin
  • Metal pans & lids (IKEA)
  • Metal spoon
  • Mini bean bags
  • Miniature photo albums with pictures of babies or loved ones inside
  • Mirror
  • Mittens
  • Nail brush
  • Napkin rings
  • Natural flooring sample
  • Paintbrushes
  • Pastry brush
  • Piece of knitted fabric
  • Pieces of ribbon and fabric, around 15cm long is ideal
  • Pine cone
  • Plaited willow ring or decoration
  • Pompoms
  • Potato masher
  • Powder puff
  • Pumice stone
  • Puppets
  • Ramekins
  • Rattles
  • Ribbons
  • Rocks or smooth pebbles
  • Rolling pin
  • Rubber ball
  • Rubber duck
  • Scarves
  • Scrunchie hair band
  • Shakers (a bottle containing rice with its lid screwed on tight works well)
  • Shaving brush
  • Shells
  • Shoe brush
  • Shoe horn
  • Shower scrunchie
  • Sieve
  • Silks
  • Slotted spoons
  • Small board books
  • Small bowl
  • Small cardboard boxes
  • Small cloth bag with scented herbs in such as lavender, sage, rosemary or cloves
  • Small drum
  • Small raffia mat
  • Small rag doll
  • Small teddy bear
  • Small watering can
  • Spice jars
  • Sponge
  • Tea strainer
  • Tennis ball
  • Threading beads & string (for toddlers)
  • Tin lids
  • Tinfoil
  • Toothbrushes
  • Toy animals
  • Toy trumpet
  • Tree blocks
  • Triangle & beater
  • Velvet
  • Walnuts
  • Whole fruits and vegetables, such as an apple, a lemon or lime, a small squash or gourd
  • Wooden bangle
  • Wooden blocks
  • Wooden bowl
  • Wooden comb
  • Wooden massager
  • Wooden pegs
  • Wooden spoon or spatula
  • Wooden train
  • Woollen ball
  • Woven baskets

Enjoy making a treasure basket for your baby or toddler, or why not make one as a special gift for a Christening or first birthday?

Pin it:

And don't forget to enter our competitions!