Jul 31, 2023

The Power of Heuristic Play

Jane Magnani
Jane Magnani
The Power of Heuristic Play

Babies, toddlers and children are born with an innate drive to explore, play and discover. Through their natural curiosity, they learn about themselves and the world.

Heuristic play is a concept that taps into the innate curiosity of young children and has been gaining recognition for its profound impact on their development. In this blog, we will explore what heuristic play is and how it benefits the overall growth of our little ones.

The History

The history of heuristic play can be traced back to the 1970s when the psychologist Jean Piaget proposed that children learn through exploration and experimentation. However, it was in the 1990s that Elinor Goldschmied created the term 'heuristic play'.

Goldschmied was an early years teacher who had observed that young children are naturally curious and enjoy exploring their environment. She developed the concept of heuristic play to encourage this natural inclination to learn.

Understanding Heuristic Play

Heuristic play encourages children to engage with different materials and objects in an exploratory, sensory and imaginative manner. Derived from the Greek word 'heuristic' (to discover), heuristic play focuses on developing children's natural inclination to investigate and uncover the world around them. 

Heuristic objects are intentionally chosen for their sensory properties, versatility, and ability to be manipulated and explored in various ways, making them open-ended.

In its simplest form, heuristic play will be a basket of everyday objects or loose parts in a place where your little one has enough space to move around freely and safely. As your little one explores different things and materials, they will practise some crucial skills, such as: 

  • Cause and effect

  • Grasping

  • Releasing

  • Banging

  • Manipulating

  • Covering

  • Sorting

  • Reaching

  • Balancing

  • Lifting

  • Transporting

  • Posting

  • Stacking

  • Handling

  • Filling

Babies, toddlers and children of all ages can benefit from the power of heuristic and open-ended play.

The Benefits of Heuristic Play

Heuristic play offers children an invaluable platform for holistic development, allowing them to learn, grow, and thrive in a way that is both enjoyable and meaningful. By embracing the power of open-ended play and providing children with the freedom to explore and discover, we empower them to become curious, creative, and confident individuals.

Stimulates Sensory Development 

Heuristic play offers an array of tactile experiences, allowing your little one to explore different textures, shapes, sizes, and weights. This supports the development of sensory skills, helping them to make sense of the world through their touch, sight, sound, taste, and smell.

Develops Motor Skills 

Exploring various objects during heuristic play helps your little one to develop fine motor skills and hand-eye coordination. As your little one is holding, twisting, stacking, and assembling objects, they strengthen the small muscles in their fingers, hands, and wrists, developing dexterity, precision, and control.

In addition, as your little one sits, stretches, crawls, moves, etc., they use their core muscles, helping strengthen them too.

Promotes Cognitive Growth 

When your child engages in open-ended play, heuristic play, they engage in problem-solving, logical thinking, and cause-and-effect exploration. The freedom to experiment, manipulate objects, and decision making will allow them to experiment with how things work, learning from their trial and error, fostering problem-solving, imagination and promoting independent thought and creativity.

Fosters Emotional Well-Being and Independence

Play is a natural way for young children to communicate, express themselves, and regulate emotions. Heuristic play encourages independence, curiosity, and self-confidence, providing a safe and open space for emotional exploration, self-discovery, and expression.

Enhances Creativity and Imagination

Because heuristic play involves open-ended and non-specific objects, children are free to use their imagination and create their own stories and scenarios. This fosters creativity and helps to build an imaginative world where anything is possible.

Supports Language and Communication Skills

During heuristic play, children will naturally begin to talk about what they are doing and what they are discovering. This provides an excellent opportunity to support their language and communication skills and to help them build their vocabulary and improve their speech. 

By commenting on what they are doing and describing the objects they are using, the shapes, colours, textures, etc., you are providing your little one with new words and sounds, expanding their vocabulary and communication skills.

Encourages Social Interaction 

When Heuristic play takes place in group settings, children can interact, collaborate, communicate, and negotiate with their peers. This social interaction helps develop their social skills, empathy, and an understanding of sharing and taking turns.


Treasure Baskets

The use of Treasure Baskets can simplify the concept of heuristic play. 

To make the most of this playtime, choosing a specific theme for the basket items can be helpful, ensuring that everything is related in some way. This approach also makes it easy to adjust the theme to suit your child's age and skill level. 

In addition, by providing your child with a basket of toys they can easily access, you'll help them develop their curiosity and independence through play. Some great ideas for themed baskets include:

High-contrast treasure basket

Babies find the contrast between black, white and red really stimulating.

A heuristic basket containing objects of just these colours can spark their interest and be visually exciting.

Include some black, white and red things; these could be pieces of material, objects, clothes – anything you can find!

Wooden Basket

This is as easy as it sounds. Just select loads of wooden items. Include objects such as wooden spoons, pegs, sticks, and wooden blocks.

Things that smell!

The more multisensory the objects are, the better. This deepens the children's curiosity and their sense of excitement when interacting with the objects.

Some great 'smelly' objects include lemons, limes, grapefruit, herbs, or scented bags.

Temperature Baskets

Temperature baskets will help your little one experience different temperatures teaching about the world and enhancing their tactile experiences.

Gather objects that are cold and others that are warmer, for example, wooden spoons, metal spoons, cotton wool, metal lids etc.

Noisy Objects

Things that make a noise are great for exploring and excellent for developing the children's senses of listening and attention.

This leads to their communication and also lays the foundations for early literacy and phonic development.

Some good noisy items include crinkly paper, foil, bubble wrap, squeaky toys, keys, shakers, etc.

Metal Basket

Raid your kitchen, and you will find interesting objects for the treasure basket!

Some great metal items include ladles, spoons, pots, pans, bowls and any other pieces of metal you can think of.


Boxes! Children love posting things, putting things inside boxes and then taking them out! This exploration is a fantastic opportunity to learn concepts of cause and effect and object permanence. Gather different sizes and shapes of boxes, some with lids and provide other size objects for them to play with and post in their boxes. 

There are many other treasure baskets to create! Have fun creating many different ones to ignite and enhance your little one's independent play.



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