Our Youngest Children’s Play: Treasure Baskets and Loose Parts Play

March 31, 2020

At Our Monkey Club we understand the need for children to experience real, everyday items for the development of their understanding of the world.  Without the opportunity to feel metal, glass, rubber, cardboard, wool, wood and many other materials how a child cannot understand the different properties they hold.  How do they understand that metal is often cold and then warms when you hold it, but wood often remains room temperature or that some small stones are heavier than other large fabric bags?  If everything is plastic with rounded edges and in bright colours, is this representative of the world the child has entered?

Therefore, we prioritise natural resources that enable heuristic play.  Utilising a ‘Heuristic’ approach in play is to support the process of using experience to learn, discover and improve problem solving by experimental and trial and error approaches.  Using natural resources that are inherently unique and irregular enable children to recognise slight variations and utilise the resources without a pre-set plan in place for them.  The child can engage with the resource in any way they wish and there is no goal other than that they set themselves.  With a manufactured toy, often the purpose of the play is predefined.  Examples of predetermined play are often when manufactured toys support a clear cause and effect pathway such as press that button for the item to pop up, slide the car down the ramp or push the ball through the hole for the lights to flash.

This type of exploration and investigation underpins the development of all three characteristics of learning.  It enables children to express their preferences, set their own goals, choose the purpose of their own play, and attend to things for as long as they are interested.  Often babies cannot maintain their involvement and attention for long but with a well-designed treasure basket, they may surprise you with how motivated they become!

Loose Parts Play

When a child becomes more mobile, they will not usually sit at a treasure basket for prolonged periods of time as their key motivation will be physical movement.

Therefore, progression to loose-parts play enables a child to explore their new found mobility while moving items, placing them in containers, down tubes and exploring many different types of transporting.

As children show patterns in their play from very early, schemes of repetitive play become apparently quickly in loose parts play.  So instead of it being inconvenient for your child to hide your keys in your shoes, it becomes appropriate for a child to fill a tube with stones and feathers and then pour these into a bowl or sort them into a cupcake tray in individual sections. 

In this way, they can explore mathematical and scientific concepts simply through handling, moving and placing small items.  Filling a tube with pinecones right to the top and then lifting this up and seeing all the pinecones left on the floor and holding an empty tube supports the development of an understanding of:

Concepts

  1. Capacity: Full, empty and how many it takes to fill something
  2. Containment: How a tube with two openings at either end cannot hold items
  3. Gravity: that once dropped into the tube the cone will fall until it reaches either the bottom or the top of the pile of cones and that once the tube is lifted the cones will remain on the floor
  4. Shape: The tube will hold the cones with a cylinder shape but once removed, the pine cones will fall into a pyramid shaped pile

Understanding how to set your own goal, achieve that goal or problem solve when faced with difficulties; investigate whatever they are interested in; and express creativity, all support the development of the skills children need to learn to be able to learn. 

How to design a good Treasure Basket:

Any Google search will provide you with a wide range of ‘rules’ for developing a Treasure Basket.  There are also some commercial, highly priced versions for those so inclined, but the key points are:

A wide round basket made of natural materials with ridged low sides and no handles.

A range of natural objects using a variety of materials including smell, touch, sound and visual stimulus.  You can even do taste .

Provide consistency and observe favourite items to maintain familiarity and enable consolidation of understanding

Provide change and new items of interest and possibly follow up with items with similar but slightly different properties to favourite items

Favourite items are often wooden spoons, metal whisks, shells, pinecones, scrubbing brush, sponge, loofah, leather coaster etc…

 

Examples items for loose parts play

Containers:

Baskets, Cake trays, Mug trees, Seedling trays, Cardboard tubes, Boxes with holes, Metal tins, , Bottles, Plant Pots, Glass Jars

Loose Parts:

Pebbles, Corks, Pegs, Shells, Chains, Pinecones, Wooden rings, Bracelets, Feathers, Pom Poms

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