We’ve all heard the age old adage of ‘give a child a present and they’ll ignore it to play with the box’. I’ve definitely seen it in practice, where i’ve spent all night making fancy shiny resources to use in class, and then the children find some empty boxes and my fancy,shiny station is left half empty all day. It’s fantastic to witness.
Kids naturally seek out sensory experiences as a way of understanding the world around them and Treasure Baskets are a fantastic way to provide opportunities for such play. But what are they?
What are Treasure Baskets?
Treasure Baskets are a collection of items that will provide a sensory experience for children. Treasure Baskets are about discovery and exploration, as well as developing concentration, motor skills, decision-making skills, and helping children work out their likes and dislikes. Treasure Baskets are usually made from natural objects with a mix of textures, colours, materials, shapes etc.
- Place the basket close to your child so they can reach each object and move things around easily
- Pick a time when they are well fed and alert – their enjoyment will last longer.
- Whilst it’s really an experience for them to indulge in by themselves, it’s important to be close by so you can step in if they need help.
- Change and move the items around in the basket to keep the activity fresh. We have lots of different basket ideas below that you can use to create new interest in the activity.
- Check the basket regularly to ensure all of the items are still intact and not dangerous for your child to play with
Ideas for objects for your Treasure Baskets:
- Wooden rings (can use curtain rings)
- Wooden Dice
- Small mirrors/mirrored objects
- Dried fruit/potpourri type materials
- Leaves – try a mixture of fresh, dried, and skeleton leaves
- Wooden hand massagers
- Key rings/clips (use the plain metal parts)
- Wooden pegs
- Slinkys or springs
- Natural bristle brushes
- Ladles, spoons
- Shakes and rattles
- Smelly bags with spices, herbs, etc in
- Different sizes of the same wooden shape
- Brown paper
- Greaseproof paper
- Silver Foil
- Different textured fabric: denim, cotton, felt, shiny/silky fabrics, stretchy fabrics, leather scraps.
- Wooden spoons
- Paper shreddings
- Pine Cones
- Soft emery board/buffer
- Furry toy
- Small blob of wax/tea light
- Buttons and beads (make sure they’re threaded or in some way protected from swallowing)
- Smaller boxes to open and crush such as soap boxes
- Soft hairbrush
- Foam / cut off of a pool noodle
- Small test patch of knitting or crochet
- Netting (the net bags that your oranges come in are always a favourite in treasure baskets/discovery boxes i’ve made)
- Small twigs
- Pom poms
- Kitchen scourers – not too rough!
- Small, smooth stones (again, be careful of choking)
- The spatulas with the rubber scraper at the end make great beaters and kids love bending the rubber end back and forth in my experience, as well as scraping it along the box
- Toilet paper tubes/cardboard rolls/cellotape tubes
- Sticky back paper
- Sieves and colanders
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- Loofahs or shower puffs
- Plastic bottle caps
- Coins and play paper money
- Ice cube trays
- Scarves or another long piece of fabric
- Magnifying glass
- Hair rollers
- Pipe Cleaners
- Egg boxes
- Un-inflated balloons
- Soft sandpaper
- Cotton Wool
- Metal cake/muffin tin or use the silicone ones for different textures and sounds
- Different coarseness’ of string and wool/yarn – textured yarn is really fun
- Laminated items make a different sound and feel different – try things that otherwise would break up easily or that you aren’t comfortable for them to put in their mouth if they were bare.
- Empty cotton reels are great for winding and threading items around and through, and they roll as well
- Cookie cutters
- Coconut shell
- Orange Peel/Fruit Peel
- Dried beans or peas
- Seed packets
- Bean bags
- Potato masher
- Shower cap
- Carpet samples
- An old remote control with lots of buttons can really interest a child – just make sure the batteries are taken out!
- Old gift-cards are good for slotting through gaps
- Corrugated card board or textured paper – wrapping paper or something with shiny or embossed features adds extra interest
- Small jars
- An old wallet gives the child opportunity to open and close, use a zip, and slot things in – the ones with lots of slots and pockets are most interesting
- Empty plastic bottles
- Pill boxes/organisers have great little spaces for children to put things in and opening and closing the lids in great for motor skills. Just make sure to get a new, clean one.
Swapping around the items regularly ensures your child has a good selection of objects to explore and promotes wider development and understanding.
Does it have to be a basket?
Of course not! Use a cardboard box, wicker basket, fabric tub, biscuit tin, or even put it all in a bag if that’s what you have on hand. As long as it’s safe and easy for your child to use and fits all the objects, go ahead and use what’s available.
Lots of people ban plastics from their treasure baskets, and while I understand the principle behind it, I think it’s more about being selective and deliberative with your choices of plastic objects. I think, for example, that empty plastic bottles can provide a lot of exploration for children by crushing, banging, unscrewing, feeling, blowing into, and filling the bottles with other smaller objects.
Of course the nature of treasure baskets mean you can customise it entirely to your and your child’s preferences, so get creative!
SUPER TIP: If it’s a hot day, try putting the basket in the fridge or freezer for awhile before play to add an extra sensory element! I discovered this by accident and it was really interesting to see their reaction.
You can also make a focused baskets around a specific theme:
- Let’s Make a Noise Treasure Basket @ Precious Play
- Reflective Basket, Wood/Natural Basket, Noisy Basket, Textile Basket @ The Imagination Tree
- Colour Themed Baby Treasure Basket @ The Imagination Tree
Find out more about Treasure Baskets:
- The Little Book of Treasure Baskets // Ann Roberts and Sally Featherstone This is the book that the tutor that led our Treasure Basket course recommended.
- Treasure Baskets and Heuristic Play // Sally Featherstone
- What’s all the fuss about heuristic play? @ Under5’s
What would you put in your Treasure Baskets?
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