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Heuristic Play

Please read the safety notice for Heuristic Play

Babies and toddlers have a natural curiosity for exploring objects which interest them. Young children enjoy ‘finding out’ about objects, what can be done with them, and how they can be manipulated. Once a discovery is made, such as one object fits into another or an object makes an interesting sound, a child will often repeat the action several times, encouraging concentration, cognitive skills (helping the brain to make connections and develop) and hand/eye co-ordination.

Elinor Goldschmied and Sonia Jackson coined the term heuristic play to describe providing children with the opportunity to find out about objects and what can be done with them

Heuristic play is a way of offering a group of children a range of objects to explore freely, with little adult intervention. This type of activity is particularly useful in encouraging young children to engage in an activity for more than a few minutes! The term heuristic is derived from the Greek word ‘eurisko’ which means ‘serves to discover or gain an understanding of.’
Provide children with opportunities to explore objects thoroughly. This is how young children collect the information needed to identify and later name objects

Providing for heuristic play

Collect a range of natural and ‘found’ everyday objects that stimulate all the senses. Ensure there are large numbers of each object to avoid conflict over sharing items. These can be presented in bags, boxes or tins or simply piles on the floor. For non-mobile but sitting babies or young children present items in baskets with low sides-hence the term ‘treasure baskets’. The basket/bag/box should be sturdy and not tip over easily.

They could contain:

Natural objects
‘Found’ everyday objects made from varying materials such as wood, metal, leather, fur, textiles and rubber:
Treasure baskets could contain a wide variety of objects or could be themed, for example:
• Wood
• Metal
• Sounds
• Sense of smell

Make full use of all the different types of baskets so children have maximum discovery opportunity!

The objects can be provided at very little cost- lots of them can be found in the home. How about asking parent’s/carers for help in collecting household and natural items- explain the theory and share the benefits of heuristic play!

The adult’s role

‘Heuristic play is an approach and not a prescription. There is no right way to do it and people in different settings will have their own ideas and collect their own materials’ (People under Three, page 130)

Settings may choose to provide for heuristic play in different ways, using different objects. The important element is that we are providing opportunities for exploratory play- a very significant part of young children’s development. Heuristic play is great fun- enjoy it! 

Examples of Heuristic Resorces
London Borough of Ealing