Heuristic play can be described as playing with, investigating, and exploring ‘objects’ (as opposed to toys which are purpose made). It involves a number of objects and receptacles that the baby can explore, touch, and handle. Through this play they make sense of these objects and find out what they can do – for example, a ball may fit into a box, but not into a small cup. This kind of play engages all of the senses, and allows young children to make sense of the world around them, taking decisions which affect their surroundings.

The adults role in heuristic play is to calmly observe the child, without interfering, keeping a watchful eye. It is also to facilitate this play, providing the child with enough space and time to explore in a calm environment without distraction (between 30 – 60 minutes for a child Frida’s age).

Central to heuristic play is the “treasure basket” of objects for the child to explore, which will evolve organically over time. For Frida’s heuristic play we have a bigger basket which we keep in the sitting room rather than with her shelves in her playroom. The idea behind this location is that if she had access to this basket at all times, she may quickly grow bored of exploring it. This way the basket is inviting and interesting, and she explores the contents in a location different to the one where she does most of her “work”. As she is working on her gross motor skills at the moment and is trying to crawl we give her a yoga mat to work on as it’s less slippery than our wooden floors.

Montessori heuristic play
Montessori heuristic play

Currently in her basket there is: an egg box, jars and jar lids, two small kilner jars filled with silver sugar balls and red rice, a paper cup,  a silver kiddush cup, two small glass ramekins, a silver spoon, a heart shaped cardboard chocolate box, a clothes peg, a  food bag clip, a whisk, two sensory balls, two chiffon scarves, a bauble, a CD, a wooden spoon, some glittery gold paper, a wooden bread stamp, some keys, a small cardboard box, a silicon necklace, and a wooden mushroom. I usually also add a clementine or lemon but as these get nibbled quickly they are in and out of rotation!

I have just picked items we had in the house, but I would like to add some more natural items such as a nail brush, shell, avocado stone, and a sea sponge. I am also going to add a mirror as she loves them, and some more fabric materials.

I love sitting and watching her carefully selecting objects to remove, lost in concentration. It is so interesting watching how her preferences for certain objects evolve too – she currently loves the clothes peg and silver spoon and will focus on these almost every time, turning them over and looking carefully at them.

The joy about this activity is that it will keep a baby engaged for a long time, and it is free to assemble as (safe) household items are perfect. What materials do your children enjoy exploring the most?

Posted by:Eloise R

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