Amy Beth

Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Treasure Basket Fun

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I’m sitting in the living room, watching Charlie as he moves haphazardly between toys, picking one up, putting it down, getting something new out of the toy drawer, banging a couple together…you know, normal baby play behavior, when he goes over to the shelf, reaches his hands up and says “blah.”
That’s his word for everything in the world. It generally means he wants something.

I look up to see what he’s pointing at and say, “Do you want your treasure basket?”

He grins, and stomps his feet around a few times (that’s his happy dance) and toddles over to a clear spot on the rug. He’s ready for some serious playtime.

I put the treasure basket down on the floor next to him and he gets busy. He starts pulling out the contents of the basket, metal serving spoons, plastic cups, a turkey baster, a ribbon… He spends some time with an empty pirouette cookie tin and some decorative balls made out of twine and rope and straw. He’s seeing which ones he can fit into the tin, then he shakes them around to make noise. He spends more time like this, tapping objects together, fitting things inside other things, stirring and shaking and rolling. It’s fascinating to watch all the ways he finds to play with these random objects we call “treasure.” I sit back and marvel at the baby brain.

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I mentioned last week that one of our Advent activities is a Christmas treasure basket. But treasure baskets aren’t new to our home. Charlie has had one for many months now and it has proved to be a steady source of entertainment for him.

A treasure basket by it’s simplest definition is a basket full of odds and ends that a baby might find interesting. If you want to get more technical, it’s a basket full of odds and ends meant to encourage heuristic play – in other words, exploring the properties of objects through the five senses. If you think about it, babies engage in heuristic play all the time. Everything they come in contact with is examined with the eyes, fingers, nose, ears, and of course, mouth. It’s how they learn about the world around them. A treasure basket is a just a way to be more intentional in giving them items to explore that give a variety of experiences through those five senses. They are common playthings in homes and childcare centers that draw from the Montessori method of education.

But despite its lofty, academic-sounding background, treasure baskets are incredibly simple to put together. There are just a few guidelines to keep in mind.

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Guidelines

###Safety
Obviously whatever you choose should be safe for the baby to play with. We only get the treasure basket down when a parent is able to sit and play with him on the floor, which allows us to put a greater variety of things in the basket that we wouldn’t normally let him play with under less watchful supervision. But even then, some things that we have included in the past have proved to be too tempting to stick in the mouth and have had to be removed.

###Variety
The purpose of a treasure basket is to give your little one a chance to play with items that are not made of the typical plastic of most baby toys. You want to include items made of a variety of materials and textures. Try wood, metal, fabric, or clay. Find things that make interesting noises, or have interesting smells.

###Age-appropriateness
Treasure baskets are generally most interesting to babies between 6 months and 2 years of age. But I’ve found that you might use different items for those ages. A 6 month old is probably content with pretty simple objects that they can touch and shake, but I’ve found at this point Charlie enjoys objects that give him a little more to think about, like boxes that open and close, or pegs that fit into holes.

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##Where to get treasure basket items

###The junk drawer

Some of the most interesting things can be common household items. Many kitchen tools, containers, or pans can be quite fun. The craft closet can be full of materials with interesting textures. Even a set of old spare keys or a small pack of post-it notes can do quite nicely in a treasure basket.

###Your backyard
It’s great to include natural materials in the treasure basket if possible. Think pinecones, seed pods, small stones or pieces of bark. These all have great new textures, and in some cases, even nice smells.

###The dollar store
I have recently come to love our local Dollar Tree. This store is chock full of potential treasure basket items, all for just $1! Items in a treasure basket will be thoroughly explored, and possibly crushed or torn or destroyed. You don’t want to spend a fortune on whatever goes in there.

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The treasure basket has been a great toy to have at the ready. We probably only get it out about once a week, so it maintains some novelty. We also rotate out the contents every now and then to give Charlie new things to explore. As a result, the treasure basket can keep Charlie occupied and happy for long stretches of time – an amazing feat for a one year old.

##Other Resources

How We Montessori has some posts describing different treasure baskets she’s made for her children. Including a very simple one made for her 4 month old!

The Imagination Tree also has some great posts on a variety of treasure baskets, including a really nice explanation of heuristic play.