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The Value Of Treasure Baskets

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    In a world of commercial plastic noisy toys which children get bought an abundance of, the treasure basket is a real joy like no other item your child will have.  It's like the cardboard box as opposed to the contents - children will play with a box for far longer than they will the toy inside which I expect you have seen before. Treasure Baskets will make a huge impact on a child if they are introduced, offered and developed sensitively.  Babies can explore treasure baskets from the time when they can first sit up, propped by cushions for steadiness. At this stage babies at "rooted at the spot" and often get frustrated by their inability to reach the things they see. They are learning fast and need to be stimulated.

    Treasure baskets for babies can contain collections of objects that are usually natural or made form natural materials, such as rolling pins, fir cones, feathers and fruit.  There is new evidence that young children respond more intensely to natural materials and more muted colours rather than the bombardment of colours and manmade materials.  These natural materials enable babies to explore textures, taste, smell and sound of objects, not just the look of them.  Once you see a baby engrossed in a treasure basket, you will realise the power the activity has.  Babies learn initially through their senses and giving them a wide variety of items to feel, suck, see, listen to and smell helps their brains to make the necessary connections and offers intense but flexible opportunities to learn. The Early Years Foundation Stage [EYFS] document states that practitioners should: "Provide a range of objects of various textures and weights in treasure baskets to excite and encourage babies’ interests." It also directs practitioners under the EYFS heading Problem solving, reasoning and numeracy to:  "Provide a small group of the same objects in treasure baskets, as well as single items, for example, two fir cones or three shells." So for a baby we are able to indentify lots of learning areas, holistically,  that would otherwise be difficult to observe.  When we observe a baby at a treasure basket we can also assess their development across several other areas including physical, cognitive, emotional and communication. Whilst the baby is having an enjoyable experience, the parent or nursery practitioner can learn an enormous amount about the baby.

    During treasure basket play the adults should be attentive, but should not intervene, except to ensure the safety and maintain social contact with the baby.  It is recommended that adults DO NOT participate in the Treasure Basket sessions, even to start play off.  The object of the activity is to explore the contents of the basket in his/her own time, without adult interference.  If he/she decides to spend half an hour exploring the qualities of a wooden spoon, then this is his/her decision.  At this age, babies need to maintain some eye contact and what Elinor Goldschmied describes as "friendly company and emotional anchorage".  This means that far from being ignored, babies have the chance to be independent in their play, often engaging for long periods with the items in their basket, and secure in the knowledge that an adult is nearby.

    Adults are sometimes anxious that babies will hurt themselves or others with the items in the basket, some of which are hard or heavy.  It is worth remembering that a baby who can just sit, while they can grasp and lift a heavy object such as a smooth stone, they are unlikely to be able to hurt themselves or others with it!

    As the babies become more agile and dextrous, you should review the contents of the basket and the growing competencies of the child to ensure that the children do not damage themselves or others as they explore. ALWAYS supervise treasure basket play and never leave a baby or young child alone with the contents.  Feathers and pine cones, being in their natural state, can break off and choke a child if not supervised closely.


    Treasure Baskets are particularly good for identifying children's schemas, so practitioners could support children's learning with relevant collections of objects to support schemas they observe in their group.  Treasure baskets are also a wonderful resource for children with Special Education Needs [SEN] as there are no predicted outcomes or pressure on the child when exploring the contents. They can really benefit from treasure baskets and those with profound difficulties often demonstrate strong schema and identifying these can provide a real breakthrough in meeting their needs. Gentle adult assistance may be required in exploring the contents of the baskets, which can be put on trays for wheelchair use.

    For more information on suggested contents of treasure baskets ask your baby room practitioner or email: 

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