Explain the principles of heuristic play

Qualification: NCFE CACHE Level 3 Diploma for the Early Years Educator
Unit: Unit 3.1: Understand the value of play in Early Years
Learning outcome: Understand different types of play for all children
Assessment criteria: Explain the principles of heuristic play


Heuristic play is based on the idea that children learn more effectively when given real-world objects to interact with, rather than toys. It focuses on providing a variety of sensory experiences and encourages exploration and discovery.

The Treasure Basket Activity

The Treasure Basket activity is designed for babies and small children.


Parents, carers or Early Years practitioners provide 60-80 objects in a ‘treasure basket’, which should vary in terms of type, size, shape and texture. This can include items such as wooden spoons, rubber balls, feather dusters, plastic bottles and silk scarves – the idea is to provide an array of sensory experiences for a child to explore. Of course, all items should be cleaned and disinfected beforehand, and there should not be any small objects that a baby could swallow.

The child should then be allowed to explore the items freely without adult intervention (although adults will be observing/supervising nearby).


Heuristic Play for Toddlers

For toddlers, the Treasure Basket activity should be modified slightly by adding more objects that can be manipulated in different ways. This might include using containers so that children can put smaller objects inside them or several similar or identical items they may wish to group or stack.

The Benefits of Heuristic Play

Heuristic play can help children develop problem-solving, fine motor control and creativity skills. It also allows children to explore the properties of different objects and materials – for example, they may learn that metal objects are usually cold to touch.


Finally, it gives children a sense of control and autonomy as they can choose which objects to play with and how to use them. This can help develop their independence and confidence.

Overall, Heuristic Play is an effective way of encouraging early learning in babies and toddlers. By allowing children the opportunity to explore different materials, shapes and textures through play independently, they can gain a better understanding of their environment while developing important skills.

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