For little ones, a treasure basket is a simple-yet-effective way of offering an alternative to the plastic toys so commonly available.
There is no one right collection, they are a mix of items which can be adapted to suit the child, their needs and the occasion.
Over the years we have given a great deal of thought to what makes a good treasure basket. We start with natural items such as seeds, shells and lots of things made from wood, metal or fabrics, but there is more to it than that.
We try to provide a balance of objects which appeal to the different senses and have a wide range of textures, shapes and movements.
At the same time, we think it is important to ask ourselves what a child will learn from handling an object.
What experience, new or familiar, will it have? What can a child do with it? Because it’s by repeating actions in their play that they begin to make sense of their world.
They start to learn new words, not only names of objects but positioning words like ‘inside’ and ‘behind’, and comparisons of size, such as ‘bigger’, ‘smaller’ and ‘longer’. They begin to make connections and comparisons, and recognise colours and patterns of different kinds.
So, we choose resources which are good quality, fascinating and intriguing but safe, using everyday items and natural materials wherever possible. We try to balance the baskets with things from different categories.
From smell we choose lavender, herbs or spices. From sound we have bells, a rattle and something metal to bang. And from light and colour we have something to see through (peek-a-boo-fabric), something reflective, shiny or flashing, and a range of colours.
We include containers with different fastenings, or which could hold different things – water, coins, seeds – we add things which move with different actions – twist, roll or flex – and we ensure there are things which are soft and fluffy as well as hard or prickly, because the richer the play the richer the vocabulary, and the more powerful the learning will be.
We also add some guidance to explain this, and to show the links to the EYFS.
Treasure baskets are suitable for babies from about 8-9 months who can sit up (possibly propped by cushions) and grasp securely. As they play, these babies ask themselves ‘What is this? What is it like?’, and then… promptly put it in their mouths!
Toddlers, on the other hand, want to know ‘What will it do?’, and then later on ‘What else can I do with it?’.
The collection in the basket needs to reflect this, and fit the physical, mental and developmental skills of the child. So you need different collections for babies and toddlers.
By about two years the toddler is developing language and making connections. Again, what goes in the treasure baskets can feed that curiosity and development.
By this time, they recognise colours, patterns and can put together pairs. They recognise shapes, and can put them together to build. Their fingers are nimble and they can thread beads, put rings on hooks or throw balls more accurately.
For this stage of development our collections stimulate and encourage that progression, and focus more precisely on ‘the senses’ or general ideas of early numeracy.
We also have collections of brushes, spoons or containers with the potential for all sorts of talking points and exploration. Children will use items from baskets and loose parts in their imaginative play.
Fir cones, shells, wood slices or dried seeds become loads for lorries, food for dolls, artworks and buildings, treasure for pirates or secrets in a purse.
Some collections have things which are all the same, others have a range of shapes, sizes or colours. All this helps to develop their ideas through heuristic or discovery play, both indoors or out.
Treasure baskets not only offer a lot of opportunities to help children learn through play, they also provide an effective way to support catch-up learning or practise of a second language – for any age.
They suit small-group play or individual sessions when a child needs particular help.
Home visits, hospital learning and support for those with problems all benefit from good-quality and interesting collections. This learning is not bound by ability, culture or background situation, but can be universally applicable.
Good-quality treasure baskets and collections sit very comfortably within the EYFS, and offer opportunities for children to work individually or together. They capture the child’s interest – which is the essential starting point from which to learn. The rest is child’s play.
Curious Fox Company 3 times winners at The Teach Early Years Awards have been involved in making up Treasure Baskets and Collections for over 15 years now.
We specialise in making treasure baskets for children in their early years, eager to find out more about their world and for adults who are keen to stimulate their learning and development through play, to give them a good start in life.