Treasure Baskets

13 09 2011

Having looked after children, including my own, for the last three and half years I’ve been having to find things to do with very young children for a while now. And whilst it’s not that hard I think many people feel they’re not doing enough with babies. When people are at home they can often feel at a loss with what to do with babies between the feeding, sleeping, nappy changing, tidying and packing for a trip to music classes! In the case of BBL I don’t even really get the sleeping…

Once babies are sitting then a “treasure basket” becomes something which regularly engages babies for long periods of time and can be very cheap to put together. The term was defined by Elinor Goldschmeid (if you want to research more about them) and involves collecting natural items into a low basket for babies to explore. During the first year a baby is developing an understanding of shape, taste, texture, spatial awareness, their physical capabilities and they don’t need fancy toys to make it happen. I love toys – they’re my second biggest weakness after books – but from a babies perspective a household object is as interesting as a toy. The over engineered lumps of plastic have tried to sell a solution to parents but I think they often miss the point of textures. Why create toys with extra plastic rings and flaps and rattles and squeakers with texture on when you can explore interesting textures using real objects? You’ll probably have introduced a baby to real objects anyway without thinking about it – spoons, keys, shoes and muslins will have all allowed a baby to feel more than just painted wood or plastic. BBL is quite obsessed with chewing shoes (not good when LBM comes back from Nanny’s house with chicken pooh in the grooves of them) but he seems drawn to the natural rubber on them. An example of why treasure baskets work and how babies explore their world by chewing things.


Creating a treasure basket is easy with a few simple rules and you need to remember your baby will chew everything in them whilst kicking the bits they discard with their feet.1. Include a wide range of natural things – wood, leather, shell, stone, fabric,  metal, paper or cardboard, rubber, fruit (a lemon or orange for babies to play with is fine. Once they have teeth you’ll need to make sure if they manage to bite any off it’s not choking size.) It’s against the concept to include man made items but old CDs make good safe mirrors.

2. Look to have around 50 to 80 items. That may sound like a lot but spoons don’t take up much space and having several of the same type of item is good for developing mathematical understanding.

3. Don’t keep it out all the time and rotate some of the items adding new things and taking away things that don’t get much interest.

4. Make sure it’s safe and that anything with seeds (like pinecones) have had them removed. Things that fit down the neck of a bottle are too small and things made of paper that disintegrate with the addition of baby saliva aren’t robust enough.

Mine includes spoons of different sizes, old perfume bottles with the lids glued on, bracelets, items from the kitchen like pastry cutters, metal cocktail shakers, silver cup, pestle and mortar. There are also natural rattles like a gourd I found in a charity shop and I filled a bottle with those inedible silver balls for trifles which makes a loud sound. Ribbons, bells, felt squares, old chocolate boxes, unpainted wooden toys, brushes and heavy ironmongery. Don’t be afraid of putting hard and heavy things in as babies don’t often manage to swing things hard at themselves when sitting down. Older children may need to be discouraged from swinging heavy things but as a treasure basket isn’t aimed at them it might advisable to use it when they’re not around. Introduce items to appeal to the sense of smell too – vanilla or lemon extract on a cloth. I sewed cardamon pods and kaffir lime leaves into outgrown socks for my smell sachets. I also filled a couple of socks up with different items like beans or bottle tops because they make good sounds.

Find whatever you can that babies can explore and mouth and then sit back with a cup of tea and watch what they do. The first time you try it you’ll be surprised at how long they can stay engrossed and you just need to be there to support them if they find something to their liking or not to their liking. BBL and his cousin spent a long time exploring or discarding items in the pile and I got to sit down for more than five minutes. Treasure those moments!


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