Monday, 19 June 2017

Treasure Baskets for Babies, and why we enjoyed having one

This is a photo of the ACTUAL treasure basket I made for our last baby.  It had more things added as time went on, but this is what I started out with.  I looked for natural items (leather, cane, wool felt, wood), different textures, sizes and weights.  I imagined what it would be like for a baby to feel in their mouth - would it be warm, cold, fluffy or smooth.  It was great fun putting it together, and took my mind off morning sickness!

So when our baby arrived, and was around 5 months old (I think), we showed him the treasure basket one quiet afternoon.  We kept the items as "special" things to explore so they didn't get boring.  Most babies want to do things, and it can be hard for a sibling (or parent!) to know what to do with the baby at "play time".  They can roll on the floor with the baby, sing or clap hands, look in the mirror, blow bubbles for baby - AND sit quietly and let baby explore the treasure basket. 

The benefits to baby are HUGE - lots of tactile fun, figuring out sizes, shapes, tastes, noises etc; feeling secure with you beside them; learning they can explore new items by themselves without being shown "what you have to do" ... and more.

Our 2 year old just recently came across an item that we'd had in his treasure box.  He hadn't seen it for a long time.  The familiar and respectful way he picked it up looked as if he was saying "Hello old friend - I know you from somewhere!"   ❤❤


The following information comes from notes I have gathered from various places - but mainly from a wonderful book called:

by Anita M Hughes 

Check this book out from your local library, or request on interloan (or purchase it) for more information.

NB  All the GORGEOUS photos I have included in this post come from the internet.  


The three stages of play with objects

The way in which babies and very young children play with objects goes through three stages, which are very clear and distinct. However, when new material is introduced, a toddler or older child may revert to mouthing it before more sophisticated exploration or imaginative play takes place.

Approximately 5 – 10 months

When a seated baby at the mouthing stage is offered an object to play with, the predominant interest is: 'What is this object like?'

Approximately 10 – 20 months

When the baby becomes mobile and is able to explore how he can make objects interact with his environment, the predominant interest is: 'What can I do with it?' and 'What else can I do with it?'

From approximately 20 months onward

As the child begins to develop the use of language and he begins to understand the function of objects, the predominant interest is: 'What can this object become?'

What is the Treasure Basket?

The Treasure Basket is a unique approach, which was pioneered and developed by Elinor Goldschmied. In this approach the adult offers a seated baby (who cannot yet move independently) a range of natural, household and recycled objects, contained in a rigid, low-sided round basket, for exploration and interest … The objects in a Treasure Basket can be described as 'food for the brain' as every new sensory experience makes the brain grow and become more active. The greater the variety of objects, the greater the mental stimulation and satisfaction for the baby. However, the value of the objects will only be realised if the caregiver is sitting comfortably nearby, attentive and responsive to the baby's needs, interest and safety.

Five aspects of learning

  1. Involves having secure and loving relationships.

  1. Involves the balance between anxiety and curiosity to promote confident and responsible action.

  1. Is about playing, taking risks and putting in effort.

  1. Is about making mistakes.
  1. Needs an appropriately stimulating environment.

Encouragement versus pressure

'encourage' – to give (someone) the confidence to do something; to stimulate someone by approval or help.

When babies and children feel safe and secure, they need no active encouragement as such. It is their natural instinct to play and socialise. Babies and young children get their encouragement from feeling safe and secure in their relationships, so it is important to build those first. It also means letting the child know that you are there for them, love and care about them, and very importantly, will not rush them. Encouragement also comes from trust.

Encouragement can feel like pressure when there is a deadline involved, like being rushed to complete some play activity before lunchtime or to say goodbye to a parent. Similarly, it is easy to inadvertently put children under pressure when they have to fit in with our 'planned activities' or when we 'take over' a child's interest. 

What is play?

Play is spontaneous self-chosen activity, whch is at times riotously carefree and, at others, earnestly careful. Play is also about sustained thinking, being creative and imaginative and engaging in vibrant energy … If children are asked to do something and they act out of obedience (even if it is called play) then they are not really playing. They are participating in a directed activity. However, this can turn into play the moment a child starts to do what he wants.


Children intuitively know that learning is about effort and doing for its own sake. They deomonstrate it to us by their determination to master simple tasks, which, for them, are new and tantalising. They are constantly setting themselves challenges. On the one hand, they move heavy objects about, like furniture or heavy bags and boxes, and yet, on the other hand, carefully sort out fine objects like beads or tiny pebbles at the seashore. They demonstrate powers of concentration and a level of perseverance that many of us lose before we reach the age of ten. Adults unwittingly kill off the natural learning instincts in young children by interference, too much assistance, constant criticism or simple lack of patience.

When fear of failure creates a barrier to learning

A competent learner is someone who allows himself to be totally immersed in the activity, process or experience for its own sake. A competent learner feels secure in his relationship with others.
However, it is the fear of failure, which becomes the barrier to learning when a child (or, indeed, an adult) focuses their emotional and mental energy on worrying about what someone else might think of him if he did fail. The child is not able to fully engage his energy in the activity for its own sake (whatever the outcome) because he is more focused on the response of someone else than on the enjoyment of the activity. Failure becomes associated with fear.
There is the fear that someone else might be disappointed with you, mock or humiliate you. There is the fear that someone may tell you off or disapprove of you. Even worse, there is the fear that you might be ignored altogether. So, instead of enjoying the learning experience for its own sake or for the possiblities it might offer, the child becomes distrated through the fear of failing to satisfy someone else.
In my 28 years of being an educationaly psychologist and working with children with special needs, I have found that, whenever there has been a concern about a child's learning, that child has shown strong feelings of fear of failure. This can come across in various ways, such as stubborness or cheating, refusal to try new things, repeated requests for reassurance from trusted adults, tearfulness, destruction of whatever has been created and so on. Sadly, the primary difficulty, which may be a sensory impairment, dyslexia or a syndrome (such as Down's or Asperger's), becomes secondary as the new primarly learning difficulty becomes the fear of failure.

Plastic is dull and disapointing

When a baby's hands are large enough to hold a rattle and put it in his mouth, he discovers that, although rattles may look different, one plastic rattle tastes, smells and feels very much like another.
To our adult eyes, the rattles are bright and fun, because we are choosing them for their appearance. However, the baby is primarily using the senses of touch, smell and taste to explore and find out about the characteristics of the rattles. For him, the rattles soon become limiting, dull and disappointing. It is rather like being offered baked beans on toast for breakfast, lunch and supper every day of the week.
We often forget that, until a baby can move about independently, he is marooned in one place and is very much at the mercy of the people around him in terms of what he will be given to play with and explore.

Exercise to try

  1. Select a number of objects with very different physical characteristics. Here are some suggestions:
  • a large pebble
  • a leather purse
  • a chain and plug
  • a pine cone
  • a new (unused) shaving brush
  • a small glass vanilla essence bottle
  • a fresh lemon
  • a toothbrush

  1. Place all the objects in an open dish or small basket. Select the objects one at a time, feeling them individually in your hands, with your eyes shut. In this way the dominant visual sense, which is usually key in forming our judgements, it taken away. For example, supposing you picked out the toothbrush and first of all 'looked' at it. Maybe the thought, 'What an odd/inappropriate object to give a baby' might cross your mind or 'That reminds me, I must buy some toothpaste later today!' could intrude and distract you.
These thoughts are simply judgements and questions, reflecting into the past and
projecting into the future. There is nothing wrong with them, but they get in the way of
experiencing the essence of 'toothbrushness'.

  1. Instead, take the toothbrush and close your eyes. Allow your fingers to explore the strange, uneven shape of the long hadle, some of it smooth and slightly warm in the hand. Notice the strange rubbery ridges at the bottom of the handle end and enjoy the 'ticklish' sensation of the bristles. Are the bristles stiff? Do they spring back in your fingers as you flick them? Notice the rigidity of the handle and compare it with the flexibility of the bristles. Is the toothbrush heavy or lightweight? Just notice how it feels in your hand. Does the toothbrush smell of anything? Maybe, if its a clean, but used, brush, it has the traces of a minty smell? Notice how you are feeling about this object. Does it trigger any emotional response? Maybe its comforting, maybe it produces a sense of agitation or urgency, or it may even feel repulsive to you.

  1. Continue this exercise with the rest of the objects. When you have finished, you will probably have gained some sense of the 'ness' of the objects, whether it is 'stoneness', 'shellness', 'woodness' or 'glassness'. This is precisely the experience the baby has when exploring objects with his hands and mouth.

The benefits of being able to manage one's fears responsibly

It is good if you are able to identify the source of your anxiety (about any objects) and to understand there is a physiological reason for your emtional reaction. It helps you to be able to consider your fears rationally. Then you can think and talk through the possible benefits of offering such objects to a baby.
For example, glass is deliciously cold, when first handled. It is smooth to touch, with interesting bumps and ridges, like the screw top rim or other 'hallmark' base. You can see through it and its transparency catches the light and sparkles in the sunshine. Sometimes it even reflects the rainbow spectrum of colours. Even the cylindrical shape, with the narrow neck, offers wonderful satisfaction for handling. There is so much sensory richness to a simple little bottle, which can all too easily be perceived as a threat and rejected.
The greater the variety of objects on offer to a baby in a Treasure Basket, the richer and more stimulating it will be.

Communicating our anxieties to babies

The strength of the relationship which caregivers share with babies is connected to love and 'emtional attachment'. This attunement is never one-way. As we pick up the emotions of the babies and adjust the way we resond to them, so they do with us.
If there is an object in the Treasure Basket that causes you anxiety, you will inadvertently communicate that anxiety to the baby. This may be expressed as an extra sense of vigilance or a sinking feeling that 'something' might happen. The focus is less on being in tune with the baby's delight, apprehension and more on managing your own emotions of distrust, anxiety and tension.
What then happens is that the baby picks up your anxiety (even though he does not understand it) and responds ith an element of distraction. The play loses its spontaneity, its free-flowing, but concentrated attention and pleasurable satisfaction and becomes rather more awkward and unsatisfactory, because the baby is now tuning in to your feelngs. He then may even begin to associate the negative feelings he has picked up from you with the objects in front of him. He begins to form the most primitave type of pre-verbal judgement.
Similarly, if you feel comfortable with, interested in and confident about the ojects in the Treasure Basket, you are giving the baby 'permission' to feel the same. He will not consciously understand this, but he will be developing attitudes and a relationship towards his environment, namely, that it is fine to explore and be curious.
It is therefore of paramount importance to examine your own level of trust and confidence, both in the relationship you have with the baby, and with the objects you offer as playthings. Learning is most potent when there is mutual satisfaction between caregiver and baby in the experiences that are shared.

Playing with the Treasure Basket is a 'non-social' activity

Although an attentive adult is always present, when a baby is playing with objects in the Treasure Basket and the baby may copy or reach out to another baby nearby, the activity is fundamentally non-social. This is because the baby is gaining pleasure and satisfaction from expoloring the objects for their own sake.
The pleasure is not dependent on another person in the form of an interaction, such as when playing a 'peek-a-boo' game, tickling or feeding. It is the objects themselves which provide the source of intereste and not the way someone else uses the objects. Indeed, if an adult handles the objects with a baby, the play changes into a social form of play. While this is not 'wrong', it needs to be recognised that the play is different and the qualities described and the way the baby learns with the Treasure Basket will be less potent.

The Treasure Basket and choice

The question is often asked about whether it is too overwhelming for a baby to be given such a large choice of objects in a Treasure Basket (between 80 and 100). The answer is definitely no! Babies have absolutely no difficulty about being offered a large range of objects if they have:
  • the choice of which ones to select for themselves
  • the choice of whether they pick the objects up or not
  • the choice about when to pick up any objects
Objects from a Treasure Basket are only overwhelmingif the adults takes charge and hands the baby objects, dangles them in front of his face, tickles him with objects and generally intrudes on the baby's 'space'.
It is the large variety of objects all in one place in a Treasure Basket that actually stimulates curiosity and interest. We often forget that, until a baby can more about independently, his choices are limited to what people around him will give him to play with.

The Treasure Basket facilitates conceptual learning

Through the repeated handling of a variety of objects, babies learn many abstract concepts, which are not apparently to most adults. Adults often simply see the ojbects as being put in the mouth, fiddled with, moved about, shaken, banged against other objects or dropped.
Babies learn a range of concepts to do with the physical qualities of objects, such as coldness, smoothness, heaviness and prickliness. They also begin to recognise that some objects are rigid and others move about between their fingers. They notice that some objects are hollow and others are solid. They experience the transparency of glass and the reflective nature of shiny metal. They experience the fact that some objects change temperature as you hold them and some do not. The temperature of glass and metal in one's hands changes very quickly, whereas wood, cork or fabric does not change very much. A baby discovers that some material has a strong scent, such a leather, rubber or a lemon, whereas the scents of wicker, bristle or stone are less potent.
Children who have had the experience of handling, mouthing and experimenting with objects understand these complex concepts long before they have the language to express them or the maturity to use and manipulate them. Indeed, language can best be learned through direct experience.

How to create a Treasure Basket

The Treasure Basket comprises a suitable basket and a collection of between 80 and 100 different objects to put in the Basket. It is not a static piece of play material, as objects may be replaced (when worn or broken) and the collection can continue to grow over time. Every collection will be unique. The collection of objects in my own Treasure Basket was started nearly 30 years ago and has not only been a source of pleasure to many babies, it has also become, for me, a catalogue of memories and generosity.
Here are some guidelines when purchasing a Treasure Basket. The Basket should be:
  • round in shape
  • be made of wicker or some other natural material, which has no 'sharp bits'
  • have rigid sides
  • be 30 cm in diameter
  • be 12 cm in height
  • be flat bottomed and have no handles

Making the collection of objects

It is often said that the most difficult part of introducing the Treasure Basket into a nursery setting or your home is making the actual collection of objects … there is often the disappointment of finding perhaps only half a dozen or so appropriate materials after an exhausting shopping expedition, with a daunting 80 or more objects to collect. There have been many people who have given up collecting after about 20 objects, but then feel dissatisfied with the end result. The babies' intererests have not been sustained and the rather empty-looking treasure basket is then only occasionally used.
You will be richly rewarded for your efforts if you stick at this task, even if it takes a surprising number of months to create a stimulating collection of about 80 or so objects. What you will find is that, whenever or wherever you are shopping, you will find yourself looking at moderately small objects with new eyes.

Some ideas for Treasure Basket objects

Natural objects
  • shells (various types)
  • pine cone
  • loofah
  • large pebbles (various shapes)
  • pumice stone
  • sheepskin (10x5cm piece)
  • grass rope
  • coconut shell
  • a lemon
  • an orange
  • sponge
  • avocado pear stone
  • piece of fur (10 x 5 cm piece)
  • piece of driftwood
  • gourd

Objects made from wood
  • curtain ring
  • spoons (various)
  • coaster
  • door wedge
  • block
  • bracelet
  • napkin ring
  • egg cup
  • ball
  • dowel
  • light pull
  • dolly peg
  • empty salt or pepper cellar
  • small turned bowl
  • spatula

Objects made from metal
  • bunch of keys
  • bangle
  • egg cup
  • buckle
  • curtain ring
  • napkin ring
  • egg poacher
  • drawer handle
  • spoons (various)
  • tea strainer/sieve
  • whisk
  • powder compact
  • plug and chain
  • silver ashtray
  • ornament
  • heavy chain
  • nutcracker
  • lid
  • small bowl
  • candle holder
  • lemon squeezer
  • key rings linked (10)
  • bell
  • set of measuring spoons on ring
  • ornament
  • chime bell
  • jingly bells joined together

Objects made from leather and textile
  • leather wallet/purse/spectacle case
  • fabric wallet/purse/spectacle case
  • coloured ribbons
  • leather key ring
  • bag of herbs
  • lavender bag
  • velvet powder puff
  • piece of flannel and ther fabric off-cuts (12 x 8 cm)
  • bean bag
  • juggling ball
  • small teddy bear
Objects made from rubber
  • ball
  • large eraser
  • coaster
  • soap holder
  • door stop

Objects with bristles
  • paintbrush
  • pastry brush
  • bottle brush (various sizes)
  • shaving brush
  • toothbrush
  • small shoe brush
  • nailbrush
  • make-up brush

Objects made from glass and marble
  • egg
  • incense stick holder
  • ornament
  • vanilla essence bottle
  • lid (e.g. decanter)
  • place name holder
  • small mirror (for make-up)

Objects made from other materials
  • hair roller
  • woollen ball
  • golf ball
  • cane bag handle
  • raffia mat
  • small ceramic pot
  • champagne cork
  • small basket
  • large button (5cm)
  • scourer

Management and storage of the objects

The Treasure Basket itself is not only an excellent container when presenting the collection of objects to a baby, it is also an ideal method of storage as well. However it is advisable to cover the basket with a cloth if it is to be stored on an open shelf (rather than in a cupboard) to keep the objects dust-free.
When making the collection of objects, it is important to check that each object is in top-quality condition, especially as the recycled or natural objets will be unique, with the possibility of imperfections, such as sharp edges, loose fragments, etc. Newly manufactured objects should be perfectly safe, but they need to be checked, nevertheless, and cleaned before use. Indeed, all objects should be cleaned before they are placed in the Treasure Basket.
When objects begin to get tired (for example, the bristles of a brush are beginning to come loose or a sponge is flattened) or broken, then they should be removed and replacements provided. In this way the collection of objects will always be safe, as well as attractive, for exploration.

How long

Ideally, it is good to offer a session lasting between 40 minutes and one hour. However, even a short session of 15 minutes will have plenty of 'play value' and takes very little time or efford to arrange.


You should find a quiet area, which is not part of a thoroughfare with people walking about. It needs to be a space where there is a comfortable soft-furnished chair for the adult and carpeted floor for the babies to sit on. It is a good idea to provide supporting cushions for the babies so they feel secure as they reach into the basket for objects. The carpeted space does not need to be more than two square metres in size.
However, it is important that this space is protected from the intrusion of toddlers or older children, who may inadvertently tread on the babies or be tempted to 'borrow' some of the objects.

How often

Ideally, the Treasure Basket should be offered to the babies on a daily basis. However, as it is so important for the atmosphere to be calm and the caregiver quiet and attentive, it is better to miss a day if there is unexpected disruption or changes to routine (which create uncertainties for the babies).

Being an attentive facilitator

Facilitation is, by definition, an 'easing of the way'. The caregiver is not teaching the baby about the physical characteristics of objects or how to concentrate. By being attentive to the baby's emotions and intentions, the caregiver is supportive, responsive and unobtrusive so the baby is freely motivated to learn these things for himself. This might involve accepting the baby's offer of an object to you, exchanging a smile or gently retrieving an object that has rolled out of the baby's reach. One needs to develop the art of 'alert stillness', which means being observant and attentive without intrusion or distraction.

Providing an atmosphere of trust

It is important that the caregiver has a secure and positive relationship with the baby, so the baby has a secure base from which to reach out, explore and enjoy the objects, knowing and trusting that the adult will be there to keep him safe.

Management of materials

It is the responsibility of the caregivers to make the collection of suitable and varied objects and to make sure they are cleaned and replaced (when necessary) to keep them in top-quality condition.
Much emphasis is placed on the importance of adult-child interaction in the early years. One tends to think of this as involving the adult 'talking' to the child. While this is certainly the case for much of the time, it is not so at the Treasure Basket. The interaction is more subtle (than talking), as has been described in the previous paragraph. However, it is important that the caregiver does not carry out a conversation with another adult at this time, because of the required attentiveness will be all but lost.

The importance of sitting comfortably

Unless the adult is comfortable she will not be in a relaxed and alert state to be fully attentive. In addition, if the adult is not comfortable, the babies will not be really relaxed or comfortable either.
...Unless you can relax in an upholstered chair (or large bean bag) which supports your back, you will either find yourself noticing and being distracted by your physical discomfort or you will be moving about to alleviate it (and causing a disturbance) or missing something in the children's play. In the long run, you are storing up back problems for yourself. Your comfort is an essential part of a successful Treasure Basket session.

No comments:

Post a Comment