Treasure baskets are thought to promote accelerated learning in early years. Early Years Update describes the benefits, as well as explaining the key elements of a successful Treasure Basket

Very young babies are dependent on the adults who care for them to provide a wide range of interesting multisensory experiences to support the healthy development of their maturing brains. Treasure Baskets are an ideal way to provide these experiences. A Treasure Basket is a collection of interesting natural and reclaimed resources and household objects put together to give a baby a safe yet intriguing range of objects to explore.

The collection of objects in the Treasure Basket offers a baby the opportunity to make choices about:

  • what to select
  • whether or not to pick up an object at all
  • when to do so
  • for how long.

As originally conceived by Elinor Goldschmeid, they are designed to be used by non-mobile babies, from the stage they can sit up comfortably until they are old enough to move around. The resources in the Treasure Basket collection engage very young children’s curiosity, prompt them to explore using their sense of touch, taste, sight and hearing and to answer the question, ‘What is this object like?’

A Treasure Basket session is a quiet focused time, organised at the right time of day to ensure that the babies are comfortable, happy and alert. The timing of the session will vary, but it is important to be flexible and to timetable it to suit the moods of the babies and not the routines of the setting. The session will last as long as the babies are interested in exploring the resources – the greater the variety of objects in the basket the longer the session is likely to last. To get the most out of your Treasure Basket plan to have it out every day rather than only once or twice a week.

Practical ideas
Ideally the collection should contain between 80 -100 different objects made from as wide a variety of materials as possible. These should be presented to the baby in a round wicker basket approximately 30cm diameter and about 12cm high. A basket of these dimensions is large enough to hold the collection but is also very stable and unlikely to be tipped over by a baby exploring its contents.

Different children will be interested in different objects so the key to creating a good Treasure Basket is to include as wide a variety of resources as possible.

Use natural materials such as stones, shells, pine cones, driftwood, pieces of bark, twigs, raffia, lemon, pumice stone, gourds, natural sponge, large seed pods, loofah, sheepskin, piece of leather, piece of fur.

Add household objects such as, wooden spoons, metal spoons, spatulas, whisk, pastry brush, nailbrush, bunch of keys, length of chain, measuring spoons, bell, bangle, tea strainer,
small purse, bean bag, door stop, small metal bowl, shoehorn, hair roller, glass stopper, coaster, nutcracker, garlic press, clothes peg, lemon squeezer.

Elinor Goldschmeid was keen to avoid any plastic in her Treasure Baskets but you may want to consider adding some interestingly textured plastic resources.

Make sure the objects are of a suitable size to be manipulated by small babies. Too large and the babies will become frustrated, too small and the objects may present a choking hazard as the babies explore them with their mouths, lips and tongue. A ‘choke tester’ is a small plastic device built to mimic the dimensions of a baby’s throat, and is widely available to buy online. If the object is too large to fit in the choke tester it shouldn’t constitute a hazard.

Treasure Baskets can be used with an individual baby or with two to three babies sharing the same Treasure Basket collection. They should be seated close enough to the basket to be able to reach the contents easily and have clear space around them to discard objects removed from the basket.

The adult should sit close by and observe closely, but not interfere. The adult can offer reassurance through gestures and body language, but this is a time to sit back and observe closely rather than trying to direct the activity that is taking place.

By observing closely while a baby is exploring the objects in a Treasure Basket, the practitioner will be able to learn a great deal about his or her interests, skills and dispositions. You can use these observations to build up a picture of the baby as an individual. Share your observations with the baby’s parents and use the knowledge you have gained to plan what to offer the baby next to engage his or her curiosity and extend his or her learning and development.

  • Links with EYPS Standards: S8, s10, S12, S14, S15, S31
  • Links with Ofsted SEF: 3, 4b, 4d, 5i

This e-bulletin issue was first published in March 2010

About the author: Linda Thornton and Pat Brunton are early years consultants, trainers and authors and edit Early Years Update