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Treasure baskets

treasure basket ideal for object play
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Treasure baskets

treasure basket ideal for object play
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What are treasure baskets?

treasure basket is really a very simple concept. Basically, they are a collection of objects in some sort of container, which your child can explore.

Handling and playing with a wide variety of objects from a young age is strongly linked to developing skills like problem solving abilities in adults. Experimenting with objects, rather than being shown what to do with them, results in a deeper understanding of objects, their potential, and of the world around them. Object play is hugely important for development and treasure baskets are great for this.

Yes, really, letting your kids play with a range of fairly normal items can actually help them develop better life skills as adults. 

treasure basket ideal for object play
treasure basket ideal for object play
treasure basket ideal for object play

Importance of play

This TED talk from Stuart Brown is a fantastic introduction to the importance of play.

The benefits of treasure baskets

Babies and toddlers engage in a huge amount of sensory play and exploration as they begin to make sense of the world around them. So, exploring a treasure basket with your child engages them in an important type of play. Playing with your baby or toddler is also a great way to build your connection. 

Sensory play and exploration

Before we start, let’s talk about something parents often worry about; babies putting things in their mouths. Pretty much anything a baby picks up they will put to their mouth. There is a really important reason for this. Feeling something with their mouth gives very different sensory information to feeling it with their hands. They aren’t really tasting it so much as using what’s called the “oral tactile sense”.  They’re giving it a mouth feel.

Actually, it’s worth trying this yourself. Do you have anything to hand you’re happy to touch with your tongue?

Feel the object with your hands. Notice what it feels like. Now, feel it with your mouth. Notice how different the sensory experience is. Fabrics demonstrate this really clearly.

 When you do this you can really recognise the difference in those sensations. Babies are actually engaging in full body research and experimentation. So, keep anything really disgusting or dangerous out of the way. However, stop trying to stop the inevitable! (Please supervise your baby, toddler or young child with objects they may place in their mouths to minimise any choking risk . Do not leave children unattended with items that may pose a risk. Instead explore these together with your baby/toddler.)

Baby play behaviours

Babies love hands on exploration. Objects that seem uninteresting for us can fascinate them for ages. They are learning the skills to handle objects smoothly. Perfecting grip and manual dexterity takes years. Play behaviours you can expect to see from a baby engaging in object play include:

  • picking the different items up, and, often dropping them
  • passing the objects back and forth between their hands, or to you.
  • rolling the objects around, pushing them, or even throwing them
  • they are likely to try stacking items
  • babies often enjoy putting things in and out of the basket
  • they are likely to bash objects together, this creates a noise, but also sensory feedback through their hands

Simple treasure basket play ideas for babies

Talk about it

  • Feel the objects together. Describe the texture.
  • Name colours as you look at objects.  This gradually helps babies create concepts and vocabulary.

Reciprocal games

Try some simple reciprocal games. This can be really basic stuff, for example:

  • passing or rolling an object between you.
  • Mirroring what your baby does with an object, developing a back and forth of copying each other’s actions

These games support babies to develop non-verbal communication skills, and support parents to recognise their baby’s cues. This form of playing where you are both really attentive to each other is known as attunement play or together play.


Relationships between objects

Explore how the objects can interact with each other.  Another simple but valuable form of play. 

  • If your basket contains some fabric you could use it to wrap some of the smaller items.
  • Put items inside one another things inside another thing.
  • Stack the objects
  • If you have something with holes in can you thread the fabric through the holes?

All of these will help to your baby understand materials, how they behave and their potential, and they will be developing their fine motor skills at the same time!

felt balls treasure basket item

Treasure basket ideas for toddlers

Increasing complexity

As your little one grows and develops the range of play increases. They will still engage in object play and enjoy reciprocal games you can still use your treasure basket for object exploration and reciprocal games. These will increase in complexity and they will start to use words to communicate about the various objects too; how they feel, what they look like, whether they like or dislike the texture and so on. But there’s so much more toddlers can do with treasure baskets too. 

Introducing imaginative play

Toddlers may begin to use the objects for role play, narrative play and imaginative play too. For example, if you have a scrubbing brush, you could, of course, pretend to clean. However, you could also imagine it’s a bristly hedgehog! Where might that hedgehog go on adventures? 

You could use the items to create scenery or a habitat for storytelling. It can be useful to add some animals or figures that can represent people for children at this age. 

Through stories, or narrative play, and imaginative play, children learn to process emotions. They also start to build the foundations of empathy.  They immerse themselves in their imaginary worlds and try out different ideas working through different scenarios.

Exploring their interets

As toddlers develop their treasure basket can be used to support their interests. If they show an interest in a certain type of object, you could add some of them to allow them more freedom to explore them. If you notice they are enjoying rolling a ball around in the garden, you could add things that roll, for example, small metal cars, a soft ball they can use indoors, corks, or cork surface protector mats,  sturdy cardboard tubes, or even beakers.

Building familiarity

You could also introduce items that you would like your child to become familiar with so they can explore them through play. This can help to make them less scary.  For example, a medicine syringe, or a woolly hat ahead of the weather becoming colder. You could add unfamiliar items they might encounter at preschool, or a collar and lead before taking a friends dog for a walk.

There are a variety of ways to put a treasure basket together. What you fill it with is entirely up to you. You could buy a ‘pick your own treasure basket’ like the ones available in the CalmFamily shop.  You could also make your own from items around your house, or items that you specifically buy or collect for your treasure basket. Scroll down for our ‘how to’ guide to creating your own treasure basket.

Creating your own treasure basket

Creating your own treasure basket can be a very simple and cost effective way of creating one. 

Looking for everyday household objects from around your house that you’re happy for your baby or toddler to play with is a completely free way to create your treasure basket from things you already own. 

You can scavenge for natural found objects on a walk.Objects such as pine cones, sticks, acorns, and stones can be really lovely, free additions. If you are going to use these with a small baby, just be mindful of the fact that they will almost certainly put them in their mouths.  That might not be what you want to happen with something that they’ve picked up off the ground. 

Buying specific individual items to add to your basket works too if you want to add things that you don’t already have or can’t easily find and keeps costs down if you just need a couple of things.

Buying a treasure basket

Buying a ready made treasure basket can be a really good starting point. You’ll have a collection of curated objects that’s ready made and completely dedicated to this purpose. It it for your child and they know that everything in it belongs to them and is absolutely allowed to be played with.

You can always add to it the treasure basket over time, or modify the contents as your child develops and their interests change.

Buying a ready made treasure basket can be a good way to separate what items are for playing with and what’s for using around the house. For example you might not want your child to play with the sponge that you’ve used for washing up. 

When it comes to natural objects, while it might be nice to go exploring and find your own, this isn’t for everyone. The range of objects you can pick up on walks depends on where you live, so selecting a basket with a range of natural materials can  be more practical than scavenging.

There’s also something to be said for buying an item that you know is clean, has been properly dried, and is unlikely to go mouldy or be germ ridden!

Buying a ready made basket Buying something ready made can often work out cheaper than buying your own individual items. Retailers get a discount for buying in bulk that you will then benefit from.

treasure basket ideal for object play raffia star
treasure basket ideal for object play bamboo slices
treasure basket ideal for object play silk leaves
treasure basket ideal for object play jointed snake
treasure basket ideal for object play
treasure basket ideal for object play pine cones
treasure basket ideal for object play slinky
treasure basket ideal for object play nail brush wood
treasure basket ideal for object play voile scarves

Creating your own treasure basket

You can put pretty much anything you are happy for your little one to handle into a treasure basket. However, here are our top things to think about to help you to create a valuable resource. This is handy whether you are selecting items in our pick your own treasure baskets, or making one from scratch.

1. Variety of materials

Select a range of items that are made from different materials.

Try to include wooden, plastic, metal, fabric, and  natural objects and so on so your child can explore a wide range of both natural and manmade materials. Silicone can provide a really interesting texture.

For metal items you could add a teaspoon, a curtain ring, some large nuts and bolts or a metal egg cup.

For wooden items a nail brush, a wooden spoon or spatula, clothes pegs or lollypop sticks.

Fabric could be a tea towel, a scarf, a fabric placemat, a handkerchief or a hair scrunchy.

Plastic items could include anything from small plastic animal figures to plastic cups, synthetic flowers to bottle brushes.

For natural objects, sticks, stones, natural sponges,  a loofah, pine cones, conkers, shells and acorns can make great additions.

2. Texture


Think about the textures of the items; rough, smooth, hard, soft, fluffy, prickly, squashy. This will give your child a diverse range of tactile experiences to explore. 

Fabrics are a great way to add texture, something knitted or crocheted will feel very different to a cotton hanky or silky scarf..

Smooth stones contrast with a rough piece of tree bark. A small stuffed toy, a plastic animal, a squishy ball and a spiky bottle brush all feel very different.

3. Sounds

Include things that make different sounds. This might be  a small maraca or bell: objects that are designed to make noise. Alternatively it could be things  that just happen to make sounds. For example, crinkly foil, rustling fabric, or hard or hollow objects that make different noises when tapped.

4. Colours

 Having a wide range of colours will instantly make your treasure basket more engaging. 
A mix of natural tones and bright colours is ideal.

5. Size

Safety: Think about the size of the items, if your treasure basket is for a small baby avoid things that might break apart, or carefully supervise them with these objects.  For babies anything that could be put entirely into the mouth and cause a choking hazard should probably be left out.

Handling skills: have a variety of sizes and shapes. Things they can grasp and scrunch with a fist. some things that they can hold easily in one hand, and some that they will need to use both hands to manipulate.

6. Remember, they will put this in their mouth

These items are almost certainly going to end up in your child’s mouth, don’t include anything that you aren’t happy for your little one to lick and chew!

Buy a treasure basket

We have a  range of CalmFamily treasure baskets available to buy in our shop. Select from a 10, 15 or 20 item basket. Choose your items,. Wait for your treasure basket to arrive.  You can also buy a 5 item top up, without a basket, if you want to add a few items to your own treasure basket.

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