In this blog Lesley Hutchinson, Service Manager for our NEWPIP Service explains why baby toys are not always the best way to help your infant learn and develop.

My background is in early years and child development and I have always had a keen interest in the value of ‘heuristic play’.

A child’s brain goes through an amazing period of development from birth to three—producing more than a million neural connections every second! WOW! These are the connections that build brain architecture – the foundation on which all later learning, behavior, and health depend.

Natural materials (often referred to as ‘treasure baskets’ or ‘heuristic play’) give babies and toddlers the opportunity to explore and stimulate their senses in an open ended way. Unlike toys there is no right or wrong, no pre-set purpose or sequence to follow. The child is free to take their enjoyment from the exploration and the stimulation of their senses as they taste, touch, see, hear and smell the range of shapes, textures, colours, patterns and sounds.

Provide your baby or toddler with a sponge, a wooden spoon, a metal whisk, a piece of leather, silk, a magnet, keys, an orange and let them decide what they choose first. They will learn to reach, grab, co-ordinate, and explore the properties of these objects in their own time and in their own way, creating a rich learning environment where they learn to use their imagination and creativity. They will learn hand eye coordination from picking up and exploring a wooden spoon and passing it from hand to hand in the same way they would with a plastic shape sorter; they will learn about sounds exploring a metal chain in the same way they would with a plastic drum, but they will learn so much more about the textures, the coldness of metal, the roughness of wood.

These experiences provide the opportunity for parents to communicate with their baby in a rich and meaningful way. Talking about and exploring textures, sounds, colours, shapes and smells together creates an open environment in which babies can learn.  A wooden spoon can do so much more than stir the gravy!

Let’s encourage and celebrate individuality and creativity in our children and enable them to make sense of the world in their own way. It doesn’t take a trip to the toy shop to make this happen!

If you have found this blog useful then please consider donating to our NEWPIP Service's appeal to raise money for Treasure Baskets to support their work with parents and babies.

Create your own Treasure Basket using our top tips for Treasure Baskets.