Heuristic Play for Babies

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 heuristic play

Heuristic play for babies. Have you heard of it? The idea is rather simple; “heuristic play” is all about letting kids interact with household objects without intervention from adults. Think: kitchen ladles instead of plastic phones and wooden napkin rings instead of battery-operated cars.

Our girls play with plastic toys, of course! But Nate is especially good at improvising and seeing a “toy” in just about anything. Long before we ever heard the term “heuristic play,” our baby was drooling on a wire whisk, drumming with a wooden spoon, and a shaking a rattle made out of linked carabiners.

Heuristic Play for Babies

But now we know there are other people out there who share our play-related way of thinking. We’ve followed their lead and put together an actual box of items for our baby (7 months) to explore.

Right now our box includes such things as a:

  • Wooden train whistle
  • Spice jar filled with lentils
  • Cardboard spool 
  • Felt heart
  • Wooden book (from our friends in Switzerland!)
  • Wooden rattle (from Guatemala! My Favorite!)
  • Wooden duck (carved by Nate)
  • Soft baseball
  • Toothbrush
  • Napkin Ring

Household Toys for Babies

Everything is textured, tactile, naturally colorful, and visually interesting. And none of the items remind me of the usual mass-produced, commercial toys.

Baby Z has been playing with her box while I read to her or fold laundry. I don’t bring it out every day, because I don’t want it to lose its appeal. But when she does lose interest, it’ll be easy to refresh! I can simply wander around the house and pick up new “toys.”

I also hope to exchange boxes with my friend Melissa. She’s a (most-excellent) preschool teacher, her (adorable) baby is one month older than ours, and she’s also the first person to introduce me to the term “heuristic play.” (We’ve also been getting together to pray for each other and our families every other week. That’s currently the coolest thing about our friendship, in my opinion.)

Her baby’s box includes a:

  • hairbrush
  • gift bows
  • CD
  • tambourine 
  • strainer/sieve
  • large rock
  • shiny box
  • egg separator

Heuristic Play Collage

Let me state the obvious: not all of these “toys” are safe for kids to play with unsupervised! I mean, really? Do you think I’d leave that rattle/dowel rod in my baby’s crib? She could choke or poke her eye out! But I’m happy to watch her shake it and beat it like a drumstick whenever we’re hanging out and playing together. 

I have a few heuristic play ideas pinned on my “Baby Play” board on pinterest. Also, The Imagination Tree is a great blog with tons of “treasure basket” ideas!

17 thoughts on “Heuristic Play for Babies”

  1. Pingback: Heuristic Play for Babies on hands on : as we grow
  2. I came over from Hands On: As We Go. What lovely post about simple and intentional play! I teach art classes for all ages and the moms are always so worried about the tools/medium being used the “right” way. It’s wonderful to just watch how a baby or young toddler processes the world around them…if we grown-ups just get out of the way! Thank you for sharing! ~Allison @ missallisonart.com/blog-my-26-hour-days.html

    1. Allison–thanks so much for stopping by and for taking the time to comment! (I tried to click on your blog, but my computer gave me malware warnings. Weird.) Anyway, yes! Watching my little ones discover new things on their own is one of my favorite parts of parenting! 🙂

  3. I have never heard of heuristic play for babies, but it seems like such a smart thing. When my oldest was a baby, any time he picked something up that wasn’t a toy, I would say to myself, “Is it okay for him to play with that? Will he break it or destroy? Does it matter if he destroys it.” I tried to let him play with the things he wanted to, which was hard sometimes, but now, he plays with lots of things even when he doesn’t have “toys.”

    1. I sometimes have doubts, too! (No, baby, you can not play with my car keys or wedding ring!) But I imagine real “toys” are a modern thing, right? I mean, how many generations before us had the kind of abundant access to toys that we do now? That kind of blows my mind! 🙂 Thanks for dropping by and for taking the time to comment!

  4. What a great concept! I have a 7mo daughter and I can’t wait to put together a heuristic play basket! I’m going to do it right now in fact (after checking out your Pinterest board). I have noticed that she tends to love ordinary items much more than her regular toys. I also listed this post in my Links I Love This Week post.

  5. Pingback: 100 Days of Play Challenge | NateandRachael.com
  6. Thanks for your comment on my blog, Rachael! I figured I would write back on yours because I don’t have the “subscribe to comments” feature on my blog yet so I wasn’t sure if you would see my reply. I would love to swap baskets too! Too bad we are so far away. My daughter was born in early September so it looks like our babies are only about a month apart. I subscribed to your RSS feed so I can keep track of all of your great ideas!

  7. Ah yes. I never knew there was a name for it but in my day it was the Tupperware drawer full of lids and small Tupperware containers. Also the strainer and wooden spoons. Cardboard boxes never went to waste either and who doesn’t appreciate a good set of keys in a pinch?

  8. My 9 month old doesn’t play with his baby toys. He’s just not interested in them. Instead, I have given him things like you describe above. One of his favorite things to play with is a plastic drinking cup. Some things I need to keep an eye on him with, but others are just as safe. He also like to play with my 3 yr old’s toys. Some are suitable and others I have to take away for small parts, but my 9 month old is easy to satisfy.

  9. As a mom of ‘all grow up kids’ this is interesting to me.

    My kids climbed in to the base cupboards, made forts out of encyclopedias (yes, I am THAT old) and couch cushions. Used a cardboard box to slide down the same hay-field hill they sledded on in the winter. They played in the back yard on “air plane rock’ – can you guess the shape of the boulder :D.

    Please let your children color out side of the lines, they will learn so much more.

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