If you’ve got a little one who is just starting to be more active and taking in more of the world around them - you might be thinking - well now what?
What can I give you to play with? You are probably searching instagram hashtags or googling ‘Baby Play Ideas’.
As a first time mum I totally understand. Your baby is starting to notice more and they seem to be growing faster than ever, oh and they may even be rolling, commando crawling or sitting - and they want more to explore.
Let me introduce you to a Discovery basket - a fantastic go to activity for little ones between 6 and 18 months - AND beyond!
If you don't have time to read the whole blog now here's a quick video overview on Instagram.
What is a Discovery Basket?
A discovery or Treasure Baskets are a soft, shallow basket filled with interesting items for your little one to explore! The items inside the basket can vary in texture, shape, size or colour - they can include almost anything and can be totally random objects or relate to each other.
When choosing a basket you really want one that has a wide opening, this will allow for independence and ensure that your baby can easily explore the items inside.
I love discovery baskets for little ones as it sparks their curiosity! They are also fantastic for encouraging independence, offering your baby the experience of making choices and they are great for little ones to practice their sitting.
Okay, so now you know what a discovery basket is - you're probably thinking, maybe I can set this up for my little one? And you absolutely can and I’m here to give you some inspiration!
When my son was 6 months old I set up his first discovery basket and it was a basket of fruit. He wasn’t quite sitting but this was more about the language and sensory experience of discovering fruit. We had just started solids and he was noticing more and more when we were preparing food in the kitchen. Now if I gave the fruit discovery basket to him now he would not use it in the same way - he would absolutely try to bite a chunk out of the fruit; which is perfectly okay because he has learnt that food is to be eaten. However this is not the intention of the discovery basket and this is why choosing items to fill a treasure basket can be so important.
Alright, lets get into the fun part now!
What can I put in a discovery basket?
There are so many possibilities when it comes to filling and choosing items for a discovery basket and I’ve included a few of my favourites below.
I’ve broken them up in to age ranges to make it that little bit easier for you. Please note that as each little one is different this is just a guide - when choosing items to include, choose ones that you feel comfortable with your baby discovering and play under supervision.
When choosing items to include in your discovery basket I always touch an item and think to myself ‘would this be interesting to discover’ - if your answer is yes then put it in!
For a younger baby, I would only include a few items - 4 or 5 to start with (you can always add more) but for an older toddler I would fill the basket with up to 20 items to discover.
Also remember that these are just ideas of what you could include in a discovery basket but a random assortment of household items and toys is always well enjoyed too.
What Basket should I put the items in?
There is no right or wrong basket or bowl to use as a discovery basket but I would reccommend something low and not too deep so children can easily see what's in there and not have to reach all the way in and dig around, fruit baskets are a great size for this!
If your little one is learning to sit or crawl I would reccommend a soft basket.
Once mine were about 9-12 months old I also loved to use the kitchen mixing bowls for a different sounds; metal and plastic.
You can find these kinds of baskets at many department stores and don't forget about op shops too but here are a few reccommendations.
6 - 9 Months
Basket of Real Fruit
A basket of fruit is very simple but so effective. Choose 3 or 4 pieces of fruit (or vegetables) and place them in the basket. If your little one has started solids; chances are they will be very intrigued by this!
Basket of Favourite Toys
Your baby probably has a few favourite toys, what’s better then a basket full of them all in one place to discover! Some of my sons favourites at 7 months have been Silks, Jellystone teether, Grimms car, egg shaker, and a ball inside a container.
A Basket of Everyday Items
A discovery basket filled with everyday items can be really fun to put together and most of the time you can use things from around the home. I really like a discovery basket full of kitchen items to start with. You could use items in your kitchen drawer or you can purchase some really inexpensive smaller versions of these such as a bowl, spoon, potato masher etc.
10 - 12 Months
Grapat Treasure Basket Natural Set
This Grapat set has to be one of my absolute favourites! It is a set of ten wooden items that are so appealing to young babies, and are safe for mouthing.
I love that these items can be used as a set but also added to different baskets.
A Variety of Texture
Between 10 and 12 Months your little one will be quite interested in exploring and this is the perfect opportunity to introduce a discovery basket of different textures - lets spark that curiosity!
Try to include as many different textures as possible! Some ideas include: wood, felt, metal, plastic, silicone (teethers), fabric, silk.
12 - 15 Months
A Nature Basket
This can be such a fun one to set up! It could include pinecones, crunchy leaves, cuttings from trees or bushes etc. You could even take your little one on a Nature Hunt and collect different items from the environment.
A Basket of Care of Self Items
By now your little one will be so familiar with everyday items used to care for them. Setting up a discovery basket full of these items can give them the opportunity to discover these in more detail! Some ideas include: creams or moisturisers (I would suggest offering empty bottles), a washer from the bath, a brush or a comb.
15 - 18 Months
A Basket of Scented Items
Now this one will really engage and stimulate your little ones sense of smell! A basket filled with scented items can be so fun to explore! Here are a few ideas - Cinnamon Stick, Star Anise, Whole Nutmeg, Slices of Orange or Lemon. You can also pop these in paper bags inside a basket.
A Coloured Themed Basket
You can have so much fun with a coloured themed basket! You are going to fill the basket with a collection of items that are all the same colour! Here are a few ideas below!
Okay, so now you’ve got some ideas and you can go ahead and set up your first treasure basket - Have some fun with it!
Now you might be thinking...
How do I present this to my little one?
For younger babies I would recommend allowing them to explore the items with you close by under supervision but try to hold off on showing them how to use an item.
Its pretty amazing watching them work it out and discover new uses for themselves!
For an older toddler, as long as everything is safe to explore in the basket I would let them explore it independently. After your toddler has explored the items in the basket it can also turn into quite a fun language activity!
Discovery baskets can also be used as an invitiation to play for some independent play whilst you cook dinner or are busy with a younger sibling.
And that’s it! I hope this has inspired you to set up or change your discovery baskets or given you some ideas on what to include in them.
Why create a discovery basket?
Some of the main benefits of creating a treasure basket for your little one is that babies can use their cuiosity and concenration to safely explore a range of different items. By playing they will learn and make connections by using their different senses and discovery concepts such as object permenace and trial and error.
They can be a great way to give children independence whilst playing with the basket and they will also be practicing milestones such as sitting or moving between laying and sitting.
It is an easy introduction into loose part and open ended play as we are not giving children a way these items 'should' or 'could' be used.
If you would like some more inspiration about setting up invitations to play have a read of this blog for ideas from young toddlers to big kids and joint activities for siblings of different ages.
Written by Courtney (@ollie.andbear) for Little Toy Tribe.