Heuristic play consists of offering a group of children, for a defined period of time in a controlled environment, a large number of different kinds of objects and receptacles with which they play freely without adult intervention. According to the Oxford Dictionary, ‘Heuristic’ means helping to find out or discover; proceeding by trial and error.
Heuristic play is rooted in young children’s natural curiosity. Toddlers have an urge to handle things; gather, fill, dump, stack, knock down, select and manipulate in other ways. Household or kitchen utensils offer this kind of activity, and as most parent knows, can occupy children for long periods of time.
When toddlers make an enjoyable discovery, for instance when one item fits into another or an interesting sound is produced, they often repeat the action several times to test the result – this strengthens children’s cognitive development as well as fine muscle control and hand eye coordination.
Heuristic play is an approach – there is no right way to do it and people will have their own ideas and collect different materials.
In late October, our Ladybirds team held a Heuristic stay and play session. The room was emptied of its usual toys/resources and just contained the heuristic objects.
Parents were able to observe their children explore and play and they also learnt about heuristic play through our informative leaflet. The event was also a great way for parents to meet other parents and to see how their children interact with others.
To provide for heuristic play at home, you can collect natural materials such as fir cones, conkers, sea shells and pebbles as well as ribbons, short lengths of chain and objects such as curtain rings, jar lids, cardboard tubes, the circles from inside cellotape and empty cotton reels.
A large floor area should be freed for a specified period of time – an hour is good as it allows time for your child to help pack the resources away!