Heuristic Play and Loose Parts – Trash or Treasure?

Have you heard about Heuristic Play, but not sure what it means or why it’s important? Caroline, our Early Childhood Director, explains more…

Keeping Everyone Safe

  • Always supervise your child when playing with loose parts
  • Please use your own judgement when it comes to choosing items for your child to explore – take care to consider whether they might be a potential choking hazard

Heuristic play - from the Greek, heuriskein meaning ‘to discover’ - was a term coined by child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid. It describes the activity of babies and children as they play with and explore the properties of 'objects'. Heuristic play allows a child to explore open ended, everyday materials at their own pace (under the close supervision of an adult). It encourages curiosity and exploration; as children select, manipulate, explore and compare items, they discover what the object can and can’t do.

Heuristic, or loose parts play as it’s sometimes called, provides children with opportunities to use all five senses to learn about mathematics, develop language for communication and thinking, as well as supporting their creativity. They learn about different media and materials and how things work, while also developing personal and social skills. All areas of learning are supported by open ended, loose parts play, and children of all ages are able to benefit.

So, what’s the point? Well, heuristic/loose parts play provides:

  • Satisfaction
  • Open-ended activity
  • No pre-determined outcome
  • Guaranteed success
  • Developing concentration and cognitive development
  • Co-ordination
  • Exploration
  • Encourages social interactions
  • Fully inclusive for all children
  • Encourages imagination and creativity

What can children learn from heuristic play?

  • Sorting and categorising
  • Comparing objects
  • Problem-solving (slotting, posting, balancing, weight, forces)
  • Piling or stacking
  • Rolling – force/trajectory
  • Selecting independently
  • Developing schema (a pattern of repeated actions/movements)

Exploring ‘Objects’

Children develop their understanding of the world and extend their attention examining natural materials, such as wood, leather, metal and interesting fabrics that are furry or sparkly or smooth. Through this exploration they will also find new ways to use everyday items, for example, a cork can become a cake in the role play area, a box of buttons can be used to sort by colour and extend descriptive language to talk about colour, size, shape and textures.

Ideas for Heuristic Play at Home

You will find a wide range of heuristic play/open ended materials at home that your child can explore. Here are a few ideas to get your collection started:

  • Plastic and metal containers and lids - detergent, milk containers, jam jars, face cream
  • Corks – natural and plastic
  • Shells, fir cones, conkers or pebbles
  • Tubes – kitchen rolls, wrapping paper rolls etc
  • Plastic bottles – detergent bottles, milk cartons, water bottles, squash or juice bottles
  • Tins and boxes with lids – biscuit tins, tea caddies, small tins, gift boxes, ring/jewellery boxes
  • Old curtain rings – wooden and plastic
  • Ribbons, scarves
  • Necklaces or bracelets with coloured beads (plastic/wood)
  • Door keys or large keys from locks
  • Electrical cable reels, the inside of a sellotape reel, or similar

Treasure Baskets Activity