Have you ever heard the phrase treasure baskets for play and wondered what they are or how you can buy one of these magical baskets full of treasure that will keep children occupied?
What if I told you that you won’t find them in your local toy store, they probably won’t cost you anything to put together AND they are a very easy way to encourage playful learning at home!
A simple treasure basket compiled by parents or early childhood educators can spark a child’s curiosity and invite exploration, investigation, communication, problem-solving and imagination – no screens, internet or expensive toys required!!
In this blog, I’m going to give you the tips, ideas and inspiration you need to not only put together your treasure baskets or boxes but also understand how to use this simple resource for early learning at home or daycare.
“A simple treasure basket compiled by parents or early childhood educators can spark a child’s curiosity and invite exploration, investigation, communication, problem-solving and imagination”
How Are Treasure Baskets Used for Play and Learning?
Treasure baskets or ‘Explorer Baskets’ as I like to call them are simply collections of objects and everyday materials presented in a different way to how we might normally recognise or use that particular object.
They are often introduced to babies from the time they can sit unaided but I have also used this play resource with babies during tummy time right up to 5 years old so don’t let age be the determining factor in your decision to use treasure baskets in your play at home.
As parents and educators, it is easy to underestimate a child’s pull towards new and interesting things and how this can feed into their ever-growing capacity for knowledge.
If you would like to begin using treasure baskets try to include materials or objects that you feel baby, toddler or pre-schooler would find interesting and appealing to their senses. You can also include small toys in your collection but ‘ordinary’ items from around the house will work even better!
The idea of this type of simple activity is to provide access to a basket that will spark their curiosity and hopefully help them to find the extraordinary in what we would probably think of as ordinary!
They are an excellent way to meet the learning and developmental needs of different children and perfect for multi-age groups and home learning environments.
“Treasure Baskets are simply collections of objects and everyday materials presented in a different way to how we might normally recognise or use that particular object.”
What should you put into your treasure basket for play?
There are no rules here. You know how you spend money on an expensive toy and then find out all they want to do is play with the wrapping paper or climb in and out of the box?
This is the core of how simple treasure basket collections work! It’s all about the investigation and working out what something does, what it can be used for, what it’s purpose is, how to interact with it, how it feels, how it sounds or smells….the learning opportunities are endless!
Older children will enjoy creating ‘collections’ with you and ‘building’ their treasure baskets or explorer boxes so don’t feel you need to do the prep all behind the scenes!
Look for items around the house of different lengths, textures, weights, hard or soft, able to roll or be squished or just grasped by small hands for closer investigation! You can also include a mix of man-made and natural materials.
You can use them to focus on different themes, learning areas, sensory challenges and children’s interests OR just collect a diverse range of open-ended materials that will invite investigation, free play and exploration!
It might look to you like a basket of ‘junk’ but the baskets are providing a valuable opportunity for children of different ages to find out more about themselves, their family and friends, their environment and the differences between man-made and natural materials.
By the way, you don’t have to use baskets, make use of what you already have at home – a shoebox, cardboard box, plastic storage container (if you use the small ones with lids you can label your collection to pull out another day as you begin to rotate and keep interest high).
5 Tips to Set Up and Use Treasure Baskets
There is no need for a big budget when compiling your baskets – start with what you already have around the house and add over time!
You don’t need to be a Handy Person!
Don’t let it stop you if you don’t know one end of the frill to another – do what you can, start with small projects and assembling collections rather than starting from scratch.
Think About Storage.
When using explorer baskets, you need to consider how you will store the materials in your collection and how to make it easy to mix and match to create brand new baskets with what you already have. So why not store similar items in a large tub or basket with a lid then simply add elements to your chosen theme baskets each week as needed.
Embrace Trial & Error.
Some things will work, and some will not but give it at least 3 days whenever you introduce a new basket or item to your shelves or children. Observe the play and reflect on what you might change.
Not Creative? Don’t let that stop you!
You don’t need to have a fantastic imagination or be a creative, artsy person to make your own resources and invitations for playful learning. All of the ideas I’ve included in this article for baskets are very simple and children will lead the play themselves!
Ideas and Inspiration for your first treasure basket!
If you are not sure how to get started compiling your treasure basket collection or where to look for materials I’ve given you some simple ideas below to try.
I’m also sharing some photo inspiration from other early childhood educators and bloggers around the world. Make sure you scroll further down to take a look at those ones!
I hope you can use these examples to help you kickstart your creativity and imagination and simplify the process of compiling your own treasure baskets for play. You don’t need to stick to the ideas here – why not combine some of the object suggestions or your children’s ideas and current interests to build your basket combination!
10 Easy Ideas to Invite Learning with Treasure Baskets
Include ping pong, tennis, material, spongy, textured, wooden & different sizes.
Loofah’s, sea sponges, make up sponges, bath sponges, kitchen sponges.
Wooden, silver, ladles, silver, silicon, big, small!
Real tea sets from the op shops, flowers, vases, teapots, cups, saucers, milk jugs, napkins, spoons.
Knots & Tassels
New dog pull toys (with the chunky knotted ropes), curtain tassels, ribbon, fabric scraps tied into loose knots, think pieces of string.
Jugs, teapots, sieves, strainers, tea strainers, colanders, measuring cups, funnels, slotted spoons.
Ring a Ding
Curtain rings, shower curtain rings, mason jar lid rings (insert removed), chunky bangles, bun doughnuts, scrunchies, wooden cedar circles, mug tree or jewellery stands, napkin/serviette rings.
Muffin cups, utensils, cooking tins and trays, bento lunchbox inserts, bowls, gloves, balls, pompoms, dry pasta shells, small plastic shot glasses.
Fabric pieces, dolly clothes, nappies, blankets, scoops from washing powder boxes, wooden dolly pegs, plastic pegs, scrubbing brushes, bowls for water.
Make a collection of rolling pins, paint roller brushes, hair rollers, balls, tins …anything you have that rolls!
Treasure Basket Inspiration From Around the World
Make a story retelling basket like this Goodnight Moon one from Inspiration Laboratories.
Rebecca from our Facebook Group made these simple treasure baskets - simple is always the best!
Make a Pebble & Ball basket. Very easy to set up…..I went around the house collecting different baskets they enjoy playing with (all from the op/thrift shop and very, very cheap!) and pulled out a bag of large, flat, smooth decorator pebbles that I had picked up from the discount shop a while back for $2. I put them into a wooden tray, added some ping pong balls and watched to see what the twins would do!
Make a coloured treasure basket like this one from The Imagination Tree
Make a nursery rhyme basket using toys you already have like this one from The Ladybird's Adventures.
This open and close basket from The Kavanaugh Report is filled with containers that open and close. Toddlers will love playing with these and it's a great upcycle idea.
Make a ball treasure basket like this one from Living Montessori Now. I love the different textures to explore on the balls in this basket.
Empowered Ed member Belinda made a nature cutting basket - a lovely way to get outside, explore nature and practice cutting with flowers, leaves and grass.
Involve the children in collecting items for a nature treasure basket like this one from Rhythms of Play
Don't overthink it! Laptops and Naptimes has a range of treasure basket ideas with themes like this one - metal!
Make a treasure chest using recyled materials like the ones that Pre-School Play set up.
Annette from our Facebook group used some old costume jewellery to make a treasure basket that the children loved playing with.
Another inviting story themed treasure basket is this Peter Rabbit one from Learn With Mum.
School Time Snippets shared this idea for a fabric basket - great for babies and toddlers to investigate, touch and explore.
Empowered Ed Facebook Group member Rebecca used a magnifiying glass and some shells in her treasure basket.
Feeling inspired to give treasure basket play a try? Remember it’s a little bit trial and error with young children – what might be of interest one day is boring the next!
Keep collecting to invite different investigations, provide lots of time for free exploration, extend on current interests and be on hand to help older children find ways to share their ideas, opinions and find answers if they ask.
Want more ideas for playful early learning? Join other early childhood educators and homeschool parents in our Empowered Educator Facebook Community.
A Little About Me
Jodie Clarke is an early childhood professional supporting educators who want and need to stay passionate about the work they do! She has 30 years hands-on experience in the early childhood and human services sectors across many different roles.
Jodie is mum to 3 in Australia and has already helped thousands of educators with their work through her popular blog posts, activity ideas, online training and e-books.