How to create a treasure box

How to create a treasure box

Dearbhala Cox-Giffin, Director of Childcare Giraffe, looks at why babies and toddlers tend to love wrapping paper and boxes more than the gift inside, and shows us how to create a treasure box your child will love.

We’ve all experienced giving a baby or a young child a packaged present, and he or she ends up spending more time scrunching the wrapping paper to hear the noise that it makes, playing with or eating the box instead of playing with the toy inside. At Christmas or at birthday parties, children will often play with the box from the present for hours on end, while the older children will allow their imagination to run free and use them to create dens, make trucks or even space rockets! They are often not interested in the plastic toy or lose interest in it quickly, but instead play with the natural item.

Natural items such as wrapping paper and boxes provide children with the opportunity to extend their imagination and allow them to make their own choices about how to explore the items and have different sensory experiences. They can be as creative as they want to be with paper, boxes, glue and yoghurt cartons.

What is a treasure box?

Why not build on your child’s preference for natural objects and create treasure baskets for them to explore? Treasure baskets are low-sided baskets or boxes filled with natural and everyday items which babies and young children can explore by themselves. They can have lots of fun investigating and exploring all the exciting treasures inside!

Treasure boxes for babies and the heuristic play approach for toddlers and young children effectively describes the activity of babies and children as they explore objects from the world around them and it sounds much grander than it really is. The approach is not new, and is something that we are probably quite familiar with.

We have all played with cardboard boxes, saucepans and wooden spoons, poured rice with a jug, we played with mud and sticks in the garden and a highlight was to have a basin of water or a watering can!

Why make a treasure box?

By using treasure boxes or baskets with babies, you are providing them with rich mental stimulation, which not only activates the growth of the brain but also provides highly satisfying learning experiences. Babies are given the opportunity to explore objects with all of their senses as they can feel, taste, hear, smell and see a variety of textures and they can experiment with them, providing early experiences of classifying items and also developing their fine motor skills and concentration.

Household or kitchen utensils offer these opportunities and can occupy a child for surprising stretches of time as they concentrate on stacking pots, exploring the objects or sometimes just enjoying the new and interesting banging noise of a wooden spoon on a saucepan!

As babies grow, they move beyond being content to simply feel and ponder objects, to wanting to find out what can be done with them.

We all love to watch children discover and explore their environment which is inherently what treasure boxes, baskets and heuristic play encourages. Nothing delights more than a child’s sense of wonder when they make a discovery, and it, in turn, appeals to our sense of wonderment and delights as we observe children developing wonderment of their own!

When a child makes a discovery or an interesting sound is produced, they often repeat the action again and again to test the result, which strengthens cognitive development as well as muscle control and hand/eye co-ordination.

For older children, when they have made a wonderful creation from old boxes, they experience a great sense of achievement, as well as hours of enjoyment designing their new toy.

What should go into the box?

You can be very creative with treasure box and can design a variety of baskets to stimulate your child’s interests.

Think about seasonal boxes such as a Christmas or summer box, or a fabric basket, a reflective/shiny basket, a wooden/natural basket or possibly my favourite, a musical basket!

There should be a wide range of objects, both natural and man-made, that will stimulate all of the senses and that can be used as open-ended tools for exploration and imagination. Include a good range of textures, shapes and materials and all should be non-toxic with no tiny pieces. Rotate the contents of the basket regularly so that your child’s interest is sustained and remember, do not leave it out all day as it will no longer be exciting and interesting.

You need to use your own common sense about what may be dangerous and never leave your child unattended or with another child while playing with the basket. Also make sure that the objects are cleaned and safe for your child to use.

For older children, you can provide a range of different size boxes, paper, glue, cartons foil, pipe cleaners, large buttons and provide the space for them to start getting creative!

How to create a treasure box

Ideas for your treasure box

Christmas/Winter box:

✔ Pine cones
✔ Festive wrapping paper or gift wrap an empty box
✔ An old CD
✔ Homemade shakers (plastic bottles containing coloured water and glitter or rice and glitter)
✔ Hand bells
✔ Colourful velvet ribbon
✔ Lemon or a tangerine

Reflective box:

✔ Metal whisk
✔ An old CD
✔ Small mirror
✔ Bracelet
✔ Bunch of old keys
✔ A teaspoon
✔ Tea strainer
✔ Small milk saucepan
✔ A shiny napkin ring

Music box

✔ Bells
✔ Homemade shakers (plastic bottles containing coloured rice)
✔ Painted wooden egg shakers
✔ Castanets or click-clack wooden toys
✔ Tambourine or a small drum
✔ Wooden spoon

More like this:

How to play with your toddler
Motor development milestones
Top tips for speech development

Ask Sarah

Q I’ve heard a lot about the Paleo diet and as I am very interested in reducing the amount of processed foods and grain based meals my family eats, we are considering following this diet. From what I read it seems to be a back-to-basics type of eating. Is a Paleo diet safe for children? My kids are aged seven and nine.

A The Paleo diet is one of the most fashionable diets around at the moment. It is also known as the ‘caveman diet’ and is based on cutting out processed foods, starchy foods like bread and potatoes and eating more meat, vegetables and fruit.
As fad diets go, it is not the worst but there are some good and bad sides to it. Reducing the amount of processed foods we eat is always a good idea and by doing that you will usually reduce the amount of fat, salt and sugar you eat, which is a good thing! The problem with the Paleo diet is that it also cuts out dairy (on the basis that cavemen didn’t drink milk) and this means that the diet is very low in calcium. For this reason it is really not suitable for children who do need a lot of calcium for growing bones. How did cavemen manage without dairy? They ate a lot more food than we do (up to 10,000 calories per day compared to the 2,000 most of us eat). By eating that amount of food they were able to pick up just enough calcium from green vegetables and seeds. To put it in perspective, you would need to eat 16 servings of broccoli a day to get all the calcium you need. This is easier to do if you eat 10,000 calories per day rather than 2,000.
The other problem with the paleo diet is that it is not entirely based in science. Many of the Paleo diets out there say you should not eat wheat, even though we know that cavemen did in fact eat wheat and other grains. These diets also don’t recommend that you eat blubber and the big lumps of fat that were also a large part of the caveman diet!
A final problem is that many Paleo diets encourage people to cut out beans and lentils and to get their protein from meat and fish instead. Many studies over the last few years are clear that eating too much animal protein is linked with more cancer and heart disease. Eating some vegetarian meals based on beans and lentils is a great way to get your protein without always going for meat.
Is this a diet we should follow? I think there is a lot we can learn from the Paleo diets. We could all do with eating less salt, sugar and processed foods and adding in more nuts and seeds as well as more vegetables. However, I think following a strict Paleo diet could lead to low levels of calcium and vitamin D and so it is not suitable for children or teens and adults would need to think about a calcium supplement.



Q My son is 18 months old and has just started saying his first words. It is an extremely exciting time in our house and my husband and I are eager to encourage his speaking as much possible. What advice would you give us on how we can foster this without bombarding and confusing him?

AThere is nothing better than hearing your baby begin to talk. All the hard work you have put in over the last two years is coming back tenfold.
Toddlers will vary significantly with ability and speed of which they talk however a guide would be about 50 words by 2 years of age. The most important thing to watch for is that your baby/toddler is cooing and babbling and begins to string sounds together like “Mama/Dada” They should have a wide range of speech sounds and like to imitate you and things they hear.
There are many ways that you can promote Speech and Language development at home:
1. Slowing down your own speech and taking time over conversations with your little one. Every day is a new experience when you are 18 months, nappy changes, bath time, baking a cake brings endless opportunity for you to interact and offer new words for them to hear and repeat. Make eye contact, smile and use exaggerated tones to keep things interesting and fun for your tot.
2. Review the toys that you have on offer to your tot and ensure that they give plenty of open ended play opportunities. Role play is a wonderful way to allow children to take the lead. Kitchens with lots of plates, cups and pots. Fill the pots with dry pasta and allow your child to cook and serve you. Playdoh, painting, gardening and sandpits are also great for allowing your child to take the lead and babble about what they are doing. Read plenty of books together and point and allow them time to answer any questions that you ask.
3. Limit screen time. Overuse of televisions and iPads do not give your child opportunity to interact in a two way manner.
4. Ask your child lots of open ended questions “What’s that?” “Where are we?” Point at things they know the answer to for boosting confidence (Car/ Car, etc.) When they don’t know the answer, explain it to them. Limit baby talk and speak clearly with good pronunciation, remember you are the teacher and they will copy you.
If you are concerned about your child’s speech and language development, be sure to speak with your GP or developmental Health Nurse. They are very skilled at understanding the difference between speech delays and spotting something that may require professional attention.
Enjoy watching their little brains absorb the world around them and listen to what they have to say. It won’t be too long before they won’t stop talking to you, asking “Why Mummy/ Daddy?” every 5 minutes….