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!
Ideas for your treasure 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
✔ Metal whisk
✔ An old CD
✔ Small mirror
✔ Bunch of old keys
✔ A teaspoon
✔ Tea strainer
✔ Small milk saucepan
✔ A shiny napkin ring
✔ Homemade shakers (plastic bottles containing coloured rice)
✔ Painted wooden egg shakers
✔ Castanets or click-clack wooden toys
✔ Tambourine or a small drum
✔ Wooden spoon
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