At KTB Kids the significance of spontaneous exploratory play for children’s development is recognized and plentiful opportunities for children to indulge in this type of learning are offered, particularly within the baby room. Heuristic comes from the word ‘eureka’ and means helping to find out or discover; proceeding by trial and error. Heuristic play is a term created by a child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid in the early 1980’s. It ‘consists of offering a group of young 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’. It provides a creative, unhurried way for children to learn: free from pre-determined expectations and stimulates all the senses, creating a rich learning experience.
Heuristic play is rooted in young children’s natural curiosity. 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. In Heuristic play sessions, children are presented with a selection of natural or found objects. These ‘objects’ are things from the real world and are non-commercial. Children are given the opportunity to experiment spontaneously and explore the objects using all of their senses.
Through heuristic play young children experiment with the different ways that objects interact with each other. Toddlers will investigate all the physical possibilities of an object, by rolling, filling, stacking, dumping, fitting things inside each other, balancing and manipulating an object in every possible way. Through exploration in this way the child will make satisfying discoveries about how the world works, exploring area’s such as gravity, spacial awareness, density, and simple physics. These discoveries build cognitive development, hand/eye co-ordination and fine and gross motor skills. By being able to use their imagination and explore without interference or direction, through sequencing, manipulation, anticipation and rearranging of objects, children can discover basic scientific and mathematical concepts such as same and different, spheres roll in all directions, tubes roll back and forth and cones roll in circles. Shiny reflects, metal resonates, flat objects can be piled up, heavy and light, little and big and floating and sinking. Through this experimentation and exploration children develop their imagination, problem solving skills, concentration, fine and gross motor skills and overall cognitive development.
To provide for heuristic play, nursery practitioners collect natural materials like fir cones, conkers, seashells, and large pebbles, as well as ribbons, short lengths of chain, and ‘found’ objects like curtain rings, jar lids, sturdy cardboard tubes, the rings from inside sellotape, and empty cotton reels. Throughout the heuristic play session nursery practitioners sit close by unobtrusively yet attentively and observe the thought processes children display as they interact with each of the objects and each other. Between sessions the nursery practitioners maintain the supplies, cleaning each item, checking for safety, discarding unsuitable items and collecting new ones with the children so that as the basket grows it becomes a catalogue of memories.