Heuristic play – supporting scientific exploration for very young children


“A cry of joy or satisfaction when one finds or discovers something”

The word Heuristic comes from the word ‘eureka’ and means helping to find out or discover; proceeding by trial and error. Heuristic play, a term created by a child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid in the early 1980’s; is rooted in young children’s natural curiosity. Heuristic play fits perfectly with our ethos at KTB Kids where exploratory, open ended child led play underpins what we do. We love creating environments rich in learning potential and this begins in our lower nursery. 

From accepting to exploring

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 children are presented with a large selection of natural or found objects with which they play freely without adult intervention. These ‘objects’ are things from the real world that are non-commercial – objects that older children will love to help you to collect.

Collecting heuristic play resources

Perfect examples of resources for your heuristic play basket are 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.

Exploring without interference

Heuristic play stimulates all the senses as young children unhurriedly experiment with the different ways that the objects interact with each other, free from pre-determined expectations. Toddlers will investigate all the physical possibilities of an object, by rolling, filling, stacking, dropping, fitting things inside each other, balancing and manipulating an object in every possible way. Through exploration the child will make satisfying discoveries about how the world works, exploring areas such as gravity, spatial awareness, density, and simple physics. Exploring without direction, through sequencing, manipulation, anticipation and rearranging of objects, children discover concepts such as same and different, heavy and light, little and big. They learn that spheres roll in all directions, tubes roll back and forth and cones roll in circles; that shiny reflects, metal resonates and that flat objects can be piled up. Through this experimentation and exploration children develop their imagination, problem solving skills, concentration, hand eye co-ordination, fine and gross motor skills and overall cognitive development.

Future scientists, mathematicians and physicians started here!