This time of year brings endless opportunities for your little one to use all their senses to take in everything happening around them. With displays of coloured lights indoors and out, the scent of Christmas goodies baking, festive music and bells jingling, not to mention that wonderful wrapping paper to scrunch, there is so much to absorb and explore and all sorts of learning and development going on in the process.
We know that babies and young children learn best though, when allowed to discover these new experiences in their own way, so to make their Christmas extra special why not put together a treasure basket of sensory treats especially for them?
What is a Treasure Basket?
A treasure basket is simply a collection of items brought together, either in a shallow basket, or gathered within easy reach, for your child to explore in their own way. This helps them to learn about the properties of the different items using all their senses and develops their imagination, concentration, hand-eye co-ordination and motor skills as well as awareness of the world around them along the way.
You can, of course, use treasure baskets throughout the year, varying the items as you go along. Here are some tips to help you get the most out of this wonderful way for you and your little one to play and explore.
Choose items for your basket that encourage curiosity and allow for open ended play and exploration.
When you are ready to play, sit with your baby and place the basket (or items) so everything is within easy reach.
Let your baby choose what interests them and how to examine and play with it as much as their age and stage of development allows. For babies who are able to reach and grasp things for themselves, try not to interrupt this process too much, just be there to support your child and share in their discoveries.
If your baby is younger you may need to begin by introducing an item to them, talking about what it looks, feels, sounds or smells like, as appropriate, and then let your little one explore the item in their own way.
Don’t worry about things going in the mouth during play. During the early stages of development the tongue has the highest concentration of nerve endings, so is the most sensitive part of the body, and it is always seeking input. Later the hands will take over as the most important source of learning, but not for several months. For babies, especially, to experience and truly understand an object, including its feel, shape, size etc they need to put it in their mouth.
You will, of course, want to use common sense when choosing items for your baskets and stay away from items small enough to be swallowed, anything with sharp edges or pieces that can be broken off, and do supervise your child at all the time during play.
So what could you include in your Christmas treasure basket? Here are a few ideas, but I’m sure you will have your own too.
Tinsel and Baubles
For texture, colour, shape and sparkle! (make sure the baubles are shatterproof)
Can bring a wider variety of experiences stimulating vision and touch, and giving you lots to talk about if you are invited to explore too.
For that special sound of Christmas! Can your little one work out how to make the bells ring? Then they are learning all about cause and effect as well as practicing their listening skills.
Things that light up, twinkle or flash are hugely engaging for young children and provide fantastic opportunities for visual stimulation and tracking. A small string of lights of something like these light up stars are great to put in your basket.
Natural textures provide a different element to your basket, and a contrast to lots the toys that you may have around.
Hugely tactile and making that satisfying scrunching sound when handled, foil blankets are a great substitute for the experience of that wrapping paper, but without the danger of it being ripped and eaten! The shiny material is great for reflecting those lights too, making it a visual treat as well as stimulating the senses of touch and hearing.
Festive Sensory Bottles
Smaller items can be put into bottles like these, providing a wider range of things to stimulate the sense of sight and develop that curiosity in a way that is safe for little ones.
We also love these clear baubles, which we found in a card shop. They work in the same way and add even more festive fun!
The sense of smell can be introduced into your sensory basket in a similar way. Pop some of those lovely Christmassy spices, a small piece from a real Christmas tree, some festive pot pourri or anything else that brings the scent of Christmas and place into a plastic water bottle, or similar, ideally with a sports cap. Open the cap and squeeze the bottle to introduce the smell to your little one, or let them try this themselves. Their reactions to the different smells is always fascinating.
Add some Christmas shapes for your little one to examine. These cookie cutters are ideal (make sure not to use ones that are too sharp), but you might also find small decorations, perhaps with different textures, maybe wooden or fabric that would also work well.
While being guided by your child’s age and stage of development for what to put in their basket, use your imagination and try different things to interest and engage them – you might be surprised about what their favourite things are!
You may also be surprised about how long your little one will sit and focus on a particular thing when it is something he or she has chosen and is able to explore in his or her own way, so that treasure basket could well keep your little one happy and learning all through Christmas and into the New Year!
Need more ideas? Why not come and join us at classes in the New Year, where you will be able to experience lots more sensory ideas, along with many other activities that you and your baby or toddler will love. Read more about what you can expect at a class HERE and then find and book your class HERE. We can't wait to welcome you.
For inspiration for those play times at home too the Tots Play Online Store, has lots of sensory goodies including foil blankets and some lovely jingly bells as mentioned above, so stock up now!
Whether this is your little one’s first Christmas, or they are just starting to understand some of the magic, have a wonderful festive season with your family, and keep on playing until we see you back at classes in the New Year.
Merry Christmas and Happy Playing! xx
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