Heuristic play ideas

Heuristic play ideas

I wanted to talk about heuristic play ideas as sometimes we become caught up in terminology and forget to see the simplicity behind these terms. Often these concepts are being attained naturally through daily activities or experiences and we are not even aware of it.

So I would like to share my own views, ideas and little tips that can support you with your own journey into heuristic play.

What is heuristic play?

Heuristic play is where children can, through a variety of everyday household objects and natural materials, explore, discover, play and create with no particular object in mind.

There are no expectations, or goals, it’s just about finding things out. For infants and toddlers this can be a wonderful sensory experience for them and meet that constant need to sustain their curiosity and stimulate their imagination.

Through exploring different objects/items they have a need to find out things like:

Discovery basket
  • What is this?
  • What does it do?
  • What can I do with it?
  • Where does it come from?

Through using the senses and developing that curiosity,  children are beginning to ask those kind of questions that will nurture and sustain inquiring minds and lead to self motivated learners in the future.

Some ideas for heuristic play could be treasure baskets, containers filled with aromatic herbs, things from the sea or nature in general.

This is an open ended learning experience, so things like a stick in the eyes of a child could be anything they imagine it to be.


When we consider resources we do not have to rush around to purchase anything.

What do your children already play with or have an interest in?

Gather a variety of items from around the home,garage or garden and consider the age appropriateness of the items for the child, or children you are working with.

This can be a fun exercise in itself and you will be amazed how quickly you can gather together some really interesting items. It may even pose the question of when was the last time I cleaned out that cupboard?

There is great example of this type of play and one that everyone will be familiar with. How many of us has let the children play with the contents of the pot cupboard or the plastic containers? You may have even thrown the peg basket in the mix and watched how they have enjoyed more sustained play with these items than any of the expensive store bought toys they own.

Setting up


Think about the tactile element for babies and toddlers, in fact all the senses, remembering that most things go straight in the mouth. The taste experience! Mmmmmmm.

Once you have collected what you would like to start with, think about the environment and how this can impact on the experience for the child and yourself. You both want this to be an enjoyable time.


Where are you going to set up your activity?  Is it a beautiful sunny day where you could put baby out on a soft blanket on the grass and spread the items around? You could put them in a basket or container for him/her to explore.

This age group is probably going to be tipping them all out and possibly refilling but that is part of the developmental stage anyway.Be patient.

You may want to introduce one item at a time and give the child time to take it all in.You might also want to set aside some time without any distractions.(put the phone on silent).

A quiet, clear space inside is also  good idea and I like the idea of small tables where you can sit n the floor or on cushions around them, or on a mat or rug on the floor. The more textured type materials you can add into the activity, the better the experience.

Preparing the environment

Heuristic play for the older children can be very similar, but by adding complexity to the child’s  play and allowing for their prior knowledge of what some of these things can do and how to use them, it can be very rewarding and a great way to extend that knowledge. Children often find ways to use things that we never would have dreamed of.

You can really think outside the box for this age group. Do you have little budding engineers or future inventors?

I once introduced some old appliances (CUT THE  CORDS OFF FIRST) to a group of three and four year old.   I just placed them on a table with some tools and observed while they dismantled,  explored and experimented. They used the parts to recreate some amazing and very original three dimensional art and sculptures.

By removing the limitations and giving no instruction these children were free to express themselves through their play. If I had tried to give them a task with my own expectations placed on them, I doubt I would have seen what they were truly capable of.



Depending on  the age of the child and the nature of  the experience, the addition or absence of adults presence in the activity will have an impact on the learning outcomes for the child or children involved.

Often in the early childhood education sector i have heard the term “learning to sit on your hands”.

For those of you in the industry you will instantly understand what I mean. For those of you who may not, it can be really difficult sometimes to remain an observer and not interfere with what is happening.

However for the older children,woking in a group in particular this allows them the opportunity to build relationships, learn to take turns and negotiate.  It also supports children to learn to develop the ability to work independently and solve their own problems.

Tactile experiences

Have some fun

I hope you have all gained some ideas from here that will help your understanding of heuristic play and how simple and enjoyable it can be. I could not list all my ideas in one post but I think you all get the picture.

Have fun creating your baskets, activities and gathering some random materials.  I am sure you already have loads of new ideas and want to get started.

What are some of your ideas?

If you have something really different share or want t share a  experience that went really well,or the outcome was a surprise, or a picture of your environment,

I would love to hear from you.

Feel free to leave any comments at any time.





14 Replies to “Heuristic play ideas”

  1. I was searching for household games for kids when I came across your article. This is the first time I am hearing about the term heuristic, but I actually have been exposed to it from a very young age. It’s something I miss amidst all the saturated technologies that we have and I would like to bring back that natural touch for my young children. I used to play with my grandma’s sewing kit and that’s where I probably developed my sense for details I guess. 

    1. Thankyou for making contact, I am glad you like my post. Please feel free to visit often and use the ideas. All ask questions whenever you like, I am here to help and work with others to come up with ideas that are relevant to them. Thanks again. Regards Cassandra

  2. Heuristic play helps children improve their problem-solving skills while having entertainment. On the other hand, children are surrounded by technology and they spend a lot of time using a tablet or smartphone these days. I think the main challenge is to find heuristic plays that are appealing for children so they actually participate. I got some great ideas from your post. Thanks.

    1. Thanks Albert, yes it can be a challenge with all the technology and devices available to children. I think as parents and educators we need to show our little ones that there is also another world out there and to introduce them to nature, the outdoors and alternative play experiences. Just think how our relationships will also grow. Glad you found some good ideas and thanks for stopping by. Have a great night.

      Cheers Cassandra

  3. I had no idea what heuristic play meant before reading this, but you made a lot of sense of the term, so thanks for sharing. I think encouraging heuristic play is awesome because it accomplishes a couple of things at once: children get to play and explore their natural environment, and you save a ton of money on buying toys they’re only ever going to touch one! What are some of the other benefits?

    1. wow there are so many benefits Danny. I couldn’t name them all but among them would be increased cognitive development, language development as they are exposed to new vocabulary, problem solving skills and fine and gross motor skills. Thankyou for taking an interest and commenting on my post. Feel free to contact me for more information or to follow other new and upcoming posts. 

      Regards Cassandra

  4. Very interesting article on the subject of heuristic play, full of great ideas for kids. 

    I like your angle with this, as in modern day, we forget that kids (young kids) don’t necessarily need the wallet emptied on them to be entertained – especially if you live rural.

    Simple items, and the simple outdoors – can be just as entertaining to them as a heavily overpriced theme park!

    1. I totally agree  his and the benefits such as fresh air along with the sense of adventure can be just as exhilarating for us grown ups too. Have an awsome night and Thankyou for your comments.

      Cheers Cassandra

  5. I’ve honestly never heard of a Heuristic play before today, though now that I do, I can say that I truly find it to be an interesting concept. It still seems a little bit abstract and alien to me, though familiar, because I messed around with a few odd things as a kid, and it probably wasn’t safe, but that’s something else entirely, ha ha. On another note, I do enjoy the thought that kids can gain some sort of cognitive exercise via this activity, to encourage growth and development in understanding whats around them, and how to interact with said environment. Nice post! 

    1. Thankyou so much for your comments Jaedan,  the learning behind playing and having fun is often underestimated and forgotten. I am just trying to bring it back to life. I am sure there is still a little child left in all of us😀

      Cheers Cassandra

  6. Cassandra, “Heuristic” play ideas had me a little lost but the Natural Teaching Resources by-line told me I was on the right track. I agree with you, for toddlers you have to be careful about the taste impulse but the natural everyday items are the best for learning thru play. My youngest great-nephew is almost 2 and the greatest toys right now are the pots, pans and the big spoons. He is quick, the higher the stack the more noise when he knocks them over. His older brother is 6 and the great adventure for him is gathering rocks and sorting them into types. Add in some paint, glue, ribbons and various other things. He has lost his IPad more often than his rock collection; well not counting the rocks little brother has managed to eat! Using old appliances as toys/learning experiences is a great idea. Next visit, we will try it out. Thanks for the great article, new knowledge and fun ideas!

    1. Hello Sanders, Thankyou for your comments, I remember the pots and pans well when my own children were young, also cardboard boxes and clothes pegs😊 i am delighted you learned something new and enjoyed my ideas. Please feel free to stop by anytime.

      Regards Cassandra

  7. Hey there,

    heuristic play is fantastic apporach to develop high level of curiosity in children and allow them to express their creativity in many ways. Heuristic play definitely has the quality of inducing the desire to open the doors of full exploration of mind and trasnlating it into real world via art or any other type of artistic way. It is also a very beautiful and effective way to teach children how to share and how to work in team, especially when they are connected in heurestic play activity and try to explore and create something together! Thank You for this interesting and helpful article, keep up the good work! 

    1. Thankyou again Evald,  interesting that you mention the art side of this as one of my future post will be around natural art projects so if you are interested keep a look out for it it in the very near future.

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