Early Childhood Curriculum - Heuristic Play

Early Childhood Curriculum - Heuristic Play

20 June 2014

Heuristic play is a term used to refer to the kind of games that encourage active exploration through the use of children's senses. The child instinctively seeks to investigate objects, which interest him or her, and makes discoveries via taste, touch, smell and sound.


A dictionary definition of the term ‘heuristic’ follows:

  1. 1.            serving to indicate or point out; stimulating interest as a means of furthering investigation.
  2. 2.            encouraging a person to learn, discover, understand, or solve problems on his or her own, as by experimenting, evaluating possible answers or solutions, or by trial and error: a heuristic teaching method.
  3. 3.            of, pertaining to, or based on experimentation, evaluation, or trial-and-error methods.


Infants and toddlers use all their senses to explore these ‘everyday objects’ and form their own ideas about what they discover. Time, space and opportunity for them to concentrate and focus without interruption, but with the presence of a supportive unobtrusive adult, are important aspects of heuristic play. This contributes to infants and toddlers developing a sense of identity as competent, capable, confident learners.


Last week on our Facebook page, we posted an activity creating a ‘treasure basket’ using a variety of resources.  A treasure basket is an approach developed by Elinor Goldschmied that offers an infant who is able to sit comfortably, the opportunity for independent exploration.


Shelley Auld notes that there are five key principals of heuristic play:


  1. The type of equipment used:

            Have a variety of textures, shapes, sizes, natural and man-made materials

  1. The role of the adult:

The adult sets up the play but then steps aside, and carefully observes to ensure safety but does not intervene unless necessary, allowing infants and toddlers to make discoveries on their own

  1. The timing of the play sessions:

Choose a quiet time of day so that children can have unhurried and undisturbed time to explore without being hungry or tired

  1. Setting up play sessions:

Heuristic play should be set up in a quiet space with room enough for children to explore the equipment, undisturbed by others

  1. The amount of play equipment available:

Have plenty of equipment available for heuristic play so that children can explore and discover a wide range of materials without having to wait for their turn, or share.


By providing a range of everyday real life items and objects representative of diverse cultural settings, for infants and toddlers to explore and manipulate, we are supporting them to make sense of the world around them.