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Alice Maclaine, Early Years Teacher
Child development and education expert. Qualified Montessori teacher and children’s yoga teacher – including children with special needs.
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Cognitive development

Treasure baskets

Babies’ brains develop by sensory experiences. Making a treasure basket of items that stimulate all their senses and help them to learn about the physical world is a lovely thing to do and is free to make.
Video Tutorial
In Short

Babies learn using all their senses. Their developing brain absorbs information about the world through:






Anything you can do to expand the things you do together to include taste, touch, smell, sound and sight will really fascinate and stimulate your baby.

Games to stimulate your baby’s senses
Make your own sensory games

It’s really nice to move away from commercially produced toys. They can be very similar in sensory terms, so lots of plastic and primary colours, no variety in the smell, taste and texture. Playing and learning can happen in lots of different ways so you don’t have to always get out standard toys if you would like to play with your baby and show them new things.

Babies will often have more fun playing with the wrapping paper and gift box than the toy inside – and now you know why all their senses are stimulated by the textures, colours, sounds etc. of these materials.

Just look around your house for things they can explore – such as a bowl full of large dried (or cooked) pasta shells and a wooden spoon. Your baby will love to push their hands into the bowl of pasta, to stir it, to drop it, mess it up. There will be lots of sensory feelings going on. It’s exploring and it’s really good for your baby to have opportunities to play with you in this way.

Finger paints are another good way to do this. Yoghurt is like natural, edible finger paint that you can let your baby play within his high chair once he’s started solids at around 6 months.

Make your own treasure basket for the senses

From about the age, your baby can sit up and pick things out of a box you should make up a treasure box. He will enjoy it well into toddler-age and you can change the contents of the box over time and expose him to lots of exciting items.

You can make up a treasure basket very cheaply – for example, a little wicker basket or a cardboard boot box. You can then make up a collection that your baby can investigate using his five senses. Things that he can rustle and rattle and shake and chew and smell. You can change the contents all the time.

A treasure basket becomes a lovely collection of natural things and things from around the home. It is really lovely to have a collection of safe, real things for a baby to investigate and play with that aren’t conventional toys but have all the same lovely learning possibilities. It’s nice for them to have things that they can pick up and hold and taste and experiment with. Children will sit for ages and explore all these different things and take them out and put them back in.

What should I put in my baby’s treasure basket?

Common sense needs to prevail here so there should be nothing toxic, dangerous (e.g. sharp) or a choking hazard in the box.

You also should never leave your baby unattended with their treasure box as these are real things, not baby toys and babies learn best if they can share the experience with you.

Here are some ideas for your baby’s treasure box:

Domestic items:

  • Wooden spoons
  • Whisk
  • Metal linked measuring spoons
  • CD
  • Keys

Natural items:

  • Seashells
  • Pine cones
  • Smooth pebbles (large enough not to be a choking hazard)
  • Driftwood


  • Double strip of velcro for them to pull apart
  • Homemade rattles made from small plastic bottles filled with rice and lentils
  • Bell
  • Egg shakers or mini maracas


  • Lemon
  • Orange
  • Lavender bags in muslin
  • Large fresh bay leaf or mint leaf


  • Different materials; shiny, leather, tweeds, furry etc.
  • Velvet jewellery bag
  • Knitted sock or glove that they can put their arm in
  • Loofah or sponge

Other classic sensory items to introduce your baby:

  • Pots and pans and wooden spoons
  • Sitting in the bath with cups, egg cups and a mini watering can
  • Sandpits and playing with soil, pebbles, mud and puddles in the garden
  • Getting the opportunity to safely play and stroke animals (without either hurting the other)
  • Playing with running water from a hose or lukewarm water from a tap flowing into a bubbly washing up bowl.

This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.