From Treasure Baskets to Sensory Bins

I just love utilizing sensory bins and toys in my speech therapy sessions.  My favorite is incorporating a wonderful smell with an amazing tactile experience!  So, how have sensory bins changed over the years?  Glad you asked…

The word ‘heuristic’ comes from the word ‘eurisko’ which means to learn, discover or reach an understanding of something.  The phrase ‘heuristic play’ was a term coined by child psychologist Elinor Goldschmeid in the 1980’s to describe the activity of babies and children as they play with and explore the properties of objects from the real world.

For babies and toddlers, Goldschmeid’s approach to heuristic play revolves around them using their senses and exploring a treasure basket filled with real-world objects made from any material (apart from plastic) that comes from nature and around the house.

Elinor understood the importance of accepting every child as a unique and gifted individual. She didn’t waste time trying to categorize or label children as having special needs, additional needs or anything else. They were all children and we were all the people tasked with the responsibility to encourage and raise good citizens.

  • Paper/cardboard objects: Egg boxes, notebook, sturdy cardboard tubes, greaseproof paper.
  • Wooden objects: Door wedge, small turned bowl, dolly pegs, egg cup, wooden egg, spoons, curtain rings, coaster, bracelet, block, napkin rings, dowel, empty salt, and pepper cellars.
  • Leather, textile, rubber, or fur objects: Small knitted toy, bean bag, a piece of flannel, velvet powder puff, bags of herbs, a bag of lavender, leather key ring, colored ribbons, leather purse.
  • Rubber objects: Ball, bath plug with chain, soap holder, door stop, coaster.
  • Metal objects: Honey drizzler, an egg cup, curtain ring, egg poacher, measuring spoons, tea strainer, whisk, powder compact, bells, lemon squeezer, small bowl,
  • Natural objects: A lemon or orange, coconut shell, grass rope, sheepskin, pumice stone, loofah, shells, pine/fir cones, driftwood, avocado stone, large pebbles.
  • Brushes: Scrubbing brush, pastry brush, baby’s hairbrush, nail brush, makeup brush, paintbrush, shaving brush, wooden toothbrush.
  • Other objects: small vanilla essence or food coloring bottle, hair rollers, small mirror, scent bags, bone shoe horn, ceramic bowl


The open-ended and exploratory experiences of heuristic play provide benefits for children’s cognitive, social and emotional development:

Learning how to maintain attention and focus on an activity is
an important skill for children to develop.  When children are
particularly fascinated and engaged by they are doing, as they are
during a heuristic play session, their concentration levels are
considerably higher. Doesn’t this sound a bit behavioristic to you?  Wink, Wink!!

Heuristic play strongly encourages children to begin to explore using
trial and error methods. In this way, they learn about the properties of
materials and experience, first hand, concepts such as size, shape,
capacity and mobility.

It encourages older children to extend their imaginative and
creative thinking and use their language skills to begin to use one
object as being representative of another (e.g. pebbles as money)

One of the biggest benefits of this kind of play is the ample
opportunities for independent decision making. It allows children to feel
that they have the chance to control their environment and learning,
and to be able to play independently (without an adult).

Human senses include the commonly known systems of touch (tactile), taste (gustatory),
sight (visual), sound (auditory), and smell (olfactory). However, there are also two other senses which are quite powerful in nature: vestibular, which includes movement and balance, and proprioception, which includes joint and muscle senses.

According to Sensory Integration theory, behavior and learning are optimized when input from these senses are being effectively organized by the brain.  Good news, right?

Get those sensory bins, bag and boxes out and HAVE FUN!!!

Find a huge collection of ideas and sensory bin pics on my Sensory Bins-palooza Pinterest Board.

Looking for the best SLIME experiences check out this board: Slime, Slime & More Slime

Pin Slime

Research & Resources:
Ben-Sasson, A., Cermak, S. A., Orsmond, G. I., Tager-Flusberg, H., Carter, A. S., Kadlec, M.
B., et al. (2007). Extreme sensory modulation behaviors in toddlers with autism spectrum disorders. American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 61, 584–592.
Ben-Sasson, A., Hen, L., Fluss, R., Cermak, S. A., Engel-Yeger, B., & Gal, E. (2009). A meta-analysis of sensory modulation symptoms in individuals with autism spectrum disorders. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 39, 1–11.
Chang, Y.-S., Owen, J. P., Desai, S. S., Hill, S. S., Arnett, A. B., Harris, J., … Mukherjee, P.
(2014). Autism and Sensory Processing Disorders: Shared White Matter Disruption in Sensory Pathways but Divergent Connectivity in Social-Emotional Pathways. PLoS ONE, 9(7).
Robertson, A. E., & Simmons, D. R. (2012). The Relationship between Sensory Sensitivity and Autistic Traits in the General Population. Journal of Autism and Developmental Disorders, 43(4), 775–784.
Pin from treasure buckets to sensory bins

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