Have you heard of the term 'heuristic play'? If not, it is essentially the concept of offering your child a range of non-commercial, preferably natural materials to explore, whilst you sit quietly and observe. No plastics please! I've said this a thousand times since having Eden: plastic is NOT fantastic! It has its uses, and some plastic toys are fun, but the majority of them are single-use items and most children will discard them after only a few plays. Offering our kids a variety of plastic toys which look different will still feel, taste and smell the same to our babies.
Objects made from natural materials engage your child's senses. They enable their developing brains to make more neural connections which forms the basis of healthy cognitive development in future. They stimulate your child's sense of taste, smell, touch, sight and possibly hearing (depending on what it is). They are, in short, highly preferable!
Heuristic play allows your bubba to choose their own object/s from those offered, and encourages them to construct their own understanding of these items (hence your non-involvement) through handling and mouthing. Your role is to supervise. That's it.
To introduce heuristic play to your little one, collect a range of materials from around the house (about 20-30 items is great) and put them in a broad, shallow container. Round baskets are preferable because the contents are easily accessible from all angles, hence the term 'treasure baskets'. In my case, it should have been called 'treasure roasting pan'. But anyway... In your treasure baskets you could group like items together and offer a basket of wooden things, or metal things, or noisy things, or soft things, etc, or you could offer a jumble of items. There's no right or wrong, just offer variety. I chose to do a 'reflective surfaces' for my first go with Ava.In my roasting pan, I included: a shiny purse, an unused scouring pad (fairly soft), a metal spatula, a metal whisk, some small lengths of shiny ribbon, a soup spoon, a play saucepan and lid, some of Mummy's bracelets and bangles, a shiny perfume box (sans perfume, of course), a little mirror, a metal mint tin, a decorative gift wrapping ribbon (can't think of what they're called?), a shiny lid from a container, an egg ring, an insert from an old garlic press, and a measuring spoon and cup.
Ava loved it! I had to reign in my innate desire to tell her what they're called and what they can do, but I'm glad I did. She LOVED it! Since introducing these sorts of experiences into our playtime, she has become more alert (although she always has been alert) and into everything! I think it's helped with her confidence, and awakened her natural curiosity even more (help! Just kidding!). Look at her cute little face!
From what I've read on the subject, many people make up a number of baskets and offer them on rotation. However, I use some of the things that I offered Ava (my whisk, thank you little Miss!) and so I unpack the box/basket after she's done using it, and make up another one every couple of days. Personally, I keep offering the same basket 2-3 days in a row, and then offer a completely different one. After all, if there's 20-30 items offered, chances are she's not going to explore all of them in one hit.
Try things like wooden spoons, shells, doilies (fabric ones), fabric off-cuts in different textures, bells, wooden massagers, pine cones, little cushions, little tins (maybe filled with things to make different sounds, like sand or rice), big bits of cork, small cardboard boxes or velvet ring boxes, leather bits, etc. Anything you can think of! Just be sure to supervise carefully, your baby will mouth these items and you don't want them to choke on the beads of a necklace that breaks in their mouth, or something.
Let me know how you go, and what was a success for your little one! ~ L.