What's up with heuristic play?

The word "heuristic" means to enable a person to discover or learn something for themselves. The term heuristic play was coined by Elinor Goldschmied (1910-2009). Heuristic play is about supporting curiosity, wonder, imagination and free exploration.  Open ended, everyday objects, allow children to select, explore, manipulate and compare items with each other. During this type of exploration play, the child is engaged in their own learning, and building their own opinions and thoughts about what the object can or can't do.

These open ended objects are often referred to as “Loose Parts”. Loose parts are materials that can be moved, carried, combined, redesigned, lined up, and taken apart and put back together in multiple ways. They are materials with no specific set of directions that can be used alone or combined with other materials. You'll find our loose parts collection offers many different objects, of all shapes, sizes and textures to excite and spark children's imagination and sensory learning.

The learning opportunities and benefits for your child are huge! Because all of the items are open ended, there really are multiple ways your child can develop and grow while exploring with their heuristic play set. The great thing about a heuristic set, is that it grows alongside your child, from infancy through toddlerhood and beyond. It is only limited to your child’s own imagination. The earlier you introduce loose parts the better, as your child becomes accustomed to thinking outside the box, from the rich free play they have experienced.


I’ve got a heuristic set now what do I do? Your guide to setting up your ProjectPlay heuristic set - 

We get asked this many times! And the answer is simply – NOTHING! Well not quite that simple, but a heuristic set is designed to spark curiosity, wonder, excitement, engagement, creativity, adventure and exploration. Everyday, simple, open ended items, that ignite the senses through different textures, sizes and materials, that don’t require any batteries! A heuristic set aims to be a calming and engaging “toy” that ignites a child’s inner urge to explore the world around them, while sparking their imagination.

Simple, natural, calming, eco-friendly, baby-friendly, toddler-friendly, parent-friendly! - No whizz bang, over stimulating lights, or annoying noises!!

Here at ProjectPlay, we promote the environment as the third teacher - Say WHAT?? In a nutshell this means that it is our job as parents, caregivers, educators & teachers, to provide the right play environment for children to learn in. This philosophy means that the environment provides all the opportunities for children and we as adults take on an observation role & let the children explore the environment in their own time, pace & space.

Setting up a play space using loose parts is a simple and easy investment into your child’s learning and development. All you basically need are some open-ended loose parts and a blanket/rug to place them and your child on. It’s really that simple! No batteries required!

Follow our simple steps below to get the most out of your heuristic play set.

  1. Pick a quiet space in your home that is free from “traffic”. By this we mean a space that it not a thoroughfare or a space where people/animals will need to step over to get past. A little corner in your living space is ideal as this ensures your child feels safe and secure in their own play space, setting up the perfect environment to explore. Ensure this is a space you can easily supervise, and is away from any potential furniture that may fall into your child eg: book shelf, tv etc…
  2. Once you have found your ideal space, place a blanket or rug on the floor. This gives warmth and comfort as well as defining the space intended for play. This indicates to your child that this is their “yes” space, that they are allowed to freely explore here. A nice soft blanket works well on carpet, or a rug if you have wooden floors.
  3. Gather your loose parts and place them on the blanket/rug. You can either leave them in the cotton bag or place them in a low, sturdy basket. Ideally the basket will need to have a flat bottom and be made from a natural material.
  4. Next invite your child to explore this space. For a child who is sitting, having the bag or basket available is enough to spark their curiosity. Sit beside them and discover alongside your child as they explore it’s contents. Let your child lead the play. Your role is to observe, while also being present and available. You can use descriptive language to describe what they are learning such as: soft; smooth; rough; shiny; hard; bumpy; flat; round; squishy. For a child who is non-mobile, place a few items on either side of their upper body. Close enough for your child to reach out and grab what interests them, but far away enough that it allows them a little challenge and promotes movement. This encourages them to move their head from side to side, kick their legs and stretch their arms. You can also sit beside your child and offer different objects to them to hold. Again use the descriptive language to describe what they are experiencing. Remember this is all new to an infant who is just learning about the world. Giving them words to match their learning all help them to build the important connections for healthy brain development.

Enjoy this time with your little one, take it slow and soak up the wonder that is their learning. Always supervise your child while they are exploring with their heuristic set, especially if they like to mouth objects (remember this is all learning too so we encourage this, but promote safety first!).

Play tips:

  • Choose a time when your child is settled and calm. Just after a sleep or a feed is a great time, when they are ready and settled to engage in play. When children’s needs are met they are then able to feel safe and secure to then play. An easy way to set this up, is when your child is napping, this gives you time to create your play space and “re-set” for the next part of your day.
  • For a non-mobile child, you can place items just out of their reach to encourage them to reach out and grab. This promotes determination, gross motor development and builds sense of self achievement when they are able to work out how to reach the object. It also encourages them to find ways to move their body such as rolling and crawling.
  • Regularly rotating the items in your collection, and introducing new objects offers new challenges, stimulating curiosity, concentration and a sense of independence.
  • A circular rug offers balance, and enables you to place objects around the edge of the circle to encourage your child to move and explore. This is especially beneficial for children who are just learning to roll and move about freely, sparking curiosity & motivating them to move. 

 Our heuristic sets and loose parts, are designed to grow with your child, that is the beauty of open-ended play items! For older children you may like to set up an invitation to play, or simply having these available for your child to explore at their free will.


Is it safe?

YES! Have you ever noticed how your little one likes to mouth everything in sight, including their hands AND toes? This is all very normal infant learning and development, as they learn about their world using all their senses. In doing this, they are investigating how it feels, how it tastes, how it smells and what it does. Smooth, rough, soft & hard. Allowing your child to explore like this is important for building connections in their brain. 

We are experts on play and we are serious about safety. We are also parents ourselves and we understand that providing safe play items for your little one is important to you and your child. We know the biggest safety concern is choking and that is why all of our items have been tested using a certified choking cylinder, as recommended by the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission. We do still however STRONGLY ADVISE MANDATORY ADULT SUPERVISION AT ALL TIMES and that you are ultimately responsible for ensuring you select items that are suitable to your child's age and needs.