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Low-Cost or No-Cost Heuristic Materials for Babies, Toddlers, and Twos

December 9th, 2021 | 1 min. read

By Jaimee Council

What are heuristic learning materials? In her book, Enticing Environments for People Under Three, Laura Wilhelm explains that the term heuristic comes from the Greek word heuriskein, which is also where the word eureka (“I have found it!”) comes from. Heuriskein means “discovery.” When we refer to heuristic materials in the context of babies and young children, we mean objects that children can explore, discover, and learn from such as natural objects or household items. Exploring the treasures in a basket of natural and household items, children seem to be considering the play potential of each object they pick up.

Collecting materials for this type of play in your classroom doesn’t have to be expensive! If you make a list of things you’d like to have, parents can help you start your collections. Make sure all items are sanitized, unbroken with no cracks, and larger than a choke tester tube. Choosing unfinished wooden objects eliminates the risk of toxic finishes. Check out the list below of low-cost to no-cost heuristic learning materials, and learn more about how to thoughtfully incorporate these materials into your classrooms or spaces for infants and toddlers in the book Enticing Environments for People Under Three. You can also check out Laura's first book on heuristic learning for infants and toddlers called Treasure Basket Explorations

Heuristic materials for babies:

  • Cookie tins
  • Embroidered handkerchiefs
  • Loofahs and sponges
  • Coasters
  • Measuring cups

Heuristic materials for toddlers:

  • Containers with lids
  • Purses, bags, and beautiful things to put things inside them
  • Nesting cups or bowls
  • Measuring cups
  • Wooden spoons
  • Small pots and pans

Heuristic materials for twos:

  • Pretty dishes
  • Muffin tins
  • Old remote controls (with the batteries removed and the little screws glued in place)
  • Pine cones
  • Makeup brushes
  • Real fruits
  • Large nuts and bolts
  • Small tiles
  • Ribbons to weave on a chain-link fence
  • Palm-sized river rocks

Author(s)Laura Wilhelm

Jaimee Council

A graduate of Appalachian State University with B.S. in Communication - Electronic Media and Broadcasting, Jaimee Council served a content strategy team lead for Gryphon House and Kaplan Early Learning Company from 2021-2022. Her talents include writing, photography, video production, audio production, blog management, website content management, social media management, some design, and data analytics for websites, social media, and customer relationship databases.