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What is heuristic play?

Exploring heuristic play

The word heuristic derives from the Greek word eurisko meaning ‘I discover’. It is used to describe an intuitive way of meeting challenges and solving problems – exactly what young children do when they are engaged in heuristic play.

Toddlers are fascinated by finding out not just what things are but also what they will do. Their natural inclination is to pick things up and explore what they feel like by using their fingers, hands, feet or other parts of their body. They are interested in the texture, shape, colour, weight, flexibility and malleability of different objects. They wave things around to see how they move, drop them to see what they sound like and bang them on a hard surface to see if they change shape or even break. Using their manipulative skills, they push and poke, squeeze and squash, pull and twist the different objects to see what they can do with them. They may be interested in finding out which parts of an object move and which stay still, whether objects will roll or bounce, whether things will stack on top of one another, which things will fit inside other things and how objects can be moved from place to place.

Heuristic play is a wonderful opportunity to capitalise on a toddler’s curiosity about the objects that make up the world around them. The resources which make up a heuristic play collection will not be the kinds of objects traditionally thought of as toys for young children, but they provide equally valuable opportunities for extending children’s learning. There is no right and wrong way to play with heuristic play resources, so everyone’s ideas are equally valid and worthwhile. The open-ended nature of the resources means that all toddlers can explore and investigate in their own way, applying their own creative ideas and building on their own experiences. Different children will be interested in doing different things with the resources so the key to creating a good heuristic play collection is to include as wide a variety of resources as possible.

To find out more, read our Exploring Heuristic Play guide here.