Discovery Baskets for Babies and Toddlers

Dec 28, 2016

While there seems to be a ton of fun activity ideas for preschoolers at our fingertips, sometimes it’s harder to find little things you can do at home with babies and young toddlers. Thank goodness for discovery baskets! These simple little collections can be put together in an endless number of ways and make a wonderful go-to activity for little ones from 6 to 18 months (with wiggle room on either side, depending on the child of course).

Six discovery baskets with different themes: shapes, fruit, colour, kitchen gadgets, music and crumple.

So what is a discovery basket?

A discovery basket (also often called a treasure basket) is a container of items you present to your child to explore. The items inside usually vary in shape, size, and texture, and appeal to the curiosity of babies and toddlers alike.

What is the purpose?

Discovery baskets encourage babies and toddlers to observe new things in a safe and supervised environment, while allowing them the space and independence to explore the objects as they please. They provide an opportunity for little ones to use their full range of senses while making new discoveries.

How do you make one?

The good news is that making your own discovery baskets is incredibly easy and inexpensive. First off, start with a basket. You’ll want something shallow and with a wide opening so that your little one has easy access to the collection of items inside. A natural wicker basket is lovely, but a box-top, bowl, or tray will do just fine. Next, think about what you’d like to put inside…  For a young baby, you may want to include just a few things (say 4 or 5), whereas for an older toddler, you’ll probably want a larger collection (perhaps 10 or 20 items, or even more). The objects can be things you find around the house or things you collect outdoors in nature — no need to buy anything — the things you already have will be new and interesting to your little one! Varying sizes, textures, materials and shapes will keep things interesting, but whatever you choose, just be sure the objects are safe for your little one to explore independently.

What do you do with discovery baskets?

Once your baby is old enough to sit up independently, he or she will most likely be interested in exploring simple discovery baskets. During playtime, simply present a basket to your little one and allow him or her to explore each object while you sit back and watch from a little ways away. If possible, allow your little one to explore and discover without interrupting or showing him what to do with the objects. This is a fantastic opportunity for child-led play.

You'll Also Love: Nature Exploration Trays — Toddler-Safe Science

Discovery baskets can very much be filled with random assortments of objects (and sometimes the most interesting ones are!), but here are a few themed basket ideas to get you started...

1. Kitchen treasures

A basket with a wooden spoon, metal scoop, metal baking mould, plastic juicer and a whisk.

This is such a fun one! After all, which little one doesn’t love digging through the kitchen cupboards and drawers, right? Go through your kitchen and find objects of different sizes, shapes, textures and materials and pop them in a basket and voila! 

2. Shape basket

A basket filled with six different spherical objects: balls, oranges and pom-poms.

Does your baby appear to be drawn to a particular shape? My little one just adores balls, so we ran with that and put together this basket of spheres for him. While the objects are all the same shape, they vary in size and texture, which keeps things fun and interesting. There’s even an element of smell and taste included, which makes things extra fun.

3. Colour basket

A basket of red things: a ribbon, wooden blocks, spatula, feather and a beaded necklace.

This one is so easy and fun! Simply choose a colour and find several objects in shades of that hue. Search the kitchen, the craft drawer, the toy basket, and the holiday bin — anything goes here! Present one colour this time around and then switch it up to a new colour next time.

4. Fresh fruit basket 

A basket of fresh fruit: persimmon, lime (halved), pear, pomegranate and lemon (halved).

One of my baby’s favourites! A fresh fruit discovery basket makes for a gorgeous collection of smells and colours. I like to present a couple of the pieces of fruit cut in half just to add interest and an added ability to taste, but you certainly don’t have to. The same can be done with veggies too. Green onions, celery, carrots, sweet potato and kale leaves all make for wonderful additions to a veggie discovery basket.

5. Crumple basket

A basket with torn pieces of coloured paper, crepe streamers, tissue paper, thin cardboard and tin foil.

One of the easiest of the bunch and perfect for around birthdays and holidays when packaging and wrapping is abundant. Simply dig through the paper recycling bin and see what you can find. Cardboard, tissue paper, wrapping paper, crepe paper and foil offer a wide range of colours, textures and sounds that babies will love exploring.

6. Music basket

Basket filled with small music-makers: a harmonica, mini keyboard, shaker, castanets and bells.

Many little ones love music and making noise, so why not present them with a basket of goodies that will help them do just that? We just so happen to have a wide selection of musical instruments in our house, but you can make a similar basket with just regular things from around the house too. A small pot with a mallet or spoon makes a lovely drum, small containers filled with jingle bells or popcorn seeds make lovely shakers, and two smooth stones make a satisfying sound when knocked together. Anything that can be used to make noise goes!

Well, that’s it…  6 really fun and easy ideas to get you started on discovery baskets with your baby or toddler. Enjoy!

Article Author Jen Kossowan
Jen Kossowan

See all of Jen's posts.

Jen is a teacher, blogger, and mama to a spirited little lady and a preemie baby boy. She's passionate about play, loves a good DIY project, adores travelling, and can often be found in the kitchen creating recipes that meet her crunchy mama criteria. You can follow Jen on her blog, Mama.Papa.Bubba, and on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.

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