Whether it’s so you can work remotely, assist older kids with remote learning or homeschooling, take care of a new baby or (the Holy Grail) drink a cup of coffee uninterrupted, every parent needs their littles ones to play independently sometimes. As they get older, it often becomes a bit easier as they start to play with toys in a more traditional way. But from when baby learns to sit up until 18-20 months, keeping them engaged in solo play can be challenging.
One solution: keep your baby entertained with treasure baskets.
To us grown-ups, these collections of items may seem like random stuff tossed together. But treasure baskets (also known as discovery bins) are great for keeping both older babies & young toddlers playing happily.
So what’s the appeal? Since babies and young toddlers are discovering the world, they want to touch everything! Treasure baskets are, in essence, creating a sensory play opportunity. But without the mess of sand, rice or water bins.
How to create and use discovery bins
Each of your discovery bins should have 5-10 objects. You can create texture, shape or color themed baskets. However, that’s not really necessarily, especially for babies under a year old. Having items that provide different sensory experiences can keep kiddos exploring longer.
You don’t have to spend a lot of money to make a great treasure bin. Look around your house and in your kids’ toys for items. You likely have plenty to repurpose and keep your baby entertained. If you are a crafty parent, you can check Pinterest for DIY ideas. But that’s not really necessary. If you are unhappy with your home selection or don’t want to sacrifice your cooking implements, check the dollar store for a few items to supplement what you have on hand.
One key for these baskets (or bins, shoe boxes, or buckets) to keep your toddler entertained is rotation! The novelty makes them more fun. Therefore, make a few bins (3-5 is plenty) and when your little one gets bored, swap it out for another basket. And every once and awhile mix up items in each discovery bin.
Treasure basket items from your toy box
If you have an older kiddo, raid their toy collection. Then look in your closest for the toys that people gave your baby when they were too little for toys. Also, if your baby has an old favorite that isn’t entertaining them anymore, adding it to a rotation of treasure baskets might spark some new interest in it.
- Soft ball
- Rattle or egg shaker
- Blocks (Duplo or Mega Blocks are great for this or soft fabric blocks)
- Plastic keys
- Stacking cup
- Linking chain
- Teething toy
- Toy vehicle
- Piece of wooden train track
- Plastic or wooden animal toy
- Small stuffie or doll
- Shatter proof mirror
Discovery bin items from your kitchen
Kids all love kitchen tools as playthings. As a result, they are the perfect additions to your mini-collections of items to keep your toddler entertained.
- Fabric napkin
- Wooden spoon
- Saucepan (if you don’t need quiet!)
- Plastic food storage containers
- Rubber spatula
- Measuring cup
- Measuring spoon
- Silicone basting brush
- Washed carrot, potato or apple
Treasure basket items from your recycling bin
Recycling bins are chock full of play potential. So many creative and imaginative possibilities exist for kids of all ages in what would otherwise become trash. And this includes your littlest ones. Pull a few of these out before the recycling truck picks up your bins.
- Toilet paper or paper towel roll
- Plastic lid
- Yogurt containers
Books for your treasure baskets
You probably have plenty of options of great board books to choose from already on your shelves. The best books for independent exploration are durable. Even if your kiddo does nothing to books but tear pages and chews on them, Indestructibles will hold up. Black and white board books, like Baby Play, are great for younger babies. And all babies and young toddlers love to look at faces, so one of my favorites to include is Global Babies. As your kiddo gets older, try one you’ve read many times. You may hear them re-telling the story.
Items from nature for your treasure baskets
Nature is kind enough to provide plenty of objects to keep your baby entertained. For the minimally supervised play that a discovery bin provides, stay clear of rocks and sticks.
- Pine cone
- Large seashell
- Drift wood
Misc. discovery items from around the house
Truthfully, we all have plenty of random things around the house that would fascinate the little explorers we are raising. Take a walk around your house with an eye out for safe, fun items to toss in your discovery bins. Then give it a try. After all, if your little one doesn’t like it, you can replace it with something else.
- Stray socks
- Pieces of thick ribbon
- Square silk scarf
So set up that little one up in a play yard, on a blanket or even in a laundry basket. While you keep your baby entertained with a treasure basket, you can then get your work done guilt free. In the end, after being productive, you can dive undistracted into messier indoor or outdoor sensory play or outside. But in the meantime, you have a great solution for independent play that will delight your kiddo.