Heuristic Play

An inquiry-based approach

At Shooting Stars we promote an inquiry-based learning approach, and we recognise that resources which are open ended, movable and can used in a variety of ways offer the widest range of benefit to children, and encourage exploratory play, imagination and creativity.  We provide opportunities for children to become more confident and autonomous problem-solvers and thinkers, full of courage and self-belief as they discover and ‘learn by doing’.

The phrase “toys that do less, teach more” illustrates our approach well.  A child may be constrained by the functional limitations of a toy, whereas with loose parts and objects, the child is free from the prescribed methods and functions and their limitless creativity takes over. Children are naturally curious and innovative, and heuristic play offers them opportunities to explore and develop in a completely natural way.

Download our guide on how to safely extend heuristic play opportunities to your child at home.

Find out more

You can find out more about heuristic play and why we support this style at Shooting Stars by selecting each of the drop down boxes below.

The term “Heuristic Play” describes the interaction of babies and children with everyday objects and loose parts rather than toys. When playing with loose parts, children are free to select, explore, manipulate, tinker, pull, push, bang, bounce, squeeze, compare, combine, construct, study, evaluate, hide, fold, bend, measure, smell and touch to discover what the objects can and can’t do.

When interacting with loose parts and objects, children are free from the prescribed methods of playing with a toy and their limitless creativity is free to take over. Children can therefore extend their own learning further with each interaction, engage more deeply and really develop as they play. Heuristic play stimulates creativity and imagination, multiple senses and critical thinking. It supports gross motor skills and brain development as well as early mathematical conceptual learning, and allows children to gain an understanding of the world around them and encourages independence.

Any objects of different textures, colours, weights, materials, sounds, shapes and smells (NB items are considered carefully for suitability e.g sharp edges, choking hazards etc before making them available to the children.  Adult supervision is required during interaction with resources.) Click here to view our ‘Guide to heuristic play at home’ for a list of ideas!

The term heuristic play was coined by Elinor Goldschmied in the 1980s and became a formal term in the book People Under Three: Young Children in Daycare.  The concept of heuristic play is intrinsically linked to inquiry-based learning theory.  Jerome Bruner introduced us to the term ‘discovery learning’, where children interact with the world by exploring and manipulating objects, and are more likely to remember concepts and knowledge discovered on their own.  Reggio Emilia felt that children are the main initiators of the learning process, inspired by their own interest to know and learn.

Heuristic play has a calm simplicity and many benefits for children’s learning and development.  However, that isn’t to say toys, games, books, technology and physical activity aren’t important tools to support children’s learning too! Heuristic play fits in nicely with all of the other things that young children love to do and play with. Offering a combination of heuristic opportunities and outdoor exploration alongside active play, singing and dancing, role play, mark making, playing socially, discovering technology and cosy relaxation with a book or their favourite soft toy will give each child a great balance and a rounded learning experience as they grow and develop.

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