In our day, in which entire stores are dedicated to the material needs of babies and bookstore aisles are filled with books for children, it is hard to remember that not too long ago many caregivers once gave little thought to the intellectual development of infants. This was the case just after World War II in an Italian orphanage, where the abandoned children were emotionally and mentally neglected. A woman named Elinor Goldschmied discovered she could comfort crying babies by giving them everyday objects to hold. Goldschmied became an educational pioneer known for promoting the Treasure Basket, a collection of objects to stimulate a baby’s senses and promote brain development. Photos of one of Goldschmied’s baskets show a pinecone, spoon, rocks, bottles, seashells, and several kitchen utensils. It is now widely known that babies are learning about the world as they touch things, study them with their eyes, and place the objects in their mouth. Providing the baby with different textures and sizes feeds the baby’s curiosity and intellectual stimulation.
A baby will play independently with all the objects in a Treasure Basket, but that doesn’t mean the caregiver does not have a role to play. In a chapter in The Routledge International Handbook of Early Childhood Play, Anita M. Hughes and Jacqui Cousins discuss how the Treasure Basket should be presented by a trusted caregiver. First of all, the child feels safe when he or she is with a caregiver with whom he or she is securely attached. Second, the caregiver gets to observe how the baby interacts with the objects; this is a valuable opportunity to see the baby’s learning in progress. By not interrupting, and allowing the baby to choose what object to hold, the caregiver encourages the baby to concentrate and make decisions.