Discover in this article the concept of “Heuristic Play“!

What is heuristic play?

Heuristic play is a form of play that foresees the exploration of unstructured materials, and possible combinations between them.

This proposal was developed by Elinor Goldschmied, a British nursery teacher and researcher, with the purpose of improving the educational opportunities of children of nursery age. Goldschmied believed that heuristic play is essential to children’s development and learning.

It is a type of play that puts the teacher in a privileged position to support children and observe their discoveries, in order to step in as little as possible. Its role essentially involves creating the appropriate conditions through the way it organizes the educational environment (Goldschmied and Jackson, 2006).

Paulo Fochi, a Brazilian preschool teacher and researcher, recently deepened his reflection on heuristic play. In his book, Heuristic Play in Day Care, Fochi defines heuristic play as a type of play in which children are free to explore and experiment with a diversity of materials, without any specific goals or objectives (Fochi, 2023). The treasure basket, the heuristic game and the experiment trays are three types of heuristic play, developed according to the ages of the children.

It is undeniable that heuristic play is essential for children’s development and learning, as it allows them to build up their physical, cognitive, social and emotional skills.

Here some benefits of heuristic play:

  • Physical development:
    • Helps children develop their balance and fine/ gross motor skills.
  • Cognitive development:
    • helps children develop their critical thinking, problem-solving and creativity skills.
  • Social development:
    • helps children develop their social skills, such as sharing, cooperating and resolving conflicts. It also helps learning about others’ emotions and how to relate to them.
  • Emotional development:
    • helps children develop their self-esteem, self-confidence and resilience.

For those interested in heuristic play, there are many resources available. You have books, articles and websites that offer tips on how to create a safe and stimulating play environment.

 If you are curious to understand the role of the nursing teacher in a heuristic play situation, don’t miss this book:

By providing children with a safe and stimulating environment to play, you can help them learn and grow in a healthy way.

📍ChildDiary Tip

When observing a heuristic play situation, record the interactions with the materials and between peers (photo or video).
Make small notes as “memory aid”, to create a record in ChildDiary, attach or transcribe this evidence and analyze it using one of the pedagogical references available in the “curricular parameters”.
Ask yourself: “What can I learn about this child?”. Then share the pedagogical documentation and approach you created with families.

Bibliographic references:

Fochi, P. (2023). Heuristic Play at Daycare: pedagogical paths at the children’s culture observatory – OBECI. APEI – Association of Early Childhood Education Professionals.

Goldschmied, E., & Jackson, S. (2006). Education from 0 to 3 years old: Daycare services. Artmed.

Teresa Gonçalves

Educadora e Especialista de Apoio ao Cliente

Patrícia Nogueira

Early Years Education Specialist and Sales Manager

Discover how ChildDiary is helping hundreds of child care settings!