The Basket of Known Objects

The Basket of Known Objects is one of the most simple and effective Montessori activities for babies.  It promotes exploration, language, sensory development and movement… Best of all, it’s 100% FREE!!

As its name implies, this activity requires placing 4-6 safe objects that you find around the house into a child-sized basket.  It can be introduced around the age of three months, or when you see that your child is beginning to grasp objects.  If your baby can sit up against pillows, you can introduce the basket in a sitting position.  Otherwise, you can place it on the floor next to your child and let him turn towards it.

The main purpose of this activity is to help your child explore the objects in his environment before he’s crawling; it’s like bringing the world to him!  While not a formal language activity, you can eventually introduce the names of the objects by conversing casually with your child as he explores.  However, first give him ample uninterrupted time to explore the basket and its contents.  Now is when you can grab that elusive shower or make dinner!

Our first basket was too big!

When I first introduced the activity to Zach, he was more interested in the basket than in the objects.  This was a little frustrating until I realized that this is the norm with infants; unlike pre-schoolers (with whom I am accustomed to working), babies will spend a long time just exploring the material and its container before engaging in what we would consider the actual purpose of the activity (of course, this exploration is also purposeful and incredibly important because for them, EVERYTHING is new!).

Our Basket of Known Objects has evolved with Zach’s interests (and, I must admit, my creativity).  At first, I chose four random objects (a measuring cup, a teaspoon, a baby food jar and a hand cream jar).  Note that these are real objects from our environment, not plastic toys.  As I moved around the house, I would encounter other items that could be introduced (a bracelet, a small box, a seashell, a coin purse, etc.).  Every few days, I would replace one familiar object in the basket with a new item and then offer the basket again.  We quickly realized that Zach would zero in on the new object.  Every. Single. Time.  Try it and see what your baby does!

When Zach began showing interest in crawling at around 6 months of age, I modified the contents of the basket so that they all rolled.  This provided lots of opportunity for chasing round objects around the living room!

Now that Zach is eight months old and on the verge of understanding language, I’m preparing a new basket, this time with objects that belong to the same category.  I’ve chosen to start with types of brushes – toothbrush, nail brush, hair brush, and basting brush – since that’s what I have around the house.  This activity will provide re-enforcement of the word “brush”, and will help him understand that within the category “brush” there are many types of brushes.

If you choose to offer this activity to your baby, use common sense to make sure all the objects in the basket are safe.  Tightly screw the caps on small bottles and check them often (some people even glue them on); avoid objects that can poke (especially before the child develops good coordination); if you are offering an object made out of glass, don’t leave baby unattended and make sure  he’s exploring on a soft surface away from walls.  If you choose the objects with care, you can leave your baby exploring on his own for as long as he’s interested (sometimes Zach would work with his basket for over 20 minutes).

Have you made a Basket of Known Objects for your baby?  Do you have any suggestions for parents who want to try this activity with their child?  Please share your ideas or experiences in the comments!

7 thoughts on “The Basket of Known Objects”

  1. I love your article! I am just a little confused (and hope that maybe you can help me out 😉 Sometimes I read in Montessori literature that you should put in as many as 50-100 objects into the basket (Tim Seldin – How to raise an amazing child the montessori way) and sometimes I read something that is more in line with what you say. I am wondering why that is so and what they actually teach in the A to I training!?!


    1. Hi Hannah! What they teach in the A to I training is 4-8 objects, no more than that. You know your child; do you feel he/she will be able to focus and get familiar with 50-100 objects at one time? Some people feel that since the baby has an “absorbent mind”, he should be given everything. But the purpose of any Montessori material or experience is to give the child keys or introductions, so he’ll be curious to find out more on his own as he grows. I feel some people Americanize Montessori and apply the “if a little is good, a lot must be better” mentality. That’s not how children’s minds work, they need order and organization to maintain clarity. There’s not going to be much order or clarity in a basket with 100 objects! If you look at pictures of AMI Infant Communities, they will seem very sparse and minimalistic to you. This is done for a purpose. 🙂

      But never mind what I say, look at your child. See with how many objects he begins to seem overwhelmed (and by overwhelmed, I mean does he stop exploring with focus and just jump from one object to another? Does his head look like it’s spinning from looking at everything? Is the room a horrible mess when he’s done with the basket?)

      I hope this helps!

  2. Thanks for your reply! I do not have kids, yet. I am just a nanny for now and the child I take care of has already outgrown the phase of the baskets. She is 22 months old and really into dressing herself right now. I was just curios to know your opinion on this contradiction, as I have heard so and so. But what you say makes complete sens to me! Thanks! This will really help me once I start working on baskets for my own baby (hopefully within the next 2 years).
    Have a good weekend,

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