Rediscovered Treasure - Elinor Goldschmied’s Treasure Basket
An article from Anita M. Hughes

The Discovery

In the spring of 2018 a wonderful discovery was made. The discovery was Elinor Goldschmied’s original Treasure Basket which has been offered on long term loan to the Froebel Trust by the Goldschmied family. It is now on display in the Foyle Special Collections room at the University of Roehampton. Some of the items have either disappeared or perished but there are sufficient objects (about 60) to give the viewer a feel of the range and variety that Elinor collected and which babies played with.

The Treasure Basket

The Treasure Basket is a collection of about 80-100 natural, household and recycled objects placed in a sturdy round wicker basket that is made available to a seated infant from about 5-10 months old.

At this stage all play is sensory exploration through fingers, hands and the mouth and so the greater the variety of material the greater the stimulation both for an infant’s interest and brain development.

This play is non-social and while a baby needs to be near to a key attachment figure (e.g. parent, grandparent, childminder or nursery key person) to feel safe and secure enough to be able to play, the exploration itself is done independently. The adult’s role is to be responsive and not directive. Babies can concentrate and take pleasure from this activity for up to an hour.

Curiosity and concentration form the basis of all learning and creativity. The importance of the Treasure Basket cannot be underestimated.

720x360 treasure basket
The treasure basket

Its first appearance with the Froebel Trust was at a conference style event entitled “Living with Children: A Gallery of Pedagogy” on the 5th April 2018 hosted by MA students in early childhood studies. Anita M Hughes was the guest speaker and talked about how Elinor had inspired her work and how they had worked together in the 1980s. At that time, although the Treasure Basket was well established as an approach in Italy and Spain, it was little known about or understood in the UK.

Elinor’s consultancy work from 1980 to the late 1990s (when she was already in her 70s and 80s) became entirely focused on teaching about the well-being and learning of infants in day care. Promoting the Treasure Basket (together with Heuristic Play and the Key Person Approach) became her real passions and she not only wrote books but also made many films.

A distillation of Elinor’s films (together with some contemporary footage) became the film entitled “Discovered Treasure”, which was created as part of a Froebel Trust project during 2011-2013. The DVD of this film is now available through the Froebel Trust for training purposes.

Elinor Goldschmied (1910-2009)

Elinor was born on the 15th December 1910 into a prosperous family in rural Gloucestershire. She was the middle child of seven children and was initially educated at home. Elinor felt her early experiences of paying attention to the ‘close minutiae’ (Elinor’s words) of nature plus her freedom to play imaginatively with everyday materials in the family’s large garden informed much of her work in adult life. In an interview in 2001 she recalled, “My siblings and I spent hours of our time playing with mud, water, stones, shells and leaves; all the natural things. Every single thing became an element of interest”.

At age 12, following the death of her mother, Elinor (and her elder sister) left the family home to live with their grandfather in Bristol, where she attended Clifton High School for Girls and she subsequently became head girl. On leaving school she trained as a nursery teacher at the Froebel Institute. The ethos and approach of the Froebel training supported Elinor’s passion for nature and creativity and became the foundation for her future long and varied professional life.

In 1946 Elinor, by then a mother, went to live with her Italian husband (whom she had met in London) in Trieste. There she found work in an institution for single mothers and their babies and was profoundly influenced by the effects of emotional and mental deprivation on these babies. In an interview in 2002 she recalled, “These babies in their cots were ‘closed off’ and when I offered them an object they reached, then drew their hands back. They just couldn’t cope. Eventually they managed to pick up an object with enormous caution. I then began to look around the environment for other objects. These objects were my first collection so I did the Treasure Basket in a context…..having play material became part of the daily routine…..the staff began to have relationships with those babies too. We were able to reduce the crying and anxiety”.

In 1948 Elinor and her family moved to Milan where she worked in a newly formed institution for single mothers who were stigmatised at the time (ragazze madri) and their babies. There she was able to introduce the Treasure Basket to hundreds of babies and began teaching and training in other institutions throughout the country pioneering the transformation of childcare in Italy.

Author: Anita M. Hughes

We would like to thank Anita M. Hughes, a friend and colleague of Elinor who wrote ‘Rediscovered Treasure’ on behalf of the Trust

Elinor dvd cover

Discovered Treasure: A DVD on the Life and Work of Elinor Goldschmied

We are delighted to be able to offer on loan to teaching practitioners a DVD on the life and work of esteemed Froebelian, Elinor Goldschmied. The DVD is available to tutors working within Early Years - HE Lecturers, FE Lecturers, teacher training tutors, social work training tutors, tutors training in counselling / psychotherapy, tutors of all child care courses, early years advisers.

Elinor Goldschmied trained as both a teacher and psychiatric social worker. She has had a pioneering impact on early years policy in both the UK and internationally with her work on heuristic play and the role of the Treasure Basket in facilitating the exploration of infants and the role of the ‘key person’ in group settings for young children.

Guidance notes:

The DVD, Discovered Treasure, made by a team of early years experts all of whom knew and worked closely with Elinor, is a profoundly important resource for contemporary practitioner, trainers and consultants. It sets out the development of Elinor’s thinking about key issues in the day to day care of babies and young children. Underpinning this is historical footage that Elinor took of young children in nurseries. The Trust is conscious of its duty of care regarding the portrayal of children in the DVD.

Some of the footage in the DVD contains sensitive and potentially distressing images of the impact on babies and very young children of being deprived of individual attention. Given this, the Froebel Trust has been concerned to ensure the DVD is disseminated in a way that prepares those using it for training and practice development purposes, to use the DVD in the most ethical, effective and thoughtful way.

The Trust is particularly mindful of the need to be sensitive to the impact of the DVD on those viewing it. The Trust wants to do all it can to ensure those showing and seeing the DVD understand the reasons for inclusion of the video footage. We understand that Elinor took great care to seek permission for the footage from parents and guardians. It was taken before she could have envisaged how esteemed her work would become, the contemporary significance of the material for early years policy and pedagogy, and the desire therefore to makes its dissemination widespread. The material can be upsetting to view but it is this very upset that can be a powerful factor in conveying one of the key messages of the DVD, that is the deeply negative effect on young children of lack of individual, consistent, and sensitively responsive attention.

The Trust has engaged in extensive discussions with the authors of the DVD in order to strike the most appropriate balance between wide dissemination and seeking to ensure the DVD is used with sensitive understanding of the impact the material may have on audiences. The Trust calls on those using the DVD to undertake to use their training skills to the full in introducing and explaining the DVD and its content, to monitor its impact on those seeing it, using their emotional antennae to the full to ensure that the thinking and reasoning behind the content of the DVD are understood as fully as possible.

To loan a copy of the DVD please contact