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How to Engage Your Toddlers and Preschoolers in Creative Play

‘Play and Learn’ – a contradiction of terms perhaps – but in the world of a child growing up, play is an essential ingredient to learning.

Providing opportunities for creative play should be part of a child’s daily routine.

What is Creative Play?

Einstein said: ‘Creativity is intelligence having fun.’ 

Creative play is any type of play that is free and allows children to express themselves.

Creative play provides an opportunity for your kids to have fun, but develop intellectually at the same time. During creative play, children gain skills that are essential to academic learning and social development.

 At the same time, you and your children get to have fun together.

The Benefits of Creative Play

Creativity is all about experimenting, inventing, designing, trying new things and having fun. 

Mother nature has designed play as the way to grow and mature. Baby animals are naturally playful. Children enjoy play activities too. 

When you understand the importance of play, and the value of providing particular play activities, you will want to encourage creative play as a routine part of your children’s development.

There is a great deal of truth in the ancient Chinese proverb that says:

I hear and I forget.
I see and I remember.
I do and I understand.

It is the doing part of being creative that is so important for child development from an early age. 

Parents can encourage children to have new experiences and let their children grow more confident, and develop holistically, through all kinds of play activities.

Creative play ideas for kids - pinnable image

Types of Creative Play

Creative play falls under many different umbrellas. It crosses boundaries in every area of child development. When you become aware of what it means to encourage creative play you begin to see the opportunities all around you every day.

Child playing creatively with Lego bricks

Dr Seuss, the very creative author of the Cat in the Hat books, said:

Think left and think right, think low and think high.
Oh the thinks you can think, if only you try.

Once you start thinking creatively you will find there are many areas where creativity is being developed. 

The key areas of child development can always be uplifted through creative play. Start thinking and associating creative play ideas in these areas – physical, emotional, social and cognitive.

Children’s creative minds are awakened by sensory development through touch, taste, hearing, smelling and seeing the world around them. 

Providing a platform for all this creativity is a very important part of parenting. Play experiences are possible and simple in all kinds of situations.

Examples of Creative Play Activities for Toddlers and Preschoolers

So, now that you have the theory behind creative play in the early years, what about the practical?

The how, where, with, what and when of creative play.

A large portion of creative play happens naturally. However, you can build a playful and creative environment for your children.

Here are some examples of creative play areas and ideas.

1. The Garden or Outdoor Spaces

Encourage physical creativity with climbing, crawling, running, jumping and all the gross motor skills you can think of.

Set up an obstacle course in your garden.

You will be amazed at how much fun your kids will have with a few hoops, a plank of wood, some buckets and beanbags and some plastic cones.

Most of these things are easy to find in kids’ stores and what a lot of fun the whole family can have with races, bean bag toss or walking the plank for balancing.

The garden is a wonderful place to create an interest in planting and watering and watching seeds grow. It’s an opportunity to get creative.

Children gardening

Gardening is ideal for connecting with nature and nurturing something at the same time. 

Pots can be decorated and even fairy gardens created if you have the space in your garden. If you have no real garden space, balconies and kitchens can house plants quite happily. 

Plant vegetables and then have the joy of being the ‘farmer’ and harvesting your own vegetables.

2. The Kitchen

Everyone loves getting creative in the kitchen.

Biscuit decorating or baking cupcakes are great creative activities. Children love to be in the kitchen and baking embraces all sorts of sensory developmental areas as you touch, taste, smell and see the yummy things you bake.

Decorated biscuits

Older children benefit from being able to weigh and measure and learn to make light lunches or salads. The kitchen can be a hive of creativity.

3. The Bedroom or Playroom

If you are lucky enough to have a special playroom then that is a bonus, but with some easy ideas for laying out and packing away items, the bedroom can be a little hub of creativity. 

Puzzles, building blocks and Lego are all good investments for creative play.

Child building with blocks

Have a mat on the floor as a play space and teach your children from a young age to clean up and have places for everything to go:

  • Baskets and buckets for blocks and Lego.
  • Shelves and cupboard space for puzzles and books.

Dressing up lets children lose some of their inhibitions so a dress-up box is another asset to the playroom. Hats and scarves, old shoes and bags all lend themselves to putting on shows and some imaginative drama to entertain you.

Never underestimate the value of books. Creativity through imagination is a vital part of broadening the mind. A cosy corner with a bean bag and some books is a special place to go any time of the day. 

Children can enjoy picture books from a young age and graduate to print as they build literacy skills. Creating an interest in and love of books can start long before your children are able to read.

4. Keeping a Creative Waste Basket

This is a wonderful resource for your children; a great big collection of all kinds of goodies to use to create everything and anything. 

Children can play and create with waste materials for hours.

Toilet rolls, scrap paper, cotton wool, coloured wool, sticky paper, various crayons or marking pens, stamps and stickers – there is no end to the wonderful things you can have in a basket ready for a rainy day or any day your children may feel like making something different.

Making paper bag puppets is a really wonderful way to use up your creative waste and then add to the creative experience with a puppet show. Have some brown paper bags available – the ones with the flat bottom – because they turn into really interesting puppets and the flap at the bottom can be used as a mouthpiece.

5. Messy Play

Children love to get dirty so allow for some messy play. Find a suitable place for an activity that might include paint, clay or chalk.

Let your kids experiment with finger painting, printing with leaves and stamping, making paper mache or getting covered in clay while moulding a sculpture.

Child painting outside

Messy play needs preparation but is well worth the effort.

6. Going on Outings

Going on organised outings is an excellent way to stimulate creativity and imagination. Seeing new things and experiencing new places is part of engaging the creative mind and exploring. 

It is important to look for age-appropriate outings and have some ground rules before you embark on trips and venture out into the big wide world. For example, teach your children that a museum is a quiet place and that items cannot be touched.

If you scan your area and look for different activities geared towards children you will be amazed at how much there is to do.  Visit museums, join the library, go to the park and invite a friend to join in for some social interaction.

7. Dress-Up Day

Now here’s a chance to go all out and get a theme day going with everyone in the family joining in.

It could be a pirates day, for example. ‘Aarrh aarrh me hearties!’

  • It’s time to dress up and put on pirate face paint and pirate clothes.
  • Play tug of war and walk the plank in the garden with your obstacle race equipment.
  • Build a pirate ship in the bedroom with blankets and make pirate patches and masks.
  • You can end the day with a pirate movie like Peter Pan or Pirates of the Caribbean.

It will be a completely creative day and the whole family can join in.

Family playing dress up pirates

8. Story Telling

It’s time to recall the day’s creativity and encourage some inventive storytelling. Talk about your day or get creative with a make-believe story or look at a favourite book.

Take some creative pictures of your own and start a scrapbook for your children. The best creative days become memories and capture the joy of being involved in creative play.

Enjoy looking for creativity in the simplest of activities.

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