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Providing Creative Spaces for Babies and Toddlers

It’s a common misconception that creative play is limited to children under three years. With some key materials, it is possible to engage very young children in activities that encourage their creativity.

Written by: Early Educational Advisor - Jo Harris  

It’s a common misconception that creative play is limited to children under three years. This might be because of the belief that creativity is linked to art experiences and that they must be understood by adults as having a purpose or recognisable in their eyes.

With some key materials, it is possible to engage very young children in activities that encourage their creativity. Documentation of the experience, including observation or commentary of the process the child experienced, can also support conversations with the children involved. Keeping an open mind and nurturing children's social and emotional development is made simpler by including resources that support skills including problem-solving, flexibility and curiosity - all integral to the learning process. 

Following are five simple steps to promote creative play and thinking in young children’s learning environments. 

Simplicity is Best 

The general rule of thumb is the quality of resources over quantity. These can be natural or man-made - after considering any potential safety concerns, they can be introduced to children. By providing a carefully curated collection, children will become more familiar with them and begin to find different ways to use them. 

Stimulation can be found through the smallest things, such as noticing the colours and textures of things. Listening to and for sound patterns, rhyming words and sounds, can be the basis for enjoying music and singing. 

Covering paint with plastic bubble wrap or inside a Ziploc bag can help keep it free from mouths but offer easy and safe access to little hands for babies. Older children and toddlers will enjoy dabbling with stubby brushes and palm printers exploring the cause-and-effect process of adding paint to paper.

Introduce more resources as confidence grows

As children’s play progresses, so does their interest in sustaining play at a chosen activity. Early mark-making can soon transform experimental scribbles into making recognisable images of everyday items like family and houses that are important to children and the world around them. 

With repetition and repeated experience, children master skills such as hand-eye coordination that enable them to discover more complex tools such as foam rollers, and eye droppers in the art area.

These skills are easily transferable to other activities, including building, construction and playing a musical instrument. 

Make it a Multisensory Experience

At later stages of development, children may begin to create more complex artwork, drawing upon their imagination. A drawing or painting may be cut out and repurposed to make a puppet, a piece of clothing or a prop for imaginative play. 

Consider putting on background music while creative play is occurring. Children may choose to invent dances, characters and stories to act out with others. 

For early toddlers beginning parallel play, providing open access to musical instruments to engage with is a great way to encourage creative expression.

Embed Creative Thinking into Everyday Routines

A golden rule in Early Learning Education is to allow children to do things for themselves where possible and resist the urge to intervene - eg using scissors to open packaging, as this extends their creative thinking and problem solving making it more meaningful.

Asking children for their thoughts or asking them to make choices on everyday activities like getting dressed provides a sense of Agency which is critical to developing creative thinking capabilities.  

Reflect on the Learning and Plan the Next Steps in Collaboration

I encourage you to listen to children’s ideas and support the steps they need to follow to make things happen. Often children have the ‘answer’ but not the words to articulate what they want to achieve and why. Working through these processes is integral to moulding and shaping new generations of thinkers of the future. 

Spending time reflecting on activities, processes and outcomes with the children provides the opportunity to capture progress and shape future activity selection in a collaborative style.

Creativity is a Necessary Life Skill

The late Sir Ken Robinson, an international advisor on education stated that  ‘Creativity is now as important in education as literacy'. This is important to keep top of mind when planning a learning environment that reflects such a sharp contrast in how we view education today and how we may in the future. 

To communicate effectively, the resources and approaches to teaching and learning need to consider children having some ownership of their educational experience. On the way to learning, the activities themselves, when co-created with and by children, have the potential to be more relevant and meaningful and shape how they see themselves as creative beings throughout their lives.  

For more ideas and information please visit to read more blogs or watch our videos that provide tips on encouraging creative play. 


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