By Raising Children Network
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Preschoolers doing craft
Creative play is very important for preschoolers’ development. You can create an encouraging environment for your preschooler by allowing plenty of time for free-flowing creative activities.

How to encourage your preschooler’s creative play

Giving your preschooler time and space to be creative is very important. Preschoolers like to be spontaneous in their play, so follow their lead when it comes to creative play.

Another thing to encourage is the idea that there’s more than one way to do something. For example, there’s more than one way to draw a person, build a sandcastle, or play a drum. It’s important to let children know they don’t have to conform to anyone else’s ideas. Encourage them to go their own way with play.

Give your child simple materials to stimulate imagination and encourage unstructured play. Books, CDs, drawing materials, sound makers, playdough and wooden blocks are all good examples.

The creative arts help to develop children’s senses. Give them access to a wide range of materials to encourage their sense of touch. Yes, finger painting can be messy, but it’s a great activity for sensory development.

Although it’s good to leave children to create and play in their own way, from time to time you might want to step in. You can show your child how to vary the play and perhaps use more senses in different ways.

Whatever artwork, song or dance your child comes up with, give lots of descriptive praise. For example,  ‘I love the picture you drew. You really know how to put colours together’. This will boost self-esteem and encourage your child to keep going with the creative play.

Not sure what to expect when it comes to the creative arts? Read more in our article on preschooler creative and artistic development.

Ideas for making things

You don’t always need to give your child brand new play materials. Using everyday objects, and making it up as you go along, is a great way to encourage creative development.

Keep a ‘busy box’ of useful objects or materials for creative play. A busy box could contain things like string and coloured paper, empty food containers and plastic cups.
  • Use an empty cardboard box to make a house, a robot, a truck, an animal – whatever your child is keen on. You could cut up the box, glue things onto it, or paint it.
  • Glue ribbons and strips of material onto paper or cardboard.
  • Old newspaper, glue and water are all you need for papier mâché, although your child will need help with this.
  • Use empty toilet rolls or small plastic juice bottles to make a family. Draw on faces, stick on paper clothes, and use cotton wool for hair. When you’ve finished making the family, your child could use these new toys to make up stories.
  • In autumn, collect fallen leaves for drawing, pasting onto paper or dipping into paint.
  • Use small plastic lids, patty pan cases and other ‘threadables’ to make jewellery.
For more on inexpensive play ideas, you might like to read our article on playing without paying.

Play idea: paint blob animals
You need:

  • a plastic tablecloth or old newspapers
  • one large sheet of paper
  • paint.

To make your paint blob animals:

  1. Cover your table or floor with the tablecloth or newspapers.
  2. Fold the sheet of paper in half then unfold it.
  3. Get your child to put blobs of paint on one half of the paper.
  4. Fold the other half of the paper over the paint while the paint is wet, then smooth the paper over the paint.
  5. Unfold the paper carefully to reveal … a fantasy winged animal!
  6. Encourage your child to add details to the picture – for example, spots, antennae, legs, a hat, maybe even a wand!
  7. Get your child to make up a name for the winged animal and then help your child write the name on the paper.
  8. Display the artwork in a special place in the house.

Drama ideas

  • Instead of throwing out old clothes, start a dress-up box or bag for dramatic play. Op shops are also a great source of cheap and unusual clothes and props. Every now and then, you could surprise your child by putting a new thing into the bag.
  • Use dramatic play, song and movement to re-enact things from daily life. You might play at being doctors, mothers, fathers, shopkeepers, firefighters – whatever interests your child. You might be amazed at how your child sees the people and events that are part of your daily life. 
  • At story time, encourage your child to act out roles from the story with movements or sounds. For example, your child could pretend to be one of the monsters from ‘Where the Wild Things Are’. Using movement to respond to the story is great dramatic play. It also helps your child interpret and understand things in the real world.

Music, movement and dance ideas

  • Take a saucepan, a saucepan lid and a wooden spoon – your child has got a drum kit.
  • Nothing appeals to a preschooler like animals. Your child might enjoy moving like animals and making animal sounds for accompaniment.
  • Put on a favourite CD – yours or your child’s. Start dancing together, and see how many moves you can come up. It’s not only fun, it’s good exercise too.
  • Encourage your child to march, stamp, hop, slide and twirl. Watching your child’s progress with jumping and dancing can tell you how your child’s body awareness and control are developing. Skipping is tricky for many preschoolers and will take a while to master.
  • It’s good to include some fun or laughter to appeal to your preschooler’s sense of humour. Joke around, and take turns coming up with new, funny dances.

Play idea: let’s make music
You need some homemade and/or bought instruments.

To make your music:

  1. Lay the instruments on the floor. Homemade instruments can include saucepans, spoons (wooden and metal), drums, bottles filled with rice, pasta or sugar, paper plates with metal curtain rings, or bottle tops attached around the edge.
  2. Play the instruments loudly (like an elephant), then softly (like a cat), quickly (like a mouse), and slowly (like a tortoise). Encourage your child to imitate the way you played the instruments.
  3. Let your preschooler experiment with playing instruments loudly, softly, fast, slow, quickly and slowly. Make up stories that these sounds could represent.
Can’t remember the words or the tune to favourite songs and nursery rhymes? Refresh your memory and sing with your preschooler using our Baby Karaoke.

Encouraging creativity: more ideas

Create an art gallery in your home, where your child can display her artwork. A kitchen wall is ideal for sticking up pictures and paintings. Or you could use a pinboard. This shows that you value your preschooler’s creations. Perhaps you could ask your child to choose one special painting each week to frame in the centre of the gallery.

It’s good to include some ‘art appreciation’ in your child’s life - whether it’s music, sculpting or pictures. You and your child can talk about what your child likes and favourite artworks. Why not visit an art gallery together, and talk about what you see?

It’s important to nurture perseverance in your child. Encourage your child to complete artworks. But once your child says it’s finished, it’s finished.

Help your child develop a sense of rhythm by doing:

  • finger plays – for example, ‘Incy Wincy Spider’
  • body plays – for example, ‘Heads and Shoulders’
  • word chants – for example, ‘Five Cheeky Monkeys Bouncing on the Bed’
  • rhymes – for example, ‘Jack and Jill’, ‘Twinkle Twinkle Little Star’.
  • Last updated or reviewed 17-10-2011