By Raising Children Network
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Creative play and imaginative arts experiences play a central role in toddlers’ learning and development. You can encourage your toddler and support her creativity with free-flowing creative activities. Here are some ideas.

Encouraging your toddler’s creative play

For toddlers, creative play is about the process of creating. There’s no right and wrong in how toddlers create and respond to art.

Through free-flowing creative play, toddlers can explore their world in their own way, which is important for learning and development. For example, your child will enjoy exploring and playing with playdough and other materials but might not actually make anything. That’s fine. Just give your child lots of praise and encouragement whatever the end result.

You can also encourage your toddler’s creative play by giving your toddler as much time as he needs for creative activities. Some days your toddler might want five minutes. Other days it could be all morning, moving from one activity to another. When your child has enough time, he can come up with lots of creative ideas and responses.

The ideas below are designed to help you encourage your toddler’s creative learning and development. And they should also be lots of fun!

Creative activities: art and construction

You don’t always need to give your child new play materials. Using everyday objects, and making it up as you go along, are great ways to encourage creative development. Just remember that your child might need some help with cutting, pasting and gluing.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • 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.
  • Make use of found and natural material. For example, in autumn you could collect fallen leaves for your child to draw, paste onto paper, or dip into paint.
  • Use small plastic lids, patty pan cases and other ‘threadables’ with your child to make jewellery.

Home-made doll’s house

  • Get a very large cardboard box – about the size that a new TV or computer comes in.
  • Cut out some windows and doors.
  • Let your toddler draw on bricks, window frames and doors. Your child could also stick on other decorations (you might need to help).

Home-made binoculars

  • Glue or tape two toilet rolls together.
  • Use a hole punch to attach a strap.
  • Head out to the park or back yard and look for birds!

Read more ideas for creative play and homemade toys and games.

Keep a ‘busy box’ of useful objects or materials for creative play. A busy box could have things like coloured paper, empty food containers and plastic cups.

Creative activities: movement and dance

These creative play ideas can get your toddler moving and dancing:

  • Start with a warm-up.
  • Put on some music that will get your child moving. It doesn’t have to be special music for children – though modern jazz probably won’t fit the bill!
  • Get down on the ground with your toddler and start crawling, seat-sliding, rolling and toddling together. This activity involves the whole body and prepares your child (and you) for some movement and music games.
  • Join your toddler and jump, run, gallop and skip around the room together. Go at your child’s speed.
  • While you’re moving, you can sing along, or beat a box with a wooden spoon, play a toy ukulele or xylophone – whatever your child enjoys.

Dramatic play ideas

Toddlers love dramatic play. They often enjoy games about very familiar things they see as part of everyday life. You could try:

  • patting the ‘baby’ off to sleep
  • playing dress-ups
  • getting your handbags ready to ‘go shopping’
  • driving in an imaginary train together. 

Music play

You don’t have to make special time for a lot of music play. You could make it part of other routines. You can also combine music, drama and dance.

Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Sing simple nursery rhymes or silly made-up songs while you’re changing nappies, looking after children in the bath, pouring out the breakfast cereal and so on. For example you could sing songs about animals, events, stories or people.
  • Let your child play, make noise and create music with homemade and bought instruments. Choose rattles and bells that are safe and comfortable for your child to play. Name the instruments you’re using and talk about the differences in sound and how they’re played.
  • Try to match your child’s pitch when singing songs. Your child possibly won’t sing in tune – or time – with you, but that’s OK. Music and melody skills develop slowly. Encourage your child to listen to the music and your singing. This helps develop skills in imitating voices and sounds.
  • Give your child simple props like scarves, hankies, hats, puppets and instruments to use in musical activities.
  • Introduce funny, active songs for your child to enjoy – for example, ‘Heads and Shoulders, Knees and Toes’, ‘Dr Knickerbocker’ and ‘This Old Man’.
  • A simple, repeated, rhythmical action such as clapping, patting, pointing or swinging encourages singing. Or try songs that involve clapping, such as ‘Pat-a-cake’ and ‘If You’re happy and You Know It’.
Toddlers are old enough to try some ‘art appreciation’. Whether it’s music or pictures, you can encourage your child to talk about what she likes and which is her favourite part. 
  • Last updated or reviewed 25-10-2015