By Raising Children Network
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Preschoolers have very vivid imaginations. Their world is full of magic, witches and superheroes. Stories and cartoons can seem very real to them.

Mum and preschooler touching noses

What to expect

Your preschooler will probably:

  • enjoy a rich fantasy life after the age of two
  • show sympathy for others and begin to share at age four
  • enjoy dramatic play with puppets and dress-ups
  • enjoy boisterous play, particularly around ages three and four
  • tell you elaborate stories about things that never happened, or have an imaginary friend. This is common and in no way indicates that your child has a problem
  • start to grow out of the fear of monsters, the dark and dogs as birthday number six approaches
  • be able to imitate and describe the art of famous artists if exposed to it, between the ages of five and six
  • be able to perform structured dance once taught
  • incorporate music into other activities – for example, singing and drawing at the same time, or making up songs
  • be able to create artwork that is increasingly realistic, from age four
  • use art to reflect feelings from age four
  • begin to understand that art can tell a story from age five.

Preschoolers love the process of creating. Any chance to draw, paint, paste, sing or dance will probably be met with great enthusiasm. It doesn’t matter that three-year-olds aren’t likely to have the coordination or hand control to manage much more than a scribble or splashes of paint on butcher’s paper.

At four, a child can use a pencil more confidently and can draw a figure with a body, head, arms and legs. These creative possibilities might increase with the start of kindergarten or day care.

By four, your child is likely to delve less into the imaginary world and want to know more about the real world. Your child will enjoy pretend play, dressing up as a grown-up, being mummy or daddy, a doctor or an explorer, and trying out roles to help make sense of the real world.

At five, your child enjoys playing with other children and joining in games with clear rules. This includes creating elaborate pretend games with other children.

Between five and six years, your child’s coordination and ability to use hands develops fully, making it easier to express thoughts and ideas and to draw complex shapes such as diamonds, triangles and stars. Around this time, your child might start to use art to help tell stories and to show events and emotions.

Ideas to encourage imaginative and creative play

Your child’s imagination and creativity are blossoming at this age. To support and encourage this, you could try:

  • telling stories and reading books
  • sharing silly rhymes and riddles
  • playing dress-ups – a box of old clothes filled with cast-off shoes, old sports jumpers, boots, handbags and other odds and ends is great for kids to rummage through at any time
  • playing with musical instruments or listening to music
  • messy play with sand, clay, playdough, paints, water or mud
  • having new experiences, such as a trip to the bush, a zoo or a museum, or a walk along the beach in winter
  • keeping small food boxes, paste and scissors, margarine containers and plastic bottles for construction activities
  • making musical instruments from everyday objects such as empty milk cartons filled with uncooked rice
  • turning a cardboard box into a playhouse, boat or car, or turning a small table on its side and draping it with a blanket to make a house, pirate’s cave or local shop
  • providing dress-ups that your child can use to act out scenarios and express emotions. For example, an eye patch will turn your child into a pirate, a newspaper hat will make an admiral, an old feather stuck in a hat will turn your child into a buccaneer, and a towel will make a caped crusader
  • playing outdoors in a safe space with freedom and time to explore
  • drawing with crayons or pencils
  • buying toys, such as blocks, that allow for open-ended play
  • saving old magazines for your child to cut and paste with
  • making some homemade playdough together.

If you’re shopping for toys, look for things your child can use to create games and toys, not just those that come complete from the shop with their own structured play expectations.

Your child’s creativity will develop best if you give your child lots of room to play independently, as long as your child is safe. Try to step back and let your child have fun. You can help and comment if necessary.

All children develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, it’s a good idea to visit your health professional.
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  • Last Updated 17-03-2010
  • Last Reviewed 02-11-2009
  • Child and Youth Health South Australia (1996). Practical parenting 1-5 years. Melbourne: ACER.

    Rubin, K.H., Bukowski, W., & Parker, J.G. (1998). Peer interactions, relationships and groups. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol 3. Social, emotional and personality development (5th ed. pp. 619-700). New York: Wiley.

    Thomson, R.A. (1998). Early sociopersonality development. In W. Damon & N. Eisenberg (Eds.), Handbook of child psychology, Vol 3. Social, emotional and personality development (5th ed., pp. 25-104). New York: Wiley & Sons.