Creative activities: why they’re important for preschooler learning and development
The preschool years can be a very creative time. Creative activities like drama, music, dance, art and craft are great for learning and development in these years. They can help preschoolers:
- develop imagination and creativity
- build confidence
- understand and express emotions
- learn about the world and their place in it
- communicate thoughts, experiences or ideas
- practise and improve social skills
- practise and improve fine motor skills, gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination
- build vocabulary and memory
- practise decision-making, problem-solving and critical thinking.
Encouraging preschoolers to enjoy creative activities
Preschoolers like to be spontaneous, so it’s good to follow your child’s lead with creative activities. The key is for your child to explore their own creative interests and express themselves, so see what your child wants to do before you suggest something.
Sometimes your child might need some extra help or encouragement. Or your child might want you to join in the fun! By being actively involved, you can develop your child’s skills and understanding. Being creative and playing with your child is also good for your relationship.
When you’re doing a creative activity with your child, it’s good to show your child how there’s more than one way to do something. For example, you can ask questions like ‘How many ways can you draw a person?’ or ‘Show me how many sounds you can make with the drum’. This encourages your child to enjoy being creative rather than trying to do something ‘right’ or make something perfect.
You can also ask your child questions about their thinking and problem-solving processes. For example, ‘Tell me about what’s happening in your picture’ or ‘How did you attach the feather to the cardboard?’
Whatever creative ideas your child comes up with, give your child plenty of descriptive praise. For example, ‘I love the picture you drew. You really know how to put colours together’. This boosts your child’s confidence and encourages them to keep exploring their creativity.
Art and craft: creative activities for preschoolers
Preschoolers love to express themselves and their ideas using crayons, paints, playdough, clay, scissors, glue and paper.
Your child will begin making basic shapes and might enjoy experimenting with texture, space and colours. For example, preschoolers often draw houses with shining suns above the roof. This is because this kind of picture is made up of basic shapes like squares, triangles and circles.
Here are ideas to get you started on art and craft activities with your toddler:
- Keep a ‘busy box’ of new and recycled play materials like string, paper scraps, patty pans, paddle pop sticks, stickers and straws. Your child can use these materials to make whatever they want.
- Give your child an empty cardboard box to decorate. They might make a house, a robot, a truck, an animal – whatever they’re interested in.
- Use empty kitchen rolls, small plastic juice bottles or old gloves or socks to make puppets.
- Go on a nature walk to look for natural materials to make art. For example, your child can use these to draw, make a collage or nature doll or dip into paint.
- Use apps or computer programs to make digital art. For example, there are apps for free drawing or arranging photos into collages.
Create a home art gallery for your child’s artwork. A kitchen wall or pinboard is ideal for sticking up pictures and paintings. You could ask your child to choose one special painting each week to frame in the centre of the gallery. This shows that you value your child’s creations.
Drama: creative activities for preschoolers
Preschoolers often get completely involved in stories too. For example, when you read your child a story, you might notice them moving their arms, legs or face and miming what’s happening in the story.
Drama and storytelling also give your child opportunities to build and practise vocabulary and learn about the structure of stories. And when your child acts out roles like a caring nurse, they see the world from someone else’s point of view. This helps them build empathy.
Here are some drama activities to spark your child’s interest and imagination:
- Start a dress-up box or bag. Use old clothes or find cheap and unusual clothes and props at op-shops.
- Put on a puppet show or do other kinds of puppet play. You could even use a cardboard box to create a puppet theatre.
- Pitch a tent in your backyard and pretend to go on a camping adventure.
- Act out things from daily life. It could be going to the shops, being a pet or zoo animal, driving a bus and so on.
- At story time, encourage your child to act out roles from a story with movements or sounds. For example, your child could pretend to be one of the monsters from Where the wild things are.
- Video your preschooler as they play. Help them use a movie-making app to create a special video to share with family and friends.
It’s good to include some ‘art appreciation’ in your child’s life. Why not visit a local art exhibition or see a multicultural or Aboriginal dance or theatre performance together and talk about your favourite parts?
Music, sound, movement and dance: creative activities for preschoolers
Preschoolers usually enjoy singing. They love songs with repetition and simple melodies. They can make up their own words to familiar songs, and words often come from the events and people around them.
Your child can usually recognise and name favourite songs and sing parts of them. Singing helps children understand the differences between fast and slow, long and short, high and low, and loud and soft.
Your child might make up actions and dance moves to go along with music. Other times you might find them flying like a butterfly, creeping like a caterpillar or hopping like a frog.
Movement with music is also good for releasing energy and emotions. For example, your child might jump for joy or stamp angrily.
These ideas can get your child singing, dancing and moving creatively:
- Make some homemade instruments. For example, a saucepan, a saucepan lid and a wooden spoon can become a drum kit.
- Point out sounds with steady beats, like a ticking clock or a dripping tap. Encourage your child to clap, tap, march or bang to the beat.
- Watch short videos of animals making noise and moving in the wild. Your child could make a drum sound like a plodding elephant or a shaker sound like a slithering snake. Or they might enjoy dancing like a silly monkey.
- Listen to the musical pieces Peter and the wolf or The carnival of the animals, which use the sound of different instruments to represent different animals. Guess what animal the music is representing and try to copy the sounds.
- Sing songs, chants and rhymes like ‘Incy wincy spider’, ‘Heads and shoulders’, ‘Frère Jacques’ or ‘The wonky donkey’. Can’t remember the words? Try our Baby Karaoke.
Diversity in play is good for children. It helps children learn about people from diverse backgrounds, avoid stereotypes and understand equality. For example, you could encourage children of all genders to dress up as nurses or builders. Or choose stories or songs from diverse cultures or languages.
Creative activities for preschoolers with diverse abilities
You can adapt creative activities to suit preschoolers with diverse abilities. For example, if your child:
- needs help with creative play skills, you could model simple actions – for example, show your child how to growl like a monster or bang a drum, or break down the activity into easier steps, or use written or picture instructions to help your child understand what to do
- has sensory sensitivities, give your child tools to touch things like playdough, play music more quietly or introduce new textures and colours slowly
- has vision impairment or fine motor difficulties, use larger materials and tools – for example, make collages with large oak leafs instead of petals, or use chunky crayons instead of pencils
- has a lot of energy, encourage bigger movements like jumping, swaying arms, stretching, crouching or shaking
- has limited mobility, collect play materials for your child and put them within easy reach.