Encouraging your toddler’s creative play

For toddlers, creative play is about creating, imagining and expressing themselves. There’s no right and wrong in how toddlers create and respond to art.

By taking a step back from your child’s play, you can encourage your toddler to explore his world in his own way. This is important for learning and development.

You can also encourage your toddler’s creative play by giving your toddler lots of free time for creative play. 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, she can come up with lots of creative ideas.

Make sure to give your child lots of praise, whatever he ends up creating. This helps him feel good about himself and encourages him to keep creating.

Creative activities: visual art and crafts

Your child can use everyday objects and recycled items for art and craft. Here are some ideas to get your child started:

  • Use empty kitchen paper rolls or small plastic bottles to make a puppet person or animal. Your child can decorate it with markers, stickers, scrap papers, fabric and other crafty bits.
  • Use natural material. For example, go on a nature walk to collect fallen leaves. Your child can use these to draw, paste onto paper, or dip into paint.
  • Find a very large cardboard box and let your child decorate it using crayons, paints and other decorations. It could be a house, boat, cave and so on. You could help your child cut out windows or doors.
  • Make binoculars by taping two empty toilet rolls together. Tape on a strap on either side. Then your child can explore the garden with her new binoculars.
  • Thread small plastic lids, patty pan cases or pasta tubes onto string to make jewellery. This might be a good activity for older toddlers.

Keep a ‘busy box’ of recycled objects and materials for homemade toys and creative play – for example, crayons, stickers, empty food containers, paper plates, bottle lids, wrapping paper scraps, egg cartons and ribbons. Just make sure that your ‘busy bits’ are safe – watch out for choking hazards and suffocation or strangulation hazards.

Creative activities: movement and dance

These creative play ideas can help your toddler express himself through movement and dance:

  • Put on some music that will get your child moving. You could try different styles of music or music from other cultures.
  • Join your toddler for a ‘warm-up’. For example, you could crawl, roll, jump, skip or spin around together. Gradually take a step back and let your child lead the dance.
  • Give your child some props for dancing. These could be ribbons on sticks, a spoon and a box to beat, a toy ukulele, a shaker or a home-made puppet  – whatever your child enjoys.

Dramatic play ideas

Toddlers love dramatic play. You can use simple props like old clothes, bags, dolls, toys, buckets and balls to help your child get started. Your child might:

  • pat the ‘baby’ to sleep
  • change ‘nappies’ on toys
  • dress up like a mum, dad, teacher, doctor or truck driver
  • pack some bags to go shopping, camping or to work
  • drive an imaginary train
  • wash a car or favourite toy.

Music and sound play

You can make music play 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, travelling in the car and so on.
  • Encourage your child to sing along with you, but don’t expect her to sing in tune or in time. You could sing the first line of a nursery rhyme and pause to let your child sing the rest.
  • Let your child play, make noise and create music with homemade and bought instruments. Name the instruments you’re using and talk about the differences in sound and how they’re played.
  • Try songs that involve simple, repeated, rhythmical actions, like ‘Pat-a-cake’ and ‘If you’re happy and you know it’.
  • Make a drum out of a plastic container and a wooden spoon, or put rice into a well-sealed plastic bottle to make a shaker. Put on some music and bang or shake fast or slow to match the music.

Toddlers are old enough to try some ‘art appreciation’. Whether it’s music or pictures, you can encourage your child to talk about what he likes and which is his favourite part.