Creative activities: why they’re important for toddler learning and development
Creative activities like drama, music, dance, art and craft are great for toddler learning and development. These activities help toddlers:
- develop creativity and imagination
- explore their senses – sight, hearing, touch, smell and taste
- learn about the world and their place in it
- explore and express emotions, thoughts and ideas
- try out new ideas and ways of doing things
- practise and improve social skills
- build vocabulary and memory
- develop fine motor skills, gross motor skills and hand-eye coordination.
And when you join in with creative activities with your child, it’s fun and it builds your relationship.
Encouraging toddlers to enjoy creative activities
Letting your child lead is one of the best ways to encourage your child to get involved in and enjoy creative activities.
When your child leads these activities, they can explore the world in their own way. It’s OK if your child doesn’t create a perfect painting, keep in time to the music, remember all the words to a song or follow set dance movements. The key is for your child to explore their creative interests and express themselves.
You can also encourage your child’s creative activities by giving them plenty of free time for creative play. Some days your child might want 5 minutes. Other days it could be all morning, moving from one activity to another.
Make sure to give your child plenty of praise, whatever they end up creating. This helps your child feel good about themselves and encourages them to keep creating.
Art and craft: creative activities for toddlers
Art and craft creative activities are particularly good for helping your child:
- get used to new textures, like wet, slimy or sticky
- learn about shapes, lines, colours and different materials
- learn how paint, paper, glue and other materials feel, and what to do with them
- develop fine motor skills like the ability to hold pencils and thread materials onto string.
These simple ideas can encourage your child to get creative with art and craft:
- Keep a ‘busy box’ of new and recycled play materials – for example, stickers, empty food containers, paper plates, bottle lids, paper scraps, egg cartons, fabric and ribbons.
- Make simple puppets using empty kitchen paper rolls or small plastic bottles.
- Go on a nature walk to collect fallen leaves. Your child can use these to draw, make a collage or dip into paint.
- Find a very large cardboard box and let your child decorate it. It could be a house, boat, cave and so on.
- Make some homemade finger paint.
Art and craft can get messy sometimes! You can manage mess by dressing your child in old clothes or a paint smock and keeping a bucket of soapy water nearby for washing hands.
You can use everyday objects and clean, recycled items for art and crafts. Just make sure that materials are safe. Anything smaller than a 20-cent coin can be a risk, so watch out for choking hazards and also suffocation or strangulation hazards.
Drama: creative activities for toddlers
Toddlers use dramatic activities to copy what they’ve seen others do and understand how their world works. For example, your toddler might talk into a spoon as if it’s a mobile phone. Or they might collect items in a bucket as if they’re at the supermarket.
Through dramatic activities, toddlers also make sense of their own life experiences through role play. For example, if your child is playing with a doll, they might be pretending to feed ‘baby’, dress them and put them to bed.
Also, when your child acts out roles like a caring parent, they see the world from someone else’s point of view. This helps them build empathy.
You can use simple props like old clothes, bags, dolls, toys, buckets and balls to help your child get started.
Music, singing and sound: creative activities for toddlers
Toddlers will often start singing to themselves while they’re involved in other play activities. They also love shaking and banging things!
Singing encourages your child to use words, which helps to develop their memory. Your child might remember only a few words at a time, but they can put actions to words as you sing them. They can also add words that they remember.
Music can also be good for helping toddlers work through emotions. For example, it can soothe your child, help them relax or give them energy.
These creative ideas can encourage an early interest in sound and music:
- 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.
- Do car karaoke on a road trip.
- Make some homemade instruments. For example, 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.
- Let your child use and play with bought instruments, if you have any. Name the instruments, talk about the differences in sound, and show your child how to play them.
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 play with dolls. Or choose stories or songs from diverse cultures or languages.
Dance: creative activities for toddlers
Toddlers often start moving and dancing all by themselves. Through dance, your child can explore and understand their emotions, their body and their environment.
Your child’s dancing might involve walking, balancing, jumping, galloping and hopping in response to music or chanted words.
Here are some ideas to get your child moving:
- Put on some music. You could try different styles of music or music from other cultures.
- Join your child 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.
Creative activities for toddlers with diverse abilities
You can adapt creative activities to suit toddlers with diverse abilities. For example, if your child has:
- difficulty with creative play skills, model simple actions like banging a drum
- sensory sensitivities, introduce new textures gradually or play music more quietly
- vision impairment or fine motor difficulties, use larger materials – for example, make collages with large oak leaves instead of petals, or use items with different smells or textures
- a lot of energy, encourage bigger movements like jumping, swaying arms, stretching, crouching or shaking
- limited mobility, collect play materials for your child and put them within easy reach.