Creative play: why it’s important for toddler learning and development

Drama, music, dance and visual art foster creativity and imagination in toddlers. These activities also help young children develop their senses through exploration and discovery. They let toddlers express how they see the world and their place in it.

Toddlers can use creative play to communicate their feelings. They might not always be able to say why they’re feeling angry, depressed, happy or frightened. But in an encouraging environment, they might be able to use activities and experiences to express these feelings using paint, colour, movement, mime, dramatic gestures, singing or dancing.

Creative play lets toddlers try out different ideas and ways of doing things. The process of doing the activity is the most important part, not the final result.

Our ideas for toddler creative learning and development can you get you started on fun and creative activities with your child.

Learning and development through drama

Dramatic play for toddlers is about copying what they’ve seen others do. For example, your toddler might talk into a spoon as if it’s a mobile phone. Or she might collect items in a bucket as if she’s at the supermarket. This kind of dramatic play develops imagination.

Your child probably loves to ask ‘Why?’ Dramatic play helps your toddler work out answers for himself. It can help him come up with creative and imaginative responses to questions and problems. For example, if your child is pretending to drive a car, he needs to imagine where he’s going, who else is in the car and whether he’s at a red or green light.

Learning and development through visual art and craft

Toddlers love activities like finger-painting, pasting, colouring pictures, folding or ripping paper and making sculptures out of playdough. These activities might be a bit messy, but they’re good at helping your child:

  • get used to new textures, like wet, slimy or sticky
  • learn how paint and paper move, and what she can do with them
  • develop all kinds of fine motor skills like the ability to hold pencils and use scissors
  • express her thoughts, experiences or ideas.

Creating a finished or perfect product isn’t important. The key thing is for your child to explore his creative impulses, express himself and create something. Your toddler is still learning about shapes and lines, so his drawing might look like spaghetti to you – but to him, it’s a tree!

Learning and development through music

Toddlers like to listen and observe. They also love to get involved in music and sound play. They’ll often start singing to themselves while they’re involved in other play activities.

Songs and music play are good forms of self-expression.

Singing encourages your toddler to use words and helps develop her memory. Because her memory isn’t fully developed, she can remember only a few words at a time. But she can put actions to the words as you sing them, and add in the words she remembers.

Young toddlers also enjoy instruments, especially ones they can shake or bang. And as your toddler nears three years old, he’ll get better at playing along to a beat.

Learning and development through dance

Toddlers often start moving and dancing without you prompting them. Sometimes, it might even seem like they’re in a trance while they’re dancing – they can be very self-absorbed.

In fact, lots of things are going through your toddler’s mind while she’s dancing. She’s exploring fantasies, thoughts and feelings about music and her environment.

Dance helps your child develop gross motor skills, as well as hand-eye coordination.

Your child’s dancing might involve walking, balancing, jumping, galloping and hopping in response to music or chanted words. It doesn’t matter whether he keeps time to the music or follows set movements – experiencing sounds and movement is the most important thing.