Effective Practice Guides

Creativity: Know

Goals for Infants and Toddlers

  • IT-ATL 8. Child uses creativity to increase understanding and learning.
  • IT-ATL 9. Child shows imagination in play and actions with others.

Teaching Practices


Repeat back the sounds babies make to encourage their emerging ability to imitate.
Home visitor, Ms. Farrow, and Mrs. Quinto, mother of 6-month-old Tomas, are marveling at how much Tomas is learning. His mother says, "When he babbles to us we babble back to him. He laughs and babbles some more." Ms. Farrow says, "Responding to his babbles by babbling back to him is a great way to encourage language development and creativity." "Creativity?," asks Mrs. Quito. "But he's just a baby!" Ms. Farrow smiles and says, "I know it sounds strange but these early sound imitation games are just one way to help Tomas learn that there are different ways to do things like interact with others. He'll soon learn there are many ways interact with others, do things, and use objects in new ways. You'll see his creativity blossom!"

Connect toddlers' imaginary play to their favorite books to connect real-life experiences with those in books. The toddlers in Ms. Genoa's family child care home love the Little Blue Truck books. They ask her to read them several times a day. She finds an old toy truck at the thrift shop and paints it bright blue. The children fill the truck with farm animals like in the book, saying "moo, neigh, and quack quack" as they add new passengers.


Stock interest areas with props and open-ended objects that encourage imaginative play.
Mr. Thomas and Ms. Rossum, teachers in the toddler room, discuss what changes are needed in the classroom and outdoors. They review the contents of each interest area as well as what is available in the outdoor play space to decide what to add to further support toddlers' pretend play. They decide to start with outdoors and bring some of the indoor materials outside, such as large plastic blocks, empty boxes, community worker figures, plastic pots and pans, nesting cups, utensils, aprons, and chef hats.

Create spaces where two or three toddlers can play together.
Two toddlers are seated in a pillow-filled plastic wading pool nestled in the corner of the room. They are looking at books and "reading" them to each other. "Gorilya," says Hahnna, showing Luis the cover of Goodnight Gorilla. "Sí, gorila," he says, then bends his elbow and grunts like a gorilla. The children climb out of the pool and move around the room pretending to be gorillas.


Extend creative play by offering new props, commenting on the action, and joining in when appropriate.
Finger painting is offered at today's group socialization session. Ms. Unger sees that Sofia, 24 months, wants to join in, but something is stopping her. She asks Sofia's mother, Ms. Louis, "Do you think Sofia wants to paint?" Ms. Louis answers, "She doesn't like the feel of some things. Her doctor says that some toddlers don't like the way finger paint feels and for some toddlers it has to do with sensory integration. We are keeping an eye on it for now." "I think we can find a way to include Sofia," says Ms. Unger. "What if Sofia uses a plastic spoon instead of her hands? You could give her the spoon and see what happens." Ms. Louis offers the spoon to Sofia, who eagerly uses it to make squiggly lines in the paint.

Scaffold emerging social skills, such as taking turns and cooperation, that children use in imaginary play.
Pretend firefighters, Kim and Diego, are ready to put out the fire by the equipment shed in the play yard. From across the grass, Mr. Isaacs sees that they are having difficulty taking turns with the hose. He joins the toddlers and shows them how two children can work together to hold the hose.

Goals for Preschoolers

  • P-ATL 12. Child expresses creativity in thinking and communication.
  • P-ATL 13. Child uses imagination in play and interactions with others.

Teaching Practices


Invite children to share with others the process they used to create a piece of art, block structure, sidewalk chalk drawing, or other creation.
Mr. Briar says, "Jax and Kerri, can I take a photo of your chalk drawing? When we go back inside, I can print a copy and you can tell the group how you made it." "Sure," the children say as they try to remember what they did first.

Ask open-ended questions that promote divergent thinking (seeing things from different viewpoints) so children can stretch their thinking skills.
When she has finished reading Sophie's Squash, Ms. Dennis asks the children, "What might have happened if Sophie's squash came to life?" "It wouldn't have any legs," answers Inez. "Maybe it could grow legs—and arms too," adds Lucas.


Introduce prop boxes filled with items that engage children's creativity and imaginative play.
After their field trip to the nature center, the children in the 3-year-old class talked a lot about the picnic lunch they ate after the tour. Their teacher, Ms. O'Meara, makes a picnic prop box so the children can have pretend picnics. She fills a canvas tote bag with plastic dishes and serving utensils. Then she adds a blanket and some pretend food. She introduces the new prop box at group time by showing them what is inside the bag and asks, "What could you do with the dishes, utensils, food, and blanket? Where could you have a picnic? How could you get to the picnic area?"

Follow a schedule with long blocks of time so children can make and carry out their plans.
At a group socialization session, Ethan, age 4, says "Let's play ice fishing." "Yeah," agrees Frannie, also 4. "First, we need to get our stuff ready. We need poles and a cooler and something to eat." They spend almost 20 minutes gathering their "stuff." After eating snack at the self-service table, they sit on the rug to plan their adventure. Ethan's mother says to their home visitor, Ms. Reyes, "Ethan's dad goes ice fishing. He promised to take Ethan with him when he gets older."


Offer a wide variety of books, materials, and tools that support each child's creativity. Adapt items as needed to allow access for all children.
Pam, a 3-year-old with fine motor delays, attends Ms. Elias' family child care home. Pam is ready to move on from board books to picture books. To make it easier for Pam to turn the pages, Ms. Elias has added foam stick-on tabs to each page. Now Pam can revisit and become more familiar with the books Ms. Elias reads at story time. This helps her join in with the children's story-based follow-up play.

Observe a child engaged in the creative process and respond with descriptive verbal encouragement or new props and materials.
On the outdoor stage, Omar is trying out different ways to pound on the drums. He uses a wooden spoon, his hands, and two thin dowels. Watching from a distance, Ms. Chan decides to join Omar. She describes what she saw him doing, then asks, "What kind of sound were you trying to make?" "Loud," answers Omar. "I want it to sound very loud." "What else might you use to make a loud sound?" Omar looks around and sees a long, wooden, cylinder block. "I will try this." "That's a good idea," says Ms. Chan. "The long, wooden, cylinder block is heavier and might make a louder sound.

Topic:School Readiness

Resource Type: Article

Last Updated: June 5, 2018