Creative Play

Creative Play Has an Important Role in Your Child’s Development

According to early childhood researchers, pretend play, also called dramatic or creative play, is how children learn best. With creative play, children often imitate life such as playing “family,” “school,” or “restaurant.” By reenacting these familiar situations in their play, children get the opportunity to work on important soft skills such as conflict resolution, problem solving, how to listen to instructions and develop their self-confidence. Developing these abilities are as significant to a child being kindergarten-ready and attaining success later in life as is focusing on literacy and numeracy.

You can help encourage your child’s creativity and learning by providing props, ideas, and time for pretend play. Dramatic play is usually child-led but you can participate by asking questions such as: “What do you think will happen next?” or “What if the rocket ship lands on a different planet?” This kind of play helps your child strategize, communicate, and use their social skills to navigate through scenarios.

The best materials are the ones that mirror everyday life: clothes, handbags, shoes, fabric, used cell phones, plastic kitchen utensils, baby dolls and children’s costumes.

  • Are there designated materials and space for dramatic play?
  • How does the child care program incorporate creative play into each day?
  • Is the children’s play child-led or teacher-led?
  • Does the program value work created by the children, such as block structures, during imaginative play and allow them to keep the structure up until the children have moved on to a new idea?
  • Does the child care program promote creative play with infants, such as with singing accompanied by hand motions?
  • What can you do to support pretend play in the classroom?


  • Incorporate music into your baby’s day. Try singing “Itsy Bitsy Spider” and “Wheels on the Bus” with the hand motions.
  • Playing peek-a-boo with a blanket can send your baby into giggles.
  • Even your baby can play Follow the Leader. See if she can tap after you tap, wave her hand after you do, and so on.
  • Pretend your baby is the pilot and you are the airplane. Lay your baby belly-down across your lap, and place your hands around his midsection so he’s fully supported. Then gently lift him up and move him up, down, back, and forth.

AGE 1 TO 2

  • Create a costume trunk for you child that supports his interest of transportation and construction: police and firetruck outfits, plastic tools and tollboxes.
  • Create some homemade instruments. Include saucepans, spoons, drums, bottles filled with rice, pasta or sugar, paper plates with metal curtain rings or bottle tops attached around the edge.
  • Sure, finger painting can be messy but it stimulates sensory development. Buy nontoxic paints and use old newspaper or any paper for your child to use for his creations.
  • Your toddler loves to paint. How about doing some bathtub painting? You can find paints that are made for the tub and are easily cleaned up at your local store.

AGE 2 TO 3

  • Does your child care have plenty of supplies to encourage dramatic play? You can help keep it stocked by donating costumes and supplies.
  • Make use of found and natural materials. On your next nature walk, collect leaves, small rocks, and other things you find to use in art projects.
  • Has your child fallen in love with stamps yet? They can create stories with stamps or just have fun making different designs.
  • On a pretty day, take your child and some bubbles outside. Chase them, catch them, pop them!

AGE 3 TO 4

  • Keep a “busy box” filled with every day objects: paper towel rolls, string, newspaper, cotton balls, and etc. See what she can make!
  • Have a dance party! Turn up one of your child’s favorite songs and take turns showing each other dance moves.
  • Give your child a sorting treasure box. Donate a handful of your unwanted jewelry, glass stones, old keys…anything that your child will consider a treasure, and let him sort it however he sees fit.
  • The internet has lots of recipes for making homemade play-doh and slime. Half the fun is making it, and the other half is playing with it!

AGE 4 TO 5

  • Encourage your child to act out his favorite books.
  • Encourage your child’s artistic side. Create a home gallery for her artwork. Choose one painting to frame or hang up each week!
  • Suggest “pretend” ideas: turn her room into a library and have her read aloud to her dolls.
  • Turn your living room into the best fort ever with some sheets, pillows and chairs.

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