Creative Play

Help Your Children Learn About and Express Their Feelings Through Creative Play

Children learn best through play. When they create their own fantastical and magical worlds in pretend play, you will often see them imitating their parents, teachers, and siblings and pretending to do things such as cook dinner, play family or school. While these activities are fun for your children, they also help them to practice their verbal and nonverbal communication, share materials and express their feelings.

Creative play in particular has many benefits that encourage social, physical, cognitive and emotional development while also supporting language and literacy development.

Creative Play Ideas to Try with Your Child


  • Use safe everyday items from home to support baby's creative play. He will love board books he can chew, boxes to open and close, and etc.
  • Give your child opportunities for messy play, like with sand, mud or paints. This is a great way for children to express feelings if they’re happy or upset.
  • Make up silly songs about different emotions, using any tune. For example (to London Bridge) — “I feel happy when I play outside, play outside, play outside. Let me show you my happy face (everyone makes a happy face together).”

AGE 1 TO 2

  • Encourage your child to paint and draw. Ask them to draw what it feels like to be “happy”, “sad”, “scared” and so on.
  • Read stories with characters who are going through emotions that your child is also feeling. Point out that the character in the story is happy or angry too.
  • Make different emotion faces and have children guess what you might be feeling.

AGE 2 TO 3

  • Make sure your child has ample and regular access to play things like dolls, stuffed animals, blocks and etc. Through imaginative play, children easily ascribe feelings and ideas to these “people” and “animals” and often use them to express, explore and work out their own ideas, thoughts, and feelings.
  • Take your child to a park or open area with lots of space for outdoor play like running, tumbling and rolling. This can help your child let out emotions and meet new friends.
  • Listen to different types and styles of music. Or, why not make some music? Grab some saucepan lids for cymbals, or a jar full of rice or dried peas for a shaker.

AGE 3 TO 4

  • Encourage your children to recreate a favorite story by using puppets, drawings or even retelling it but adding their own twist. Prompt their ideas by asking questions like: “What do you think happens next?”
  • Turn on your child’s favorite music and have some karaoke fun. Talk about how the music makes them feel.
  • Play an emotion walking game while outside. You and your child should walk around your yard like you are sad. Then walk like you are mad. Repeat the activity until you have practiced several emotions.

AGE 4 TO 5

  • Does your child like superheroes? Help her create her own super identity by having material that can be used as a cape and various other costumes that can be mixed and matched available.
  • Reverse roles with your child and let her be the “mommy” and you the child. Try acting sad, angry and hurt to see if she can identify and respond to your feelings. Talk with her about your pretend emotions.
  • Let your child make up games, and even if they do not make sense to you, play along. Follow his directions and ask questions as you go along.

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