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What Is Creative Play and Why Is It Important for Toddlers?
Encouraging our children’s creativity from a young age can benefit them, not just as children, but
throughout the rest of their lives. The development that comes from all types of creative play allows
children to explore their interests, problem solve and develop self-confidence. By encouraging creative
play, we can help our children gain independence and benefit from everything that creative play has to
What is creative play?
Creative play is the most important type of play and actually covers many of the different ways that
toddlers and children play. During creative play toddlers are engaging in imaginative play, using
materials in new ways, exploring, crafting, and/or experiencing self-directed play. This typically involves
reenacting familiar experiences from everyday life such as playing “family”, “house”, “school”, or
“work”. This type of play is truly how young children learn and the best kind of play for our children to
engage in.
Luckily, children do this pretty naturally and don’t need much from us. In fact, because creative play is
really a form of self-expression, it’s best if we don’t do much to interfere with what they are drawn to do
naturally and allow them to explore on their own. Creative play should be child-led rather than directed
by an adult. Creative play encourages children to think differently, try new things, and be creative by
using their imagination during play.
Why is creative play important for toddlers?
Creative play is so important for toddlers and should be a large portion of their everyday life. Spending
the day independently exploring and being creative helps develop a variety of skills and allows kids to
develop interests on their own.
Photo by: Milkweed Photography
When children play creatively together, they are often using their imaginations and having social
interactions with other children. Even younger toddlers who may not be talking yet, but simply play next
to other children, will start to develop social skills even in the small amount of non-verbal interaction
they may have. By reading facial expressions and learning how to interact with others, they are
developing the skills to be able to communicate and take others into consideration during play and
during life.
Builds emotional development
Photo by: Milkweed Photography
Through creative play, children are able to experience a range of emotions within a safe space to feel
these emotions. This can be seen when your child is engaging in pretend play and has to act out
different emotions or react to another child’s emotions during their imaginative play. It allows them to
explore positive and negative emotions in an environment where it is safe and appropriate. In exploring
these emotions, they will be better equipped to work through and understand these emotions in
themselves and in others later on in life.
Allows exploration of interests
Photo by: Milkweed Photography
During creative play, children are able to explore their own creativity. They can be anything, do
anything, and analyze their surroundings freely without unnecessary adult direction. This allows children
to look into their interests, try things out, and decide what they do and don’t like.
Builds confidence
When engaging in creative play, our children are able to build up their confidence. They can begin to
shift from familiar situations like playing “house” to more adventurous situations. For example, when
playing with a natural developmental toy such as a Pikler Climbing Triangle, kids can use their creativity
to use it for all kinds of play scenes from dressing it up as a tent to pretending they are climbing a big
mountain. Succeeding in goals set during creative play, like climbing their pretend mountain, can help to
build their confidence.
Watching your child go from having an idea, to making it come to life, and all the problem solving
needed to get to their vision is such a magical experience. As your child becomes more confident, they
will become more independent and their curiosity will bloom even more.
Fosters physical development
Photo by: Milkweed Photography
Since there is plenty of creative play that uses motor skills as well as sensory exploration, it can help
with physical development as well. In the previous example of the Pikler Climbing Triangle, the child
must develop balance, coordination and strength to climb to the top. This may come in phases. First
they will become comfortable with just standing on the first step. Then climbing higher and eventually
all the way over. They will learn to challenge themselves and explore their physical boundaries on their
Creative play comes naturally to toddlers, it’s just how they naturally play. It’s a way for them to engage
with their imaginations and their surroundings in new, creative ways. The experiences that children have
and the benefits they get from creative play can enhance development of their skills and creativity that
they can carry with them for the rest of their lives.