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Creativity: An Introduction

Children are born with a natural drive to explore and make sense of the world around them. Their natural curiosity and creativity are enhanced and supported through nurturing, responsive relationships with their families and providers. This lesson will further explore and define the creativity of children in family child care settings and offer an opportunity to think about the importance of creativity for all children.

  • Define creativity and examine its importance in your own life.
  • Describe how children express creativity.
  • Recognize the importance of creativity for the development of all children.



“Our first step is to recognize that creativity, imagination, and wonder are natural dispositions that accompany every human being’s drive to make sense of and build relationships with the world.” - MacKay, 2015

Think about the word “creativity.” What does it mean to you? Can you think of a time when you thought completely “outside the box?” Think about yourself or people you know (friends, family, colleagues). Do you consider yourself or people you know to be creative? What does that mean? Maybe you or people you know have a unique way of expressing interests, ideas, questions, or talents. What about when you were younger? Did you love imaginative play? How about drawing, painting, or making play-dough masterpieces? During our days of to-do lists and hurried moments, how wonderful it would be to have moments to treat our mind as a playground and to think freely and creatively.

Some see creativity as finding ways to express oneself openly and without judgment. When adults are open to expressing themselves, creating, and exploring based on their personal experiences and feelings, they are better able to support young children to do the same. Being creative does not mean you need to be a well-known artist or a great chef. Being creative means you are open to expressing yourself and investigating the world around you. It can also mean you work to find a new and better way of answering a question or solving a problem. Be it daydreaming, planning, or changing—creativity can be found in all people in different ways during everyday life.

Below are possible ideas you might consider if you are finding yourself in need of creativity:

  • Ask yourself, “What if…?” as opposed to saying, “I don’t know” or “I can’t.”
  • Take a different route to the store or listen to a different radio station or podcast.
  • Exercise to gain fresh, new ideas—physical activity can help stimulate new thought patterns.
  • Read books or watch programs about people whose creativity you admire.

What is Creativity?

Regardless of individuals’ experiences or beliefs, everyone is creative in their own way. Consider the following views about creativity or creative individuals:

  • "Creativity is the ability to produce work that is original (that others have not thought of before) and that is appropriate (sensible or useful in some way)." (Laura Berk)
  • "Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep." (Scott Adams)
  • "Curiosity about life in all of its aspects, I think, is still the secret of great creative people." (Leo Burnett)
  • "Creativity requires the courage to let go of certainties." (Erich Fromm)

What words stand out to you as you read the above quotes? How do you define creativity or creative individuals?

Creativity has different meanings for different people. However, creativity is a trait that exists in everyone. Dr. Michael Kirton demonstrated through his research that all humans are born with unique, creative ways; this is a disposition we can nurture and cultivate. We must simply understand that one person’s approach to creativity differs from others; we are all unique. Therefore, it is important to begin thinking about “how” an individual is creative rather than “if” an individual is creative (Cropley, 2015).

According to school technology consultant Doug Johnson (2015), creativity can be demonstrated in a number of ways:

  • As writers, presenters, and storytellers
  • As numeric problem-solvers
  • As graphic artists through drawing, painting, sculpting, photography, and designing
  • As athletes and dancers kinesthetically
  • As musicians creating new works, performing, and conducting
  • As humorists in all media
  • As team-builders and collaborators
  • As problem-solvers
  • As inventors and systems innovators
  • As leaders who organize, motivate, and inspire

When thinking about creativity from an educational framework, we usually think about the arts as subject areas. Creative arts subject areas include:

An Overview of Creative Areas

Visual Arts self-expression, visual and tactile art, print and craft media, analysis and interpretation
Literature poetry, illustrations, writing, storytelling, reading, and speaking
Music sound, pitch, rhythm, singing, playing, musical games, listening, creative movement
Dance body awareness, fundamentals of movement, creative expression, multisensory integration
Drama acting, pantomime, improvisation, characterization, play production
Discovery scientific discovery, connecting with nature, cause and effect

Each of these subject areas will be discussed in detail in further lessons. Another important aspect of creativity is individual expression. Older children begin to develop an individual sense of style and personality. Creativity plays a large role in this.

Creativity in Children

If creativity is associated with curiosity, experimentation, self-expression, learning new skills and refining others, or coming up with new and interesting ways of looking at the world, then you can imagine how childhood is an ideal time for this disposition to unfold and blossom. Think about the impact you can have if you begin to nurture young children’s natural curiosity and love for fun and learning in the early years.

As a family child care provider, you might serve children of varying ages, in many stages of development. Creativity might look different for children at each developmental stage, and as their needs and interests expand and change.

For infants and toddlers, creativity involves active exploration, self-expression, and experimentation supported within the context of nurturing and responsive relationships. Infants imitate the facial expressions and actions they see from their adult caregivers. They remember a lot of what they see, feel, and hear. As they get older and their skills develop further, you will notice infants and toddlers reenacting their experiences.

Toddlers benefit from their growing physical and language skills which support their imaginative play and creativity. They display moments of authentic focus as they explore places, combine materials, and try out their new ideas. You might see a toddler, for example, singing and dancing to music or using different voices while playing with animals. Creativity in toddlers is supported through nurturing and responsive relationships. With this type of care, toddlers feel safe to explore their environments freely and use their imaginations. They learn to trust that their caregivers will value and accept the ways they express themselves, which encourages them to experiment with their new ideas.

Preschoolers in your care need daily opportunities to participate in activities that help them learn new skills or practice existing skills in fun, stimulating, and supportive environments. They should have time for inquiry and exploration in indoor and outdoor activities and opportunities for artistic expression and appreciation through art and music. A variety of art media such as markers, crayons, paints, and clay can be used for creative expression and representation of ideas and feelings. Preschoolers should also be encouraged to experiment and enjoy various forms of dramatic play, music, and dance. As you get to know the children in your care, you should use their interests and backgrounds as sources of inspiration to facilitate new ideas and areas of exploration.

School-age children should be encouraged to express themselves physically and through ideas and feelings. As a family child care provider you can help them acquire fundamental concepts and skills in the fine and performing arts through such things as drawing, painting, sculpting, music, drama, and dance. School-age children enjoy creating and enacting plays and they use their creativity when they make alternative endings to familiar stories or songs. They also enjoy figuring out how and why things work. They may ask the adults around them many questions and enjoy tinkering with tools or other objects that can be deconstructed.

Below is a chart that highlights behaviors you might see from children at different ages that are related to creativity:

Age Creative Behaviors

Young infant

  • Looks at contrasting and colored objects
  • Notices and responds to facial expressions
  • Looks at pictures and mirror images
  • Notices differences in and demonstrates preference to textures
  • Turns head toward pleasant-sounding musical toy, mobile or voice

Mobile infant

  • Chooses colored crayons to make marks on a piece of paper
  • Responds to music and attempts to clap hands together
  • Bangs a wooden spoon on a pot or pan
  • Pretends to feed a doll using a bottle


  • Explores torn paper
  • Sings and dances to music
  • Sets the table while playing in the house area
  • Points to and uses words to describe pictures
  • Uses play dough to create three-dimensional work


  • Intentionally draws or creates objects and identifies them, such as “This is a flower”
  • Helps narrate a story
  • Experiments with a large box by making it into multiple objects
  • Creates objects out of found materials


  • Acts out or dances to favorite song lyrics
  • Takes apart an old device to see how it works
  • Creates imaginary city with building bricks
  • Uses storytelling and role-playing to problem solve

Importance of Creativity, Active Exploration, and Inquiry

Children learn from everything they do. They are naturally curious and have a drive to explore and discover. With the right amount of support and encouragement, children feel safe to explore and become curious, creative, and adventurous learners.

As children explore, their goals remain simple—learn about the world by exploring and taking advantage of the opportunities available in the moment. Children strive to understand how things work and what they can make things do. The process of creating is more important than the product or end result. There is no right or wrong when creating.

Children must have the opportunity to imitate and create moments that reflect their own experiences, thoughts, and feelings. By nurturing their natural curiosity and offering opportunities to engage in a variety of creative experiences and activities, you help children build skills needed to:

  • Share ideas and express themselves verbally and nonverbally—listening to stories and playing imaginary games helps support communication skills
  • Express thoughts and feelings—pretend play, for example, offers an opportunity for children to be anyone they want, practice skills they have watched and learned, and explore different emotions
  • Problem solve—research has found that children who are imaginative when they are young tend to maintain this quality as they get older and become better problem-solvers
  • Build relationships and make connections with others


Creativity: An Introduction

An introduction to the creative arts subject areas.


Chances are, you are being creative and implementing creativity daily—maybe without even realizing it. Creativity is an important part of development, and all children deserve to be able to express themselves in a creative way every day. This course will help you to recognize and apply methods of including the creative arts and self-expression in the learning environment.

Here are some of the many things you can do to show all children that you recognize and appreciate their creativity:

  • Provide opportunities for open-ended discovery, exploration, and experimentation—encourage their efforts as part of the process. For example, allow toddlers to play with blocks however they want rather than encouraging them to build specific structures, or encourage school-agers to create dramatic plays and act them out for everyone.
  • Make eye contact with and smile at infants and toddlers.
  • Describe and inquire about children's creativity and what you notice. For example, point as an infant looks in a mirror and say, “There you are! I see your big smile!” Or inquire as a preschooler is exploring, “I see you are creating with objects I left on the table.  Can you tell me what you are making?"
  • Talk and share what you hear, see, etc. as you walk around the home or while outdoors with the children. “I see you looking out the window at the tree. Yes, there is a bird chirping a song for us. I hear it, too.”
  • Offer children as much time as needed for their ideas, exploration, and responses.
  • Whenever possible, include the creative art subject areas into your activity plans and the learning environment. The creative art subject areas are: Visual Arts, Literature, Music, Dance, Drama, and Discovery.

Completing this Course

For more information on what to expect in this course, the Creative Expression Competency Reflection, and a list of the accompanying Learn, Explore and Apply resources and activities offered throughout the lessons, visit the Family Child Care Creative Expression Course Guide

Please note the References & Resources section at the end of each lesson outlines reference sources and resources to find additional information on the topics covered. As you complete lessons, you are not expected to review all the online references available. However, you are welcome to explore the resources further if you have interest, or at the request of your trainer, coach, or administrator.


How do you define creativity? What are your views about your own creativity? Review the Exploring Creativity activity. Take a few minutes to read and respond to these questions. Then, share and discuss your responses with a trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


Curiosity and exploration are constants for children. Children become increasingly fascinated by the world and those around them, which offers opportunities for their creativity and imaginations to grow and develop. Read and review the activity, Noticing Creativity in Children. Take time to observe the children in your care and write down what you notice that fits with the characteristics on the attachment. Share your thoughts and responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.


A trait that exists in everyone; the ability to have new ideas, solve problems, and think about issues in different ways
Imaginative play:
Play that involves children acting out what they may have experienced or something that is of interest to them
A sensory experience attained through movement


A parent in your program asks what types of creative behavior they can expect to see in their toddler over the next year. What do you say to them?
True or false? Nurturing, responsive relationships foster creativity in children.
Finish this statement: To foster creativity, children should be offered opportunities for …
References & Resources

Berk, L. E. (2012). Child development (9th ed.). Pearson.

Cropley, A. J. (2015). Creativity in education and learning: A guide for teachers and educators. Routledge.

Gandini, L., Hill, L., Cadwell, L. B., Schwall, C., & MacKay, S. H. (2015). Creativity at the heart of learning. In In the spirit of the studio: learning from the atelier of Reggio Emilia (pp. 149–164). Teachers College.

James, K. (2010). Sensori-motor experience leads to changes in visual processing in the developing brain. Developmental Science, 13, 279-288.

Johnson, D. (2015). Teaching outside the lines: Developing creativity in every learner. Corwin.

Kaufman, J. C. (2016). Creativity 101 (The Psych 101 Series)(2nd ed.). Springer Publishing Company.

Oech, R., & Willett, G. (2002). Expect the unexpected or you won’t find it: A creativity tool based on the ancient wisdom of Heraclitus (Illustrated ed.). Berrett-Koehler Publishers.

Robinson, K. (2009). The element: How finding your passion changes everything. Penguin Group.

Russ, S. W., & Schafer, E. D. (2006). Affect in fantasy play, emotion in memories, and divergent thinking. Creativity Research Journal, 13, 211–219.

Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early childhood development: A multicultural perspective (6th ed.). Pearson.

Zevin, J. (2013). Creative teaching for all: In the box, out of the box, and off the walls. Rowman & Littlefield.