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Cultivating Creativity and Innovation: Experiences and Activities

Curiosity, exploration, and experimentation help children learn about the world, themselves, and the people around them. This lesson will help you learn more about creating experiences and activities that encourage these skills to support creativity in all children.

  • Recognize how different experiences and activities foster children’s creativity.
  • Identify ways to support creativity during daily routines.
  • Distinguish between process-oriented and product-oriented experiences.



Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up. Pablo Picasso

Creativity can happen anywhere: quiet moments by yourself, surrounded by a group of enthusiastic people, on a walk, in a car, etc. Think of a time when the enthusiasm of your friends gave you the confidence to try something new. What did you discover about yourself? How about a time when a walk generated a resolution to a problem you were facing? Did this experience spark other curiosities you wish to pursue? Have you ever pondered an invention to make your day a bit easier?

Just as experiences and activities inspire your own creativity, they also foster children’s creativity as well. In Lesson One, you learned that creativity is something that can be nurtured and cultivated; it is not something that simply exists in some individuals and not in others. Each child needs opportunities to discover, create, and enjoy interactions, experiences, and activities that help lead them to ongoing learning and growth. Caring adults can provide children with consistent and supportive relationships within a safe environment that offers opportunities and access to a variety of experiences, materials, and activities. This type of responsive care provides children with the security and confidence they need to explore, experiment, and initiate creative learning.

Experiences and Activities that Foster Curiosity

Children are naturally curious. This curiosity can be supported when providers offer opportunities to learn through daily routines and everyday experiences. Facilitating children’s curiosity develops their critical thinking skills and positive dispositions towards learning. Consider how your program fosters creativity in children. Does it encourage and provide opportunities for creative expression for all children? How do you support creativity?

Foundational Experiences for Infants and Toddlers

In your work, it is important to offer creative experiences to infants and toddlers. When this happens, they begin to develop positive attitudes for learning, such as:

  • Taking an interest
  • Expressing a willingness to explore, experiment and try new things
  • Knowing how and where to seek help from trusting adults
  • Being flexible and finding solutions to problems
  • Staying engaged in activities and continuing to try even when things get difficult
  • Making choices and decisions

As a family child care provider, you determine the best ways to ensure that foundational experiences are being offered and that children’s creativity is being encouraged throughout the day. During these early years, providers should focus on interacting sensitively and skillfully to support and enhance children’s natural curiosity and creativity. There are many ways you can encourage this throughout the day. You can plan specific activities, such as dancing and finger painting. You can also encourage thinking and problem solving by helping children do things in their own ways. The table below highlights different approaches and ideas:

Infant & Toddler Creative Experiences

What We Know About Infants and Toddlers

What You Can Do

Young infants respond to voices, sounds and music (for example, they will move their heads in the direction of the music).
  • Sing a familiar song.
  • Display musical toys for a young infant to observe, touch, and grasp.
Mobile infants respond to music and enjoy rhythm and other sounds.
  • Play and sing Pat-a-Cake.
  • Consider incorporating several types of music that represent the cultures and languages of infants and toddlers in your care.
Toddlers recall lyrics and can demonstrate enhanced hand and body coordination.
  • Clap, dance, and march to music.
  • Use scarves or streamers with toddlers as they move to music.

What We Know About Infants and Toddlers

What You Can Do

Young infants use facial expressions and gestures to express feelings and needs, and they imitate facial expressions and gestures of others.
  • Make playful faces for the young infant to imitate.
  • Describe facial expressions as the young infant looks at themselves in mirrors.
Mobile infants understand the meaning of objects in play.
  • Talk about what you see mobile infants doing, "You are giving the baby a bottle just like I do for Jack. Does this baby like to rock like Jack does, too?"
Toddlers engage in play that represents real-life experiences.
  • Encourage toddlers to ask other children to play. "Kara, let's ask Carter to come over and make dinner with us."

What We Know About Infants and Toddlers

What You Can Do

Young infants notice contrasting colors.
  • Provide pictures that are simple for young infants to look at.
  • Provide photos of the infant's family to enjoy.
Mobile infants use different materials to explore and create art.
  • Provide a variety of colored objects for the mobile infant to choose from.
  • Provide safe, non-toxic materials for the mobile infant to explore, such as crayons and finger paints.
Toddlers use materials to explore and create art and to observe and describe art.
  • Vary the texture and smell of paints by adding materials such as sand.
  • Provide old magazines for children to cut or tear pictures to add to a collage.

Creative Expression through Exploring and Questioning with Preschoolers

As a family child care provider, you can encourage creativity by thinking about the questions and comments you make while a child is creating. The table below will provide you with some examples of how to encourage the creative process and what to avoid.

Questions and Comments to Promote Creativity in Preschoolers


Inappropriate Comment:

What is that?

It can be very disappointing for a child if you cannot figure out what they have created. Ask open-ended questions and let them tell you what it is.


A Better (Appropriate) Comment

What can you tell me about your piece of work?

This allows the child to share what they have been working on in their own words. This also allows you to avoid guessing what they have created if you are unsure.


Inappropriate Comment:

I love that dog you painted.

Never assume you know what they have created. Try to avoid being too specific until the child has given you information.


A Better (Appropriate) Comment

What gave you the idea to create this?

This encourages children to think about what they have created and will allow them to tell you about their idea behind the creation.


Inappropriate Comment:

You must have been sad when you wrote that.

Do not assume you know what a child was feeling when they created something. Let them tell you — it will give them a chance to discuss their feelings but not feel uncomfortable.


A Better (Appropriate) Comment

What is your favorite part about it? How were you feeling when you created this?

These open-ended questions give children a chance to think about what they like about their piece of work. They might choose the topic or the color or something completely different. It also is the best way to give children the chance to discuss their feelings without pressure.


Inappropriate Comment:

It looks like you need to work on your cutting skills.

Try not to judge or critique a child’s skill level when they are working on a creative project. There is a time for skill-building activities; you can easily discourage their creativity if you constantly point out the negative.


A Better (Appropriate) Comment

What title would you give it?

This question gives you an idea of what makes this piece important to the child. It also gives them ownership over their work.


Inappropriate Comment:

Good job!

Often, this is an automatic response to a child. This generic praise does not provide specific feedback. Also, this tells the child their work is only good when you say those words.


A Better (Appropriate) Comment

I noticed you were able to create a sound with those two items. Tell me how you did that.

This statement helps the child connect their work with what you observe. This also provokes the child to tell you about the process they engaged in. Thus, it fosters learning and further creative exploration.


Here are some additional ways to help promote creative expression in the learning environment:

  • Provide materials for open-ended art, music, dance, drama, and literature experiences.
  • Allow for long-term projects by providing space for children to store their work that is not yet complete.
  • Allow for free time each day so that children can choose their own experiences and create their own activities.
  • Scaffold learning to promote specific skill development.
  • Allow children to take on different gender roles regardless of how they identify.
  • Observe children carefully so that you are aware of each child’s needs and interests.

School-Agers Self-Expression: Communicating Through the Arts

Self-expression is a significant part of growing up. School-age children need to develop healthy forms of self-expression to handle the emotions and stress that come with growing older. The creative arts help them do so. At times, school-age children may have difficulty discussing what is on their minds, and using the arts is a way to help them communicate their feelings in a variety of ways.

Using the creative arts as a form of communication allows children to express themselves in healthy ways. In the chart below, the six major creative arts are illustrated with examples of how school-age children might communicate. Keep in mind that there is no right or wrong way for children to use the arts as a form of communication or self-expression. The creative process allows children to make their own decisions about their work, to take risks, and to make mistakes. The methods listed below are only a small portion of the possible ways children can use the arts to communicate.

School-Agers Self Expression: Communicating Through the Arts

  • Creating images or visual representations of events or feelings: School-age children may have a hard time discussing topics that make them uncomfortable. Drawing, painting, or creating other visual representations allows children to express themselves without always having to discuss their feelings with others. Sometimes, discussing the artwork they created will be easier than discussing what actually happened.
  • Keeping a personal diary or blog: School-age children can release their feelings and thoughts in a healthy way by journaling about their life. Feelings usually kept to themselves might become topics for conversation after having worked through them on paper. It is important to remind school-age children that information kept on a blog is not private.
  • Creative writing: School-age children can use their imaginations to communicate through creative writing. They could put themselves into a story or create a character that they wish they could be like. Poetry is also a way for children to express themselves. Since there are dozens and dozens of kinds of poetry (acrostic, ballad, found, haiku, limerick, etc.) this creative form can appeal to children of all ages. Spoken word is such an example as it brings poetry to life through an oral performance in which elements of storytelling and music are woven in.
  • Playing a musical instrument: School-age children who play musical instruments may use this creative outlet to communicate their feelings. Sometimes it is the exploration of using their body to create various sounds, such as beat boxing, that a child enjoys. Different types of music evoke different emotions, and those emotions are necessary to perform the piece well.
  • Music composition: Creating music is another way school-age children can express emotions and feelings. Children may write song lyrics, or a talented musician may even create musical compositions.
  • Listening to music: Listening to music: A choice of music may depend on their mood or current situation. The music itself can speak to children; it can get them up and moving or match their somber moods. Song lyrics are important as well and can be interpreted to help children through situations.
  • Interpretive dance: Children move based on what the music is saying to them. Dance provides a school-age child the opportunity to express emotion and tell a story through movement.
  • Choreography: School-age children can work together or independently to design a new dance based on feelings, emotions, and moods.
  • Acting and storytelling: Acting and storytelling are ways children can put thought and emotion into practice. In these artistic methods, children can take an author’s words and use events in their lives to fuel the dramatic expression.
  • Pretend play: School-age children are not too old to engage in pretend play. They may act out scenes with figures or dolls or dress in costume and pretend to be a character. Sometimes, pretend play can be a healthy way to escape from the everyday stressors of life.
  • Inventing: Inventing is a creative outlet for the imagination to dream what is possible. School-age children will enjoy inventing products or methods that may help them, their families, or the world around them. This is a way that children might express what is bothering them or try to fix something.
  • Scientific discovery and hypothesis: Making discoveries and guesses about the results of experiments is another form of creative expression. It allows children to think freely and communicate their thoughts and opinions.

Many of these experiences are meant to successfully build on children’s innate joy for play and their desire to be part of engaging interactions. For example, as a toddler begins to pretend that an object stands for something else (such as a plate being used as a hat), a key skill is developing. The toddler is beginning to understand the idea of symbolism which leads to abstract thinking. This helps lay a foundation for being able to use words and pictures to express ideas.

Families remain a valuable resource as you learn about the strengths and needs of the children in your care. Some children may need you to make adaptations or provide support that will enable them to express their creativity and feel successful. Well-planned, creative experiences encourage children to use all their senses. When you plan creative experiences in advance, you also have an opportunity to expand and adapt for a child with specific learning needs.

“Think left and think right and think low and think high. Oh, the thinks you can think up if only you try!” — Dr. Seuss

Fostering Culturally Responsive Creative Experiences

Culturally responsive experiences are those that create a sense of belonging by allowing children see themselves and their families represented in your program. This may mean opportunities for self-expression and discovery. It may also mean broad exposure to people, ideas, and experiences from around the world. In terms of creativity, the word “culture” can be quite broad. You should provide experiences that help children begin to define a sense of self and a sense of the world around them. This may include racial or ethnic identity, but it can also include identities related to family values, beliefs, or experiences. Caregivers should be mindful about representing a variety of these things in their child care setting. For example, children may explore making music with different types of instruments, listen to different stories from around the world, or view photos of their families, their peers’ families, and family structures that may be different from their own.

As you create and offer experiences, it is also important to remember that each child demonstrates their creativity in a unique way. Some children may not be familiar with creative, playful interactions, such as peekaboo, and will need support to engage in a new, unfamiliar experience. Therefore, our relationships and communication with families play a vital role in supporting a creative environment. Families can provide information regarding their values, beliefs, and meaningful experiences that highlight their family’s culture. Asking all family members about their views on creative play is important, as the children will bring experiences from home, incorporating them into the ways they explore and experiment in your family child care home.

Distinguishing between Process- and Product-Oriented Experiences

In your work with children and youth, it is best practice to provide daily opportunities for creativity and innovation. One such way is through process-oriented experiences. These experiences are child directed, part of the everyday, and open-ended. The focus is on the process of learning and exploration. Sometimes, there is a product which is unique and original to the child. Other times, there may not be a final product or the product is lost during the process of experimentation.

Examples of process-oriented activities may include:

  • Using their bodies to create sounds
  • Creating prints using different objects
  • Making up a story and acting it out
  • Experimenting with unconventional materials to build a birdhouse
  • Designing a dance for a favorite song

In contrast, product-oriented experiences focus on the result or product of the experience. They are often adult-directed and have a predetermined goal or outcome. With product-oriented activities, there is usually a right and wrong way to proceed, which may lead to frustration from the child.

Examples of product-oriented activities may include:

  • Creating identical snowmen
  • Offering only feathers, glue, and paper to make a bird
  • Using the same materials or objects to build similar-looking houses
  • Working with conventional instruments in the way they are intended for use

In your work, you should consider the creative experiences and activities you provide and evaluate to what extent children will be engaged and if the activity is meaningful for the child. When making decisions about process-oriented or product-oriented experiences, identify the intended learning goals and objectives. There is value in teaching specific skills, however, the key is to find balance. You can facilitate learning of certain techniques, such as using scissors or glue in a variety of open-ended ways. For instance, a child who expresses interest in hanging their recently completed city map on the wall provides you with an opportunity to work on the child’s cutting skills. As a result, you suggest scissors as a tool to cut tape. In doing so, the child is engaged in a meaningful activity with scissors to strengthen their cutting skills. Through repeated experiences such as this, you are cultivating creativity and innovation while also building essential skills.

According to Althouse, Johnson, and Mitchell, who write about integrating the visual arts into the classroom (2003), when adults continuously dictate to children the size paper to use, colors to use, and the product to make, creativity is discouraged. Therefore, it is important to provide rich process-oriented experiences for children to discover the endless possibilities of creative expression.

Here are some ways to help promote creative expression in the learning environment:

  • Provide materials for open-ended art, music, dance, drama, discovery, and literature experiences.
  • Allow for long-term projects by providing space for children to store their work that is not yet complete.
  • Allow for free time each day so that children can choose their own experiences and create their own activities.
  • Scaffold learning to promote specific skill development.
  • Allow children to take on different gender roles regardless of how they identify.
  • Observe children carefully so that you are aware of each child’s needs and interests.

Meeting the Needs of All Learners

Each child develops and approaches creative experiences differently. Some children might have difficulties accessing creative experiences. For example, a toddler may be unable to reach or stand for long periods of time. A child with visual or hearing impairments may have trouble viewing a work of art or listening to a piece of music. A child who is easily overstimulated might not enjoy sensory experiences. You must be prepared to meet children where they are and make appropriate creative experiences a priority for all children. Here are some guidelines to keep in mind when it comes to supporting all learners:

  • Art and creative experiences should always be a choice, and there should be no wrong answers. Each child encounters experiences in his or her own way and at his or her own pace.
  • Ensure children with disabilities can participate. You should create adaptations that allow each child in your care to be a full participant.
  • Scaffold creative experiences for children who need support. Although creative experiences are often open-ended, it is OK for adults to provide some help when needed. You may use a variety of supports such as peer support, adult support, or environmental modifications to help children be successful. For example, you might offer an individual child a visual support to explain the routine of getting ready to paint (i.e., pictures of putting on smock, sitting at the table or easel, picking up a brush, and placing the brush on the paper).


Process vs. Product

Listen as providers explain the importance of process versus product in creative expression.


There are many things you can do to interact and create experiences for children to support their creativity:

  • Share stories and read books.
  • Take walks with children, explore, and talk about what you see.
  • Play dress-up using hats, handbags, etc.
  • Use a variety of materials for sensory play—sand, water, mud, play dough, paints.
  • Use crayons and paper for scribbling on both vertical and horizontal surfaces.
  • Make and use musical instruments—for example, fill an empty plastic water bottle with rice or dried peas for a shaker.
  • Explore the tempo of songs and discuss how they make you feel.
  • Provide new toys and objects in their reach—watch as they explore the items.
  • Invite local artists (visual, music, dance, drama, and discovery) to come to your program to talk about their work.
  • Explore art in your local community by visiting art museums, craft shows, or exhibitions.
  • Partner with local art councils, programs, or museums.
  • Offer a wide range of building materials including traditional and unconventional materials (unit blocks, wood slices, stones, empty cardboard boxes, etc.)
  • Conduct experiments such as objects that sink or float.
  • Use technology devices to take pictures of a creation and produce instructions on how it was made
  • Use apps to create a puppet show


Read and review the activity Experiences and Activities to Support Creativity. Then, think about different experiences and ways you can use activities to support children’s curiosity, exploration, and experimentation. Create your own experiences by writing down your activity ideas, identifying the materials needed, and highlighting the ways creativity is supported. Discuss your ideas with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.

It is important to offer learning experiences and activities that are appropriate, engaging and supportive of children’s learning and development across various developmental domains including cognitive, social-emotional, physical, language and literacy, and creative development. Providers working toward their CDA credential should use the Creative Arts Activity Plan handout to develop a creative art learning experience from your curriculum (or a new activity you plan on implementing).


When considering materials and experiences that are developmentally appropriate for the children in your care, think about each child’s strengths, needs, and interests. This will allow you to support children in a way that encourages them to explore new ideas. Take a moment to think about the creative experiences you offer for the children in your care. Next, read and review the Observation and Application: Supporting Creativity activity and complete the form. Share your thoughts and responses with your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.

As the use of technology is becoming an important tool that we use to interact with our environment, family child care providers must be deliberate in the way they introduce and use technology to guide children’s learning. The goal of incorporating technology in learning should be for children to be users, not simply consumers (Fantozzi, 2022). Review the Guidelines for Incorporating Technology document to ensure the use of technology in your family child care setting is aligned with your learning goals.


Culturally Responsive Experiences:
Using the perspectives and beliefs of children and their families as a tool to support learning
A piece of portable electronic equipment that can connect to the internet, such as a smartphone, tablet, or laptop computer
Foundational Experiences:
Experiences that support knowledge and skills that lead to additional learning
Method of support offered to children where the adult offers the appropriate amount of help to eliminate frustration but still challenges the child to learn


Finish this statement: To encourage problem-solving and creative thinking it is best to. . .
True or false? Families are a valuable resource as you plan creative, playful interactions with children.
A parent new to your program asks what types of activities support a child’s creativity. Which of the following is not a good response?
References & Resources

Althouse, R., Johnson, M. H., & Mitchell, S. T. (2003). The colors of learning: Integrating the visual arts into the early childhood curriculum. Teachers College Press.

Barton, G. (2015). Arts-based educational research in the early years. International Research in Early Childhood Education, 6(1), 62–78.

Bongiorno, L. (2014). How process-focused art experiences support preschoolers. Teaching Young Children, 7(3).

Derman-Sparks, L., & Edwards, J. O. (2020). Anti-bias education for young children and ourselves (2nd ed.). The National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Englebright Fox, J. & Schirrmacher, R. (2014). Art and creative development for young children. (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Fantozzi, V. (2022). Technology guidelines support preschool creativity. National Association for the Education of Young Children.

Galuski, T., & Bardsley, M. E. (2018). Open-ended art for young children. Redleaf Press.

Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (2018). Caring Connections Podcast 7: Let's talk about . . music.

Head Start Early Childhood Learning and Knowledge Center. (2020, November 20). Approaches to learning. ECLKC.

Heroman, C., Burts, D. C., Berke, K., & Bickart, T. S. (2015). Teaching Strategies Gold: Objectives for development & learning, birth through kindergarten. Teaching Strategies, Inc.

Hogan, J., Jaquith, D., & Gould, L. (2020). Shifting perceptions of quality in art education, Art Education, 73(4), 8-13, DOI: 10.1080/00043125.2020.1746161

Isbell, R., & Yoshizawa, S. A. (2016). Nurturing creativity: An essential mindset for young children’s learning. The National Association for the Education of Young Children.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2022). Developmentally appropriate practice in early childhood programs serving children from birth through age 8 (4th ed.). The National Association of Education of Young Children.

Sandall, S., & Schwartz, I. (2008). Building blocks for teaching preschoolers with special needs. Brookes Publishing.

Schirrmacher, R. & Englebright Fox, J. (2014). Art and creative development for young children. (8th ed.). Cengage Learning.

Seidel, S., Tishman, S., Winner, E., Hetland, L., & Palmer, P. (2009). The qualities of quality: Understanding excellence in arts education. Project Zero, Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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

Van Hoorn, J. L., Nourot, P. M., Scales, B., & Alward, K. R. (2002). Play at the center of the curriculum. (6th ed.). Pearson.