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    • 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 he grows up. — Picasso (attributed)

    Just as experiences and activities inspire your own creativity, experiences, and activities support 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 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 the security and confidence they need to explore, experiment, and initiate creative learning.

    Experiences and Activities that Foster Curiosity

    How does your program foster creativity? Does it encourage and provide opportunities for creative expression for all children? How do you support children’s creativity?

    Children are naturally curious. This curiosity can be supported when providers offer opportunities to learn through daily routines and everyday experiences. When this happens, foundational experiences can help infants and toddlers begin to develop positive dispositions for learning, such as:

    • Finding 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

    It is important for providers to determine the best ways to ensure that foundational experiences are being offered and that children’s creativity is being encouraged throughout the day. The tables 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.
    • Hang musical mobiles for a young infant to view while on the diaper-changing table.

    Mobile infants respond to music and enjoy rhythm and other sounds.

    • Play and sing Pat-a-Cake.
    • Consider incorporating different types of music that represent the cultures and languages of the 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 for 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.

    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 bright or contrasting colors.

    • Provide pictures that are simple and bright 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 flour.
    • Provide old magazines for children to cut or tear pictures to add to a collage.

    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 to a child if you can’t figure out what they’ve 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’ve created if you are unsure.


    Inappropriate Comment:

    I love that dog you painted.

    Never assume you know what they’ve 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’ve created and will allow them to tell you 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.


    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. According to Harvard’s Project Zero, the arts “provide a unique opportunity for students to express themselves beyond verbal language.” At times, school-age children 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

    • School-age children can create images or visual representations of events or feelings. Sometimes children have a hard time discussing topics that make them uncomfortable or that are confusing. Creating a drawing, painting, or other visual representation of those feelings 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 express themselves. Since there are literally dozens and dozens of kinds of poetry (acrostic, ballad, found, haiku, limerick, etc.) this creative form can appeal to many different children of all ages.
    • Playing a musical instrument: School-age children who play musical instruments may use this creative outlet to communicate their feelings. 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 is a classic outlet for school-age children. Their choice in 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, in which dancers move based on what the music is saying to them, provides a school-age child the opportunity to express emotion and tell a story through movement.
    • 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 form of 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 in 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 symbols which leads to abstract thinking. This helps lay a foundation for being able to use words and pictures to express ideas.

    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 is vital.

    Families remain an important 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 supports that will enable them to express their creativity and feel successful. Well-planned, creative experiences encourage children to use all of 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.

    The communication between providers and families plays a vital role in supporting a creative environment. Families can provide information regarding their values, beliefs and meaningful experiences that highlight their 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.

    Fostering Culturally Responsive Creative Experiences

    Culturally responsive experiences are those that help children see themselves 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. Exposure to the world around them sparks curiosity and creative thinking in young children. In terms of creativity, the term “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. 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 and peers’ families.

    Distinguishing between Process- and Product-Oriented Experiences

    In your work, you should strive to achieve balance between process-oriented and product-oriented experiences. Process-oriented experiences are child-directed and open-ended and they focus on the experience itself rather than a finished product or outcome. Examples of process-oriented activities may include drawing using crayons and finger paints, making prints using different objects, or exploring materials with different textures like ice or finger paints. Product-oriented experiences are usually adult-directed and have a predetermined goal or outcome. Examples of product-oriented activities may include children making identical snowmen using the same materials on construction paper, or children using identical materials to work on an item like a house or a card to a family member.

    It is important to understand that when it comes to a finished product or the process that leads to it, a balanced approach is best. There should be opportunities for both in your work with children. When making decisions about using process-oriented or product-oriented experiences, you should ask yourself what your goals or objectives are. If your goal is to promote children’s exploration and creative expression, it would be inappropriate to use identical materials for them to make similar-looking snowmen or flowers on construction paper. If, however, your goal is to encourage or demonstrate specific techniques that are needed for further skill development (e.g., cutting or gluing), then asking children to cut or glue the same materials may be appropriate.

    According to Althouse, Johnson, and Mitchell (2003), who write about integrating the visual arts into programs, when adults continuously dictate to children the size paper to use, colors to use, and the product to make, creativity is discouraged. But not all examples of product-oriented experiences discourage creativity. Product-oriented experiences can be important when children are developing skills, as described in the previous paragraph.

    As a family child care provider, you can encourage creativity by thinking about the questions and comments you make while a child is creating. Particularly with older children, engaging and showing an interest in their work can affirm the importance of creativity to them.

    Creating a balance between activities that focus on the product and activities that focus on the process will be important to ensuring a well-rounded experience for preschool children. Here are some ways to help promote this balance in the learning environment:

    • Provide materials for open-ended art 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.
    • Plan time to focus on specific skills.
    • Observe children carefully so that you are aware of each child’s skill level.

    Meeting the Needs of All Learners

    Each child develops differently 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 special needs are able to 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).

    Encouraging Creativity during Daily Routines

    As a family child care provider, you recognize the central role exploration has within nurturing and responsive relationships to support development. Children make new discoveries constantly as they engage in and explore their world.

    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, as a provider, can encourage curiosity and creativity 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 following table highlights possible ways you can encourage creativity during daily routines:

    Daily Routines

    Encouraging Creativity Examples

    Hellos and goodbyes

    • Singing and music: "Shall we sing our hello song together now that all of our friends are here?"
    • Prompt creative thinking while reading a book: "I wonder why the little girl is crying?"

    Diapering and toileting

    • Generate ideas: "Caden, you lifted your legs so that I could get your diaper off. That is a helpful idea!"
    • Singing and music: Sing songs for children during diaper changing and toileting.
    • Responding to an infants' movement: "You haven't taken your eyes off that colorful mobile the whole time I have been changing your diaper. Now you are kicking your feet! I think you really enjoy looking at the mobile."

    Feeding and eating

    • Exploration with foods: Offer foods that can be eaten using hands and fingers as well as foods that can be eaten using utensils.
    • Responding to a toddler's need can help them try different ways to solve problems: "Sarah, you moved your cup closer to the pitcher, and it looks like you're wanting to pour your milk. This pitcher can feel heavy so why don't I help you?"
    • Curiosity and exploration: "That jello is very slippery!"

    Sleeping and resting

    • Singing and music: "Bobby you seem quiet and are sucking your thumb. It's earlier than your normal naptime, but I'm thinking you are tired. Let's go rock together and I'll softly sing your favorite song."
    • Rhymes and supporting individual expression: While rocking an infant or toddler, share a rhyme in a soothing voice, or gently touch their fingers while reciting "This Little Piggy."

    You can use your knowledge of children to find and plan opportunities throughout the day that will help build a foundation for creativity.


    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 and talk about what you see.
    • Play dress-up with children using hats, handbags, etc.
    • Use materials for sensory play—sand, water, mud, play dough, paints.
    • Use crayons and paper for scribbling.
    • Make and use musical instruments—for example, fill an empty plastic water bottle with rice or dried peas for a shaker.
    • Provide new toys and objects in their reach—watch as they explore the items.



    Read and review the activity Experiences and Materials to Support Creativity. Next, think about different experiences and ways you can use materials to support children’s curiosity, exploration, and experimentation. Record your experience or activity ideas, identify the materials needed, and highlight the ways creativity is supported.



    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 a trainer, coach, or family child care administrator.




    Your trainer, coach, or family child care administrator has asked you to talk at a provider meeting about how to encourage creativity during daily routines such as arrival and departure, diapering and toileting, feeding and eating, and sleeping and resting. What are some examples you might share?


    True or false? Families are an important 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. How do you respond?

    References & Resources

    Althouse, R., Johnson, M. H., & Mitchell, S. T. (2003). The Colors of Learning: Integrating the visual arts into the early childhood curriculum. Vol. 85 of Early Childhood Education series. New York: Teachers College Press.

    Coleman, J. M., Pratt, R. R., Stoddard, R. A., Gerstmann, D. R., Abel, H. H. (1997). The Effects of the Male and Female Singing and Speaking Voices on Selected Physiological and Behavioral Measures of Premature Infants in the Intensive Care Unit. International Journal of Arts, 5(2), 4-11.

    Duffy, B. (2006). Supporting Creativity and Imagination in the Early Years. Maidenhead, England: Open University Press.

    Gandini, L. (1992). Creativity Comes Dressed in Everyday Clothes. Child Care Information Exchange, 26-29.

    Head Start National Center on Quality Teaching and Learning. (2013). The Head Start Leaders Guide to Positive Child Outcomes. Retrieved from

    Heroman, C., Burts, D. C., Berke, K., & Bickart, T. S. (2010). Teaching Strategies Gold: Objectives for development & learning, birth through kindergarten. Washington, DC: Teaching Strategies, Inc.

    National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2009). C. Copple & S. Bredekamp (Eds.), Developmentally Appropriate Practice in Early Childhood Programs Serving Children from Birth through Age 8. National Association for the Education of Young Children. Retrieved from

    Sandall, S., & Schwartz, I. (2008). Building Blocks for Teaching Preschoolers with Special Needs. Baltimore, MD: Brookes Publishing.

    Schirrmacher, R. (2006). Art and Creative Development for Young Children (5th ed.). Clifton Park, NY: Thomas Delmar Learning.

    Trawick-Smith, J. W. (2014). Early Childhood Development: A Multicultural Perspective (6th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education Inc.

    Van Hoorn, J. L., Nourot, P. M., Scales, B., & Alward, K. R. (2002). Play at the Center of the Curriculum. (pp. 71-94). Upper Saddle River: Prentice Hall.

    Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in Society: Development of higher psychological processes. Cambridge, Md.: Harvard University Press.