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Creativity: An Introduction

Infants are born with a natural drive to explore and make sense of the world around them. They are curious explorers, and they wonder how and why things work the way they do. Their natural curiosity and creativity are enhanced and supported through nurturing, responsive relationships with their families and caregivers. This lesson will further explore and define what creativity looks like with infants and toddlers and it will offer an opportunity to think about the importance of creative expression for young children.

  • Define creativity and examine its importance in your own life.
  • Describe the creativity of infants and toddlers.
  • Recognize the importance of creativity for infant and toddler development.



Think about the word "creativity;" what does it mean to you? Can you think of a time when you thought totally "outside the box" or asked yourself, "Am I creative?" What about when you were younger, did you love imaginative play? What 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 think freely and creatively.

Some see creativity as finding ways to express oneself openly and without judgment. When adults are open to expressing themselves and creating and exploring things 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 reenvisioning - creativity can show itself in all people in different ways in 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 work 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?

Consider the following opinions that have been offered 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?

As you can see, 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 approaches to creativity may differ 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

Creativity in Infants and Toddlers

For infants and toddlers, creativity is about active exploration, self-expression, and experimentation supported within the context of nurturing and responsive relationships. While young infants cannot cut with scissors or create their own short story, they can actively engage in exploration of their environment while using their senses to learn how things work, taste, smell, feel, and sound.

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 are further developed, you will notice infants and toddlers reenacting their experiences. For example, an infant who drinks from a bottle while being cradled and gently rocked by their caregiver, may later hold a doll and pretend to feed the doll using a bottle. 

Older infants and 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 infants and toddlers is supported through nurturing and responsive relationships. With this type of care, infants and 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 and experiment with their new ideas. Below is a chart that highlights different behaviors you might see from infants and toddlers that are related to creativity:

Creativity Behaviors

Young Infants
  • Looks at contrasting and colored objects
  • Notices and responds to facial expressions
  • Looks at pictures and mirror images
  • Notices differences in and demonstrates preferences to textures
  • Turns head toward pleasant-sounding musical toy, mobile, or voice
Mobile Infants
  • Chooses colored crayons to make marks on a piece of paper
  • Responds to music and attempts to clap hands together
  • Repeats pleasurable experiences
  • 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

Importance of Creativity, Active Exploration, and Inquiry

Infants and toddlers 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, infants and toddlers feel safe to explore and become curious, creative, and adventurous learners. 

As infants and toddlers explore, their goals remain simple – learn about the world by exploring and taking advantage of the opportunities available in the moment. Infants and toddlers 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. 

Infants and toddlers 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 are helping infants and toddlers 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 toddlers, for example, offers an opportunity for them 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, which helps them become better problem solvers
  • Build relationships and make connections with others


Making Sense of Creativity: Infants and Toddlers

Creativity supports new learning.


There are many things you can do to show infants and toddlers that you recognize and appreciate their creativity.

  • Make eye contact with and smile at infants and toddlers.
  • 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.
  • Describe their creativity and what you notice. For example, point as an infant looks in a mirror and say, "There you are! There is your beautiful face!"
  • Talk and share with infants and toddlers what you hear, see, etc. as you walk around the room or while outdoors. "You turned your head and looked toward the tree. Yes, there is a bird chirping a song for us. I hear it, too."
  • Offer infants and toddlers as much time as needed for their ideas, exploration, and responses.
  • Model creative expression. Play with puppets, draw with crayons, and make music alongside infants and toddlers.

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 Infant & Toddler 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.


Download and print the handout, Creativity Characteristics, which outlines questions you can ask yourself when considering how infants and toddlers express creativity. Answer the questions and then share your thoughts and responses with a trainer, coach, or administrator.


Curiosity and exploration are constant for infants and toddlers. They become increasingly fascinated by the world and those around them which offers opportunities for their creativity and imaginations to grow and develop. Download and print the handout, Noticing Infant and Toddler Creativity. Take time to observe the infants and toddlers in your care and write down what you notice that fits with the characteristics on the attachment. Share your thoughts and responses with a trainer, coach, or 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 experiences they may have had or something that is of interest to them
A sensory experience attained through movement


A parent in your classroom asks what types of creative behavior they can expect to see in their toddler over the next year. What do you say?
Finish this statement: Positive, responsive relationships nurture creativity in ...
To show infants and toddlers that you recognize and appreciate their creativity, do all of the following except. . .
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 Falmer.

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.

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.

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