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




    Just as experiences and activities inspire your own creativity, experiences and activities support infant’s and toddler’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 infant and toddler needs opportunities to discover, create and enjoy interactions, experiences and activities that help lead them to ongoing learning and growth.  Caring adults can provide infants and toddlers 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 infants and toddlers the security and confidence they need to explore, experiment and initiate creative learning.

    Experiences and Activities that Foster Curiosity

    Infants and toddlers are naturally curious. This curiosity can be supported when caregivers provide 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
    • 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 caregivers to determine the best ways to ensure that foundational experiences are being offered and that infants’ and toddlers’ creativity is being encouraged throughout the day. The table below highlights different approaches and ideas:

    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.
    Music has a positive impact on the physical development of premature infants and can promote calmness in infants (Coleman et al, 1997).

    Many of these experiences are meant to successfully build upon infants’ and toddlers’ desires to be part of engaging interactions and their innate joy in play. 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 infant and toddler demonstrates their creativity in a unique way. Some infants and toddlers 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 infants and toddlers in your care. Some infants and toddlers may need you to make adaptations or provide supports that will enable them to express their creativity and feel successful. Offering well-planned, creative experiences can help encourage infants and toddlers to learn using all of their senses, and it creates the opportunity to expand and adapt for a young child with specific learning needs. Let’s think for a moment about a 9-month-old who is able to sit by himself with support. As he sits on the carpet against a supportive cushion, he begins banging a plastic ball on a mound of stacking blocks (experimenting with a toy to make sounds). He then tries banging the ball on the carpet and notices it does not make a noise (experimenting and exploring with persistence). As he starts to put the ball in his mouth (further exploration), the ball slips out of his hand and rolls across the floor. He starts to cry. The caregiver then reaches out to retrieve the ball and hands it back to him saying, “Oops, here is the ball. You’re very interested in the sounds this ball can make and the way it feels. It felt frustrating to you when the ball rolled away.” In this example, the caregiver supports him in his exploration by making it possible for him to continue.

    The communication between caregivers 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 family’s culture. Asking all family members about their views on creative play is important, as the infant and toddler will bring experiences from home, incorporating them into the ways they explore and experiment in the early care and learning environment.

    Fostering Culturally Responsive Creative Experiences

    Culturally responsive experiences are those that help infants and toddlers 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 infants and toddlers 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, infants and toddlers 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 pre-determined 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 infants and toddlers. When making decisions about using process-oriented or product-oriented experiences, you should ask yourself what your goals or objectives are. If, for example, your goal is to promote infants’ and toddlers’ 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 infants and toddlers to cut or glue the same materials may be appropriate.

    According to Althouse, Johnson, and Mitchell, who write about integrating the visual arts into the classroom, 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.

    Meeting the Needs of All Learners

    Each infant and toddler 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. An infant who is easily over-stimulated might not enjoy sensory experiences. You must be prepared to meet infants and toddlers 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 (Head Start, 2013). Each infant and toddler encounters experiences in his or her own way and at his or her own pace.
    • Do not let disabilities or differences be a barrier to participation. You should create adaptations that allow each infant and toddler in your care to participate fully.
    • Scaffold creative experiences for infants and toddlers who need support. Although creative experiences are often open-ended, it is OK for adults to provide some help when needed. You could use a picture schedule to help an individual child begin an activity (i.e., put on smock, pick up brush, dip in paint, and create!). You may use a variety of supports such as peer support, adult support, or environmental modifications to help children be successful (Sandall & Schwartz, 2008).

    Encouraging Creativity During Daily Routines

    As a caregiver of infants and toddlers, you recognize the central role exploration has within nurturing and responsive relationships to support development. Infants and toddlers are discovering things constantly as they engage in and explore their world.

    During these early years, caregivers should focus on interacting sensitively and skillfully to support and enhance infants' and toddlers' natural curiosity and creativity. There are numerous ways you, as a caregiver, can encourage curiosity and creativity throughout the day. You can plan specific activities, such as dancing and finger painting. You can also encourage thinking, problem solving and helping infants and toddlers do things in their own ways.

    The following table highlights possible ways you, as an infant and toddler caregiver, 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 infants and toddlers to find and plan opportunities throughout the day that will help build a foundation for creativity.


    Cultivating Creativity through Experiences and Activities

    Piquing their interest and bringing out their best


    There are many things you can do to interact and create experiences for infants and toddlers that help support their creativity:

    • Share stories and read books.
    • Take walks with infants and toddlers and talk about what you see.
    • Play dress-up with older mobile infants and toddlers 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.



    Download and print the handout Experiences and Materials to Support Creativity. Next, think about different experiences and ways you can use materials to support infant or toddler 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 infants or toddlers in your care. Next, download and print the handout Observation and Application: Supporting Creativity and complete the form. Share your thoughts and responses with a supervisor, trainer or coach.




    Your supervisor, trainer, or coach has asked you to talk at the next staff 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 infants and toddlers.


    A parent new to your program asks what types of activities support an infant’s or toddler’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 Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (2018). Caring Connections Podcast 7: Let's Talk About . . Music. Retrieved from

    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.