Skip to main content

Creativity: An Introduction

This lesson provides an introduction to creativity and describes what it looks like during the preschool years. A key learning point is the significance of creative expression for children’s overall development and learning.

  • Define creativity and examine its importance in our lives.
  • Reflect on your own ideas about creativity.
  • Discuss how creativity promotes development and learning in preschoolers.



What comes to your mind when you hear the words “creative” or “creativity”? Perhaps images of people who express themselves freely and confidently through their work or daily life experiences; people who tend to think “outside the box” when coming up with ideas to address situations or solve everyday problems? What about artists, actors, writers, designers, or performers who share their experiences, emotions, or wisdom through their work and craft? Researchers, scientists, inventors, or entrepreneurs who come up with original, progressive, never-conceived-before ideas or technologies that improve our lives? You might even think of individuals who seem to find joy in everyday things such as cooking, gardening, decorating a home, or taking care of children.

Think about yourself or people you know (friends, family, colleagues). Do you consider yourself or anyone you know creative? What does that mean? Maybe you or people you know have a unique way of expressing interests, ideas, questions, or talents. Do you know people who feel that they are not creative? How do they justify or explain that? Perhaps they are indeed engaging in creative thinking or endeavors, but they are not realizing that their actions are creative.

Regardless of individuals’ experiences or beliefs, everyone is creative in their own way! Consider the following views that have been expressed 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 or phrases stand out to you as you read the above quotes? How do you define creativity or creative individuals?

This course will help you understand what creativity is, the significance of creative expression for children’s learning and development, the various ways in which individuals, including yourself, express creativity, and the different things you can do during the preschool years to nurture children’s creative expression. You will also explore your views on your own creativity and how that can affect how you interact with children, families, and colleagues in your preschool setting. In the Explore section of this lesson, you will have an opportunity to reflect on your own experiences with creativity.

What is Creativity?

Defining creativity is not as easy as it may seem. As you read above, creativity can mean different things to different people. It could be a talent, such as singing or dancing, or it could be a different way of thinking or being in the world. Creativity is a trait that exists in everyone. Regardless of individuals’ experiences with creativity, it is a disposition we can nurture and cultivate. 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 different 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

What Does Creativity Look Like in Preschoolers?

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 the preschool years are 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.

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.

Why is Creativity Important to Preschool Development?

Creativity is an essential part of the experience of being human. All of us have the potential to be creative in what we do. When we are creative, we let go of fears, rise to challenges or obstacles, and see new opportunities. Creativity is important because it allows us to be open to new experiences. These experiences include having a good imagination, experiencing and valuing feelings, trying new things based on individual interests, having a curious mindset, and being open to new challenges that may be unconventional (Kaufman, 2016). Considering this, it is no wonder creativity is an important aspect of preschool development.

Promoting creativity through environments and materials is crucial for young children’s development. Preschool children learn best when they are actively engaged in their environments. It is important that we provide young children many opportunities to explore their environment by moving, touching, and experimenting with different materials, expressing ideas and emotions, and manipulating different toys or objects. These experiences help spark powerful and meaningful connections in their developing brains. In 2017, researchers interested in the effects of poverty on children conducted a study that found the stress hormone, cortisol, was lower in preschoolers who participated in music, dance, and visual arts classes, suggesting a potential benefit of the Arts on children’s health outcomes (Brown, Garnett, Anderson & Laurenceau, 2017).

According to Jeffrey Trawick-Smith of Eastern Connecticut State University, “artistic expression may be as important for brain growth as speaking, writing, and reading” (2014, p. 230). Experiences such as painting, drawing, or sculpting in the preschool years engage and connect multiple areas of the brain. Along the same lines, performing arts that engage children in acting, moving, or dancing are equally valuable for brain development. As highlighted in the Physical Development course, studies have indicated that physical activity in young children is also linked to brain growth and development (James, 2010). Simply said, children need to be engaged in activities that spark their creativity and expression.


Nurturing creativity is crucial for young children’s development. Watch these videos to hear preschool teachers share their views on creativity.

Creativity in Preschool: Part One

Listen as preschool teachers share their views about creativity.

Creativity in Preschool : Part Two

Listen as preschool teachers share their views about creativity.


As a preschool teacher, it is your responsibility to provide developmentally appropriate experiences and materials that meet each child’s needs. As you plan and implement your work, you are setting the foundation for children’s school readiness and success. In your work at preschool, you will also collaborate with many individuals, each possessing unique talents and ways of looking at the world. As a member of this team, you can use your creativity to:

  • Engage with individuals (children, family members, colleagues, community partners) to plan fun, meaningful experiences for children and families in your care
  • Provide input or guidance to families or colleagues
  • Brainstorm solutions for issues or concerns in your daily practice

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 Preschool 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? Read and complete the Exploring Creativity activity. Then, share and discuss your responses with your trainer, coach, or 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 administrator.


A trait that exists in everyone; the ability to have new ideas, solve problems, and think about issues in different ways
A sensory experience attained through movement


Your co-worker says, “I need help with next week’s activity plan. I’m just not a creative person.” How do you respond?
A parent new to your program asks you to describe the types of creative activities you offer the preschool children in your care. You say …
True or false? Creative activity such as painting, drawing, dancing, acting, moving, etc. are linked to brain growth and healthy brain development.
References & Resources

Althouse, R., Johnson, M. H., & Mitchell, S. T. (2002). The colors of learning: Integrating the visual arts into the early childhood curriculum. Teachers College Press. 

Beghetto, R. A., & Kaufman, J. C. (Eds.). (2010). Nurturing creativity in the classroom. Cambridge University Press. 

Bentley, D. F. (2013). Everyday artists: Inquiry and creativity in the early childhood classroom. Teachers College Press. 

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

Brown, E.D., Garnett, M.L., Anderson, K.E. & Laurenceau, J.P. (2017). Can the arts get under the skin? Arts and cortisol for economically disadvantaged children. Child Development, 88(4), pages 1368-1381. 

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

Helm, J. H., & Katz, L. G. (2011). Young investigators: The project approach in the early years. Teachers College Press. 

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. (Ed.). (201609). 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.  

Sellman, E. (Ed.). (2011). Creative learning for inclusion: Creating learning to meet special needs in the classroom. Routledge. 

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.