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Cultivating Creativity and Innovation: Experiences and Activities

It is important to provide children with a variety of experiences that cultivate creativity. This lesson describes how you can engage children in meaningful indoor and outdoor activities that promote their creativity, innovative thinking, and exploration.

  • Identify examples of creative activities in preschool.
  • Distinguish between process-oriented and product-oriented experiences.
  • Reflect on creative experiences you currently use in your classroom.


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


Just as experiences and activities inspire your creativity, experiences and activities nurture creativity in young children. In Lesson One, you learned that creativity can be nurtured and cultivated; it is not something that simply exists in some individuals and not in others. As a preschool teacher, you are responsible for creating meaningful experiences that incorporate and nurture creativity. Creative experiences provide opportunities for children to express and demonstrate their knowledge in interesting and meaningful ways (Gandini, 1992). Fostering children’s creativity builds a foundation for healthy development and love for learning.

Fostering Creative Experiences

How does your program foster creativity in young children? Does it encourage and provide opportunities for creative expression for all children? How are you supported in promoting young children’s creativity?

The following can guide your efforts as you interact with children in preschool experiences:

  • Scaffold learning by offering support when the child is struggling in their creative process. While many creative experiences should be child-directed, it is appropriate to offer support or scaffold their learning. A simple comment or question like, “I wonder what would happen if you started the ball a little higher on the ramp” can encourage a child to extend their thinking. Some children might need support using new or unfamiliar materials. You can also offer ideas and model innovative uses of materials, such as: recycling a metal bin into a drum, using a piece of fabric as a tablecloth, etc.
  • Give specific, detailed responses when providing feedback or praise. When interacting with children about their artwork, make positive comments that describe what you see them doing (e.g., “I see how you are using these two colors for your tree.”) as opposed to comments that evaluate their work (e.g., “I like how you painted that.”). Alternative statements to “good job” that are non-evaluating will foster creative expression.
  • Provide children with multiple opportunities for artistic expression and appreciation of the Arts. Encourage their experimentation with a variety of developmentally appropriate art forms, materials, and processes (Althouse, Johnson, & Mitchell, 2003).
  • Encourage and model problem-solving. As creativity entails coming up with solutions or different ways of doing things, you should incorporate problem-solving during classroom experiences. Use open-ended questions such as “What would happen if you…” to help children come up with solutions to problems or situations. Open ended questions not only encourage critical thinking skills, but they also allow children to use their imaginations. Remember to ask questions out of genuine curiosity. You should not always know the answer to a question before you ask it. Children can tell the difference between an adult who is curious and an adult who is testing them.
  • Encourage discovery by providing thought-provoking materials and planning activities that encourage creative thinking, brainstorming, and making hypotheses. The types of activities that can be associated with discoveries are endless. A few examples of materials that can spark inquiry and discovery include non-fiction books, paint, science kits and experiments, sensory items, magnifying glasses and telescopes, specimen and insect containers, pets and other animals, magnets, cooking utensils, and natural elements like leaves, dirt, and clay.
  • Use children’s interests to guide decisions you make about creative experiences. If, for example, you see that several children in your classroom enjoy construction experiences, consider adjusting your classroom space to allow children to engage in such activities. Above all, be flexible and open-minded!
  • Every child demonstrates creativity in a unique way. Some children like to get messy while others do not. When it comes to children with developmental disabilities, you may have to make adaptations or provide support that will enable these children to express their creativity and to be successful.
  • Continually evaluate the experiences you are providing. Are they developmentally appropriate for the children in your classroom? Are they culturally responsive and sensitive? Are children actively engaged in constructing their learning?

Fostering Culturally Responsive Creative Experiences

Culturally responsive experiences are those that help children see themselves and their families represented in your program. This may mean opportunities for self-reflection and expression. It may also mean broad exposure to people, ideas, and experiences from around the world. When discussing creativity, the term “culture” can be quite broad. You should provide experiences that help children define a sense of self and a sense of the world including racial or ethnic identity and identities related to family values, beliefs, or experiences. For example, children may explore the culture of living on a military installation, being an only child, or transitioning to kindergarten.

Distinguishing between Process- and Product-oriented Experiences

“I never made a painting as a work of art, it’s all research.” - Pablo Picasso

In your work with preschoolers, 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 the 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 preschoolers to discover the endless possibilities of creative expression.

Encouraging Creativity

As a preschool staff member, 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.

Inappropriate Questions and CommentsExplanationAppropriate Questions and CommentsExplanation
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.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.
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.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.
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.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.
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.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.
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.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 process-oriented 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.

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 child who uses a wheelchair might have trouble reaching a traditional easel. 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 inattentive might be challenged to take part in an experience for long periods of time. A child who is easily over-stimulated might not enjoy sensory or open-ended activities. 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.
  • Do not let a child with disabilities or differences be a barrier to participation. You should create adaptations that allow each child to participate fully and successfully.
  • 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 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 modification to help children be successful (Sandall & Schwartz, 2008).


Fostering young children’s creativity helps build lifelong skills necessary for learning and a love for inquiry and exploration. In the first video, listen as a program director reflects on her program’s approach to creative experiences. In the second video, watch how a preschool classroom, in collaboration with a local art museum, engaged in a fun project about fairies.

Creative Experiences in Preschool

Listen as a program director reflects on her program's approach towards creative experiences in the classroom.

The Fairy Garden Project

Watch how a preschool classroom, in collaboration with a local art museum, engaged in a project about fairies.


As a preschool teacher, you play a critical role in fostering children’s curiosity and creative thinking through the design of the environment and experiences offered. The following is a list of creative learning experiences you can facilitate in your preschool classroom. The experiences are grouped by categories; however, each experience can simultaneously incorporate aspects of multiple learning domains. You can use these experiences during different parts of your day, both indoors and outdoors.

Creative Experiences

  • Drawing, painting, cutting and gluing, sculpting, tracing, color-mixing, stamping, chalk work, collage work
  • Inviting local artists to come to your classroom and program and talk about their work
  • Exploring art in your local community by visiting art museums, galleries, craft shows, or exhibitions
  • Partnering with local art councils, programs, or museums
  • Introducing and using vocabulary related to art
  • Using children's language, discoveries, or interests as the basis for planning art experiences
  • Singing both new songs and classroom favorites
  • Playing musical instruments
  • Creating musical instruments with various materials including your body
  • Listening to music from different cultures and genres
  • Creating songbooks
  • Recording music and making songs
  • Meeting local musicians in your community
  • Using music props in dramatic play
  • Imitating the dance or movement of various creatures
  • Discussing the relationship between music, dance, and emotions
  • Visiting local performance halls and theaters
  • Partnering with local music and dance companies and programs
  • Acting out scenes from storybooks
  • Encouraging children to make and act out their own stories and scenarios
  • Providing materials that allow for the creation of props, costumes, and scenery
  • Playing games that encourage dramatic emotional expressions
  • Providing opportunities for children to take on different theater roles (i.e., stage crew, actor, director, etc.)
  • Providing props related to different roles, scenarios, and cultures (including those reflective of children's backgrounds)
  • Ensuring that adequate time, space, and materials are provided (enough to accommodate children while promoting sharing and turn-taking)
  • Watching theater performances
  • Visiting local theaters
  • Meeting local actors and actresses
  • Partnering with local theater companies and programs
  • Offering a wide range of building materials including traditional and unconventional materials (unit blocks, wood slices, stones, empty cardboard boxes, etc.)
  • Providing props to extend imaginative play
  • Using real and pretend tools
  • Using photography and videography to document construction
  • Visiting a nearby construction site
  • Inviting construction workers, architects, or engineers to come to your classroom
  • Conducting experiments (e.g., objects that sink or float)
  • Exploring elements in nature (e.g., water and its different forms, soil, insects)
  • Arranging for field trips to nature preserves, museums, or parks
  • Inviting specialists to come to your classroom and share knowledge and experiences
  • Using a recording app to create an “All About Me” to go with family photos
  • Taking pictures of a piece of work and creating step-by-step instructions on how it was made
  • Using apps to produce a puppet show
  • Displaying work on a digital projector
  • Applying relevant assistive technology for children with developmental delays



Read and review the activity Experiences and Activities to Support Creativity. Then, think about different experiences and ways you can use activities to support the children's curiosity, exploration, and experimentation. Create your own experiences by writing down activity ideas, identifying the materials needed, and highlighting the ways creativity is supported. Then, share and discuss your responses with your trainer, coach, or 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. Staff 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).


Use the Creative Arts Resources attachment to explore online resources from NAEYC that may help inform the way you support preschoolers with creative expression. Think about what you can do to foster creative experiences for children in your care. You may consider posting information about these resources in your classroom or sharing them with families.

As the use of technology is becoming an important tool that we use to interact with our environment, teachers must be deliberate in the way they introduce and use technology to guide children’s learning. The goal of incorporating technology in the classroom 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 classroom 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
Using language and social interaction to guide and support children’s thinking (Trawick-Smith, 2014)


It is winter and a parent comes to you with a snowman pattern made from construction paper with three black circle buttons, a square hat, and triangle eyes and nose. She mentions that her niece created the snowman at her preschool. She asks if her son who is in your class can make more art projects like this one. What do you say to her?
True or false? It is best to follow a monthly curriculum guide when planning creative experiences for preschoolers.
Finish this statement: To encourage problem-solving and creative thinking it is best to…
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).

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.

Gandini, L. (1992). Creativity comes dressed in everyday clothes. Child Care Information Exchange, 26-29.

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

Head Start Early Childhood Learning & Knowledge Center (2018). Caring connections podcast 7: Let's talk 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.

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.

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

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.

National Association for the Education of Young Children. (2004). Online and print resources for exploring the creative arts with young children. Young Children, 59(4), 58-59.

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.

Solomon, J. (2016). Gender identity and expression in the early childhood classroom: Influences on development within sociocultural contexts. Young Children, 71(3), 61-72.

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. (2014). Play at the center of the curriculum (6th ed.). Pearson.