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Children demonstrate the ability to convey ideas and emotions through creative expression.

Creative expression refers to how children use music, movement, building, and play to express themselves. From a very early age, children demonstrate an interest in sounds, colors, objects, and textures. In infancy, children engage in sensory exploration; they mouth different objects to learn about them, and use their hands to feel and move them.

During this period, children are aware of different sounds and are often heard cooing and babbling. Near one year of age, children are able to clap their hands and move their bodies to music and rhythm. Children also engage in interactive play such as peek-a-boo, and can imitate simple finger plays. They may also finger paint and play with different sensory materials such as water, sand, or play dough.

During their second year, children creatively express their thoughts and feelings through symbolic play, also known as pretend play. Children will imitate a familiar role, such as pretending to be the mommy by feeding and rocking a baby doll. Children engage in movement activities that incorporate whole body movements to express emotion. For example, children will roll around on the floor if they are being playful, or squeeze caregivers when excited. Increased hand-eye coordination and attention help them engage in art activities such as scribbling and brush painting for longer periods of time.

Children also take an eager interest in building things. Younger children will simply stack a few objects; as they near 36 months of age, children will have been building increasingly complex structures, and these activities are often intertwined with pretend play.

Birth to 9 months

Children build the beginnings of creative expression through everyday interactions with their caregivers.

Indicators for children include:

  • Actively explores sensory objects in the environment
  • Participates in interactions with caregiver(s), e.g., observes, smiles, coos
  • Demonstrates interest in sounds, songs, music, and colors
  • Listens and moves to music
  • Manipulates objects, e.g., turns, shakes, bangs

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide the child with choices for exploration; follow his or her lead
  • Interact in a meaningful manner with the child throughout the day
  • Make music part of every day; sing songs with the child
  • Provide toys and activities that encourage movement, e.g., a toy drum, a tunnel to crawl through

7 months to 18 months

Children increasingly engage with their caregiver(s) and show enjoyment in activities and interactions that focus on music, movement, building, and play.

Indicators for children include:

  • Enjoys familiar songs and word rhymes
  • Begins to use symbolic play while interacting, e.g., holds a play phone to ear and has a “conversation” with grandma
  • Begins to stack large blocks with or without support
  • Participates in music activities by performing some accompanying hand movements
  • Engages in art activities such as coloring or finger painting

Strategies for interaction

  • Sing songs with the child and model any accompanying gestures
  • Provide the child with different options for creating artwork
  • Demonstrate enjoyment of music and actively participate with the child as he or she sings
  • Encourage the child to explore different materials while playing

16 months to 24 months

Children continue to show increasing ability as they engage with their caregiver(s) in music, movement, building, and play activities.

Indicators for children include:

  • Imitates basic movements during an activity, e.g., places beanbag on head
  • Engages in more intricate pretend play, e.g., uses a toy banana as a phone
  • Enjoys using instruments while listening to music
  • Builds by using different objects and materials, e.g., lines up cars, stacks small boxes
  • Enjoys breaking down what he or she has built, e.g., knocking over a stack of blocks with his or her arm
  • Creates artwork; focuses and enjoys the process rather than the final product

Strategies for interaction

  • Provide props and instruments that the child can use during music and movement
  • Engage in conversations about what the child is creating during art activities
  • Display the child’s artwork where he or she can see it and show it off
  • Provide play experiences both outdoors and indoors

21 months to 36 months

Children initiate and engage in music, movement, building, and play activities to interact with others and express ideas, feelings, and emotions.

Indicators for children include:

  • Selects movements that reflect mood, e.g., jumps up and down when excited
  • Identifies and discusses characters that are meaningful to him and her
  • Builds increasingly complex structures and expands upon them, e.g., uses smaller blocks to build taller towers, lines up materials and adds other components to create a “road” leading up to the tower
  • Uses imaginary play to cope with fears, e.g., puts monster in a closet
  • Plays dress-up and invites caregiver(s) to play along

Strategies for interaction

  • Expose the child to music and dance from different cultures and backgrounds
  • Provide opportunities for pretend play in which the child can dress up as various characters, e.g., a cowboy, firefighter, or princess
  • Encourage the child’s creative expression by genuinely praising his or her efforts
  • Participate in the child’s play; dress up, pretend, and play with the child

Real World Story

Melissa is 36 months old and is sitting with her peers during circle time. Joy, their childcare provider, is reading them a story they are familiar with, “We’re Going on a Bear Hunt.” Melissa is moving her hands to match the movements of the children in the book. Each time Joy stands up to act out a part of the book, all the children scramble to their feet to copy the actions. Melissa squeals with excitement and moves her body to represent crawling through grass, wading through a river, stomping in mud, and crawling through a cave.

Once Joy gets to the part of the story that encounters the bear, Melissa and the children automatically move from a crawling position to a full stand, and begin to run in place as fast as they can. Melissa makes the pretend movement of running up the stairs, and then flops herself to the ground to act out the part where the children crawl under their bedcovers. As Melissa lies on the floor, giggling, one of her peers has tripped over another child. Melissa stops laughing and observes Joy comfort the child.

Joy then returns to her spot and places the book behind her and says, “Okay, boys and girls, show me how you can stand on your feet.” Melissa and the older children stand up; some children are still giggling and moving around. Melissa is standing quietly, waiting for Joy. Joy says, “It is time to whisper and walk quietly over to the table; we don’t want to wake the sleeping bear.” The children then follow Joy as she tiptoes and keeps one finger over her lips. Melissa follows along, whispering “hush,” and works hard to keep her balance as she tiptoes.

Discover how this Real World Story is related to:

THIS EXAMPLE HIGHLIGHTS how language, cognitive, and physical development can all come together in one activity. Melissa is working on her receptive language and early literacy development as she follows the story and completes the accompanying movements. She is learning to express feelings and actions with her body, thereby developing creative expression. Melissa is also working on her spatial-awareness, gross-motor, and perceptual development as she moves her body in different ways, while having to remain aware of others around her. Melissa also demonstrates behaviors that indicate the awareness of feelings in others, as she stops laughing to observe a peer who has gotten hurt.

Reviewed: 2012