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Children demonstrate the ability to use creativity, inventiveness, and imagination to increase their understanding and knowledge of the world.

Children are active learners when exploring their environment. They first observe the world around them. They pay attention to sounds, colors, movement, and engage in interactions with their caregivers.

As they grow, children become more purposeful when engaging with their environment. They mouth and manipulate objects in order to learn about them. Children repeat actions in order to produce outcomes they enjoy, such as smiling at a caregiver to get a smile in return. Around one year of age, children become more creative in how they interact with people and objects. They start to experiment with new ways of doing things, and expand how they interact with objects and people. For example, at six months, children will hold a toy car in their hands and play by mouthing the object. At 13 months, children will hold the car and push it around the floor. This demonstrates growth in children’s cognitive development, as they use objects the way they are intended to be used. While this knowledge is not translated into innovative actions, it does set the stage for the development of creativity in the future.

Once children develop symbolic thought, their play becomes increasingly creative and inventive. Children will use objects in new and unexpected ways. They might place a basket on their head, or use their feet to move an object. Children begin to imitate adult actions and use objects to represent things they are familiar with. For example, children may pretend to drink milk out of a cup, or pretend to brush their hair with their hands. Children’s developing language abilities also provide new ways to explore creativity. Children use language to pretend play, engage others in playful interaction, and express feelings and inventive ideas.

Birth to 9 months

Children observe and interact with their surrounding environment, and begin to build the skills needed to manipulate objects and materials in different ways.

Indicators for children include:

  • Observes materials, objects, and people with curiosity
  • Actively explores new objects found in the environment by touching, patting, and mouthing
  • Reaches for objects in close proximity
  • Imitates sounds, movements, and facial expressions, e.g., moves body up and down after caregiver initially moves in that manner

Strategies for interaction

  • Create an inviting environment for the child to explore; change materials and toys in the child’s environment on a regular basis
  • Follow the child’s lead during play
  • Engage with the child while he or she is exploring, e.g. demonstrate what the object or toy does
  • Provide toys and experiences that have a variety of colors, textures, sounds, and smells

7 months to 18 months

Children first begin using most objects and materials for their intended use. As they develop, children begin to experiment with using these objects and materials in new and unexpected ways.

Indicators for children include:

  • Imitates a peer’s actions, e.g., bangs on table with cup
  • Uses objects as they’re intended to be used, e.g., rolls a toy car
  • Spends increasing amounts of time exploring and learning about objects, e.g., will attend to a new toy for longer periods of time in order to make sense of it
  • Begins to use objects in new and unexpected ways, e.g., places a basket on head
  • Imitates actions of other people in a playful manner, e.g., wags finger at baby doll and says, “no, no, no”

Strategies for interaction

  • Respond enthusiastically when the child demonstrates new uses for objects he or she has discovered
  • Provide materials that can be used in more than one way
  • Change objects and toys frequently for the child
  • Play with the child often and encourage creativity
  • Imitate the child in a genuine manner during play

16 months to 24 months

Children begin to expand how they use creativity, imagination, and inventiveness through the use of symbolic representation in play.

Indicators for children include:

  • Pretends one object is really another by using substitution, e.g., using a toy car to brush hair
  • Engages in pretend play with familiar objects and experiences, e.g., places baby doll in stroller and pushes the stroller
  • Engages familiar adults in pretend play, e.g., hands the adult a play cup and pretends to pour “tea” into it
  • Communicates in creative ways, e.g., plays with words by rhyming, chanting, or making up songs; uses movement and dance

Strategies for interaction

  • Play with the child; follow the child’s lead
  • Narrate the child’s play, e.g., “Are you taking the baby for a walk to the store?”
  • Encourage the child’s creative and inventive attempts
  • Actively engage with the child while playing; demonstrate enthusiasm and delight

21 months to 36 months

Children incorporate their use of creativity, inventiveness, and imagination in a more complex manner while they play, communicate, and problem-solve.

Indicators for children include:

  • Expands use of objects and toys in new and unexpected ways; makes a road out of a few blocks; or substitutes an object for another to solve a problem
  • Takes on familiar roles during play, e.g., cooks in the pretend kitchen
  • Expresses inventive ideas to peers while playing; becomes directive, e.g., “You will be the police officer and you have to wear this.”
  • Creates an art project and creates a simple story to accompany the artwork

Strategies for interaction

  • Interact with the child during pretend play and follow his or her lead
  • Ask open-ended questions while playing with the child in order to expand on thoughts and language
  • Encourage the child to think of new ideas, e.g., “What do you think happens after the butterfly flies away?”

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Reviewed: 2012