Home icon

Creative Arts for Young Children

child with paint on hands

Art is so much more than paint, markers, or crayons. Creative arts are activities that actively engage children’s imagination through music, visual arts, movement and dance, and drama and storytelling. Creative arts engage children across all domains—cognitive, language, social, emotional, and physical. This tool kit will describe four different types of creative arts and will provide ideas for encouraging and supporting young children in creative arts activities at home and in the classroom. This article shows how art activities can support young children’s development.

Creative arts activities are deliberately open-ended, foster divergent thinking, and support the process without particular attention on the product. This article provides an overview of the creative arts as well as information on the theories that help guide the early childhood field and how to apply those theories in the classroom.

The Arts domain within the Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards provides reasonable expectations for children’s development in the areas of drama, music, visual arts, and movement and dance.

Movement and Dance

There are many ways to incorporate movement and dance into the lives of young children, whether at home or in a group setting.

  • When out and about with young children, there are many opportunities to engage in meaningful activities and conversations. Dancing on the sidewalk—or any flat surface—is a great way to practice coordination and experiment with space, as shown in this tip sheet.
  • It is important for young children to be active to build healthy habits early in life. When participating in fitness activities, it is important to stretch, warm up, and cool down. Catching and throwing a ball or jumping with both feet can help build confidence in large motor skills. This tip sheet provides additional ideas.  
  • As families, we might spend time waiting—in line at the grocery store, in the carpool lane, in traffic, or at the clinic. This tip sheet series includes many ideas to help maximize that time and keep young children active and engaged in movement, language, or learning activities, including talking about math, art, music, science, and motor skills.
  • In classrooms, teachers can use songs and stories during large group time to engage in active movement. These videos demonstrate this concept using both a story and a song.
  • Active movement can be done anywhere, even without many props or supplies. These two blog posts provide ideas on connecting language with outdoor play and embedding gross motor opportunities throughout the day.
  • IELDS benchmarks can be addressed through lesson plans, adapted for children with disabilities. Here is one example: Physical Development and Health Lesson Addressing Benchmark 19.B.ECb

Drama and Storytelling

Drama helps children develop imagination, language skills, confidence, creative expression, and cooperation and other social skills. Storytelling helps preschoolers get ready to become readers and writers. IEL has produced several tip sheets that help families and providers expand upon children’s pretend play and storytelling experiences, including using boxes and blocks for play, helping children dictate stories, and encouraging free time for young children.


Music can help young children develop motor, language, social-emotional, and cognitive skills. As shown in the tip sheets listed below, there are many opportunities to embed music throughout the daily lives of young children. Adults and young children can sing songs, pretend to be animals, and make musical instruments together.

Visual Arts

Visual arts are a favorite activity for children and adults alike. Young children explore their world through their senses. Open-ended opportunities such as coloring, painting, and play dough or clay help children solve problems, enhance motor skills, build vocabulary, and more. Many IEL tip sheets describe how adults can support young children in visual art activities and experiences. Children can use chalk on sidewalks or crayons or pencils on paper to draw their pictures.

Additional Web Resources

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Home
  • Child Care Center
  • Preschool Program

Intended audience(s):
  • Parents / Family
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related Illinois Early Learning and Development Standards:
Reviewed: 2021