Home icon

Creativity, Inventiveness, and Imagination

young child with toys

About this Video

This Early Learning Moment provides an overview of the Creativity, Inventiveness, & Imagination section of the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age 3. This section describes how infants and toddlers become more purposeful when engaging with their environment. As children develop new skills, they are learning more about the world around them. This creativity, inventiveness, and imagination is expressed through pretend play, music, stories, and art.


Explanation of the Creativity, Inventiveness, and Imagination subsection

In the Illinois Early Learning Guidelines for Children Birth to Age 3, the terms creativity, inventiveness, and imagination are used to describe a child’s growing ability to build upon her experiences and express her knowledge through language, play, and daily routines. For example, an infant may have watched a caregiver or another child stacking blocks. That infant may then attempt to stack different blocks, books, or other toys. In this way, the child has been creative by taking the idea of stacking and trying out other items to see if they also stack.

Older toddlers may pretend to do adults’ daily chores, show interest in “dress up” play when they wear someone else’s clothing, or copy the movements and sounds of animals they see. In these ways, toddlers show us their budding imaginations.

Creativity is the ability to build upon what one has experienced and show the knowledge gained in new ways. Very young children demonstrate creativity through their play.

Inventiveness involves finding new ways to express ideas, use objects, and solve problems. For example, a child may use a block as a phone and pretend to be calling or texting someone.

Imagination is often thought of as the ability to participate in “pretend play” or “dramatic play.” Young children show us their ability to use their imaginations as they retell familiar experiences and routines through their play and language as well as tell new stories based on their experiences. They may also include the themes and stories they have been exposed to through books and other media.

The Illinois Early Learning Guidelines present the following indicators for children in the area of creativity, inventiveness, and imagination, which is part of the Approaches to Learning section of the guidelines. These indicators describe skills, behaviors, and knowledge that children exhibit in creativity, inventiveness, and imagination during the age ranges listed.

Indicators for children

Birth to 9 months

  • 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

7 to 18 months

  • 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”

16 to 24 months

  • 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

21 to 36 months

  • 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

Setting Up for Success

There are many ways caregivers can set up the environment so a child can be successful. Caregivers can also interact with children in ways that will support their development.

Caregivers can set the stage for interaction by:

  • Sitting close to the child so interactions are possible
  • Providing objects that are appropriate to the child’s age and development
  • Physically supporting the child to allow interaction

Caregivers can maintain the child’s interest and attention by:

  • Showing interest in the child
  • Encouraging the child
  • Responding to and being sensitive to the child’s emotions
  • Introducing new activities when needed

Caregivers can take turns by:

  • Responding to the child’s initiations
  • Establishing routines
  • Letting the child know that a response is expected and waiting for a response
  • Imitating the child and waiting for a response

Caregivers can match and follow by:

  • Observing the child and joining in the activity/interaction
  • Following the child’s lead
  • Commenting on the child’s activities

Caregivers can support learning by:

  • Elaborating on communication attempts
  • Adding new actions or elements to known routines
  • Balancing support with expectations
  • Presenting “dilemmas” for the child to solve

Self-Assessment and Reflection

We have watched Mario’s and Hannah’s play. We have seen how Hudson’s teacher encouraged his creativity during pretend play. Now, consider your own interactions with children.

Does your space have:

  • Materials children can choose and reach independently?
  • Enough materials for children to share?
  • Pictures to help children find things and put them away?
  • Cozy spaces for quiet play and access to spaces that allow energetic movement, such as the outdoors or a gym?
  • Spaces for children to be together and places to be alone?

Are you ready to:

  • Observe and consider the reasons behind children’s behavior?
  • Watch and wait, but provide help and encouragement if needed?
  • Take turns in play and conversation with children?
  • Follow children’s ideas in play?”

About this resource

Setting(s) for which the article is intended:
  • Family Child Care
  • Child Care Center

Intended audience(s):
  • Teachers / Service providers

Age Levels (the age of the children to whom the article applies):
Related IEL Birth to Three Guidelines:
Reviewed: 2021