How Play in Early Childhood Supports Creative Thinking

Little girl drawing on paddle ball with marker

Creative thinking is a skill that many educators have identified as important for students’ future college and career success. That is because creativity informs problem solving and innovation. When a person can think about problems in new ways or from a different perspective, they can imagine a whole world of possible solutions. These innovations have the potential to impact lots of people.

Creativity is the link between a class of finger painting 3-year olds and a room full of brilliant engineers and strategists. The process of creating something from nothing or from using something in a new way is the focus of early childhood education. Yet, those skills can have a major impact on how people think as adults.

What Creativity Looks Like in Early Childhood

We often think of creativity as being related to the arts. It is true that young children spend a lot of time painting, drawing, and coloring. The process of making art lets children explore their observations and feelings. They may try to recreate objects they see every day and they also add to and change the features of those things. Young children also express emotions in their artwork. The creative expression allows them to explain things they may not understand or have words for.

You will also see young children demonstrating creativity when they:

  • Make up new stories
  • Use colors in paintings and drawings that are not usually associated with the object. For example, creating a purple banana or a pink dog.
  • Negotiate roles and disagreements during play
  • Explain the unknown
  • Role play

How Teachers Support Creativity in the Youngest Students

Let us consider some ways that teachers can support creative thinking in early childhood.

1. Provide free play experiences.

Instead of regulating every part of the school day, give students time to choose their creative ventures. Free play time lets children explore the classroom and negotiate with peers in unstructured ways. They are free of the rules of the “right way” of doing things and can try to improvise with their own ideas.

2. Encourage the use of tools in play.

Have materials available for students to explore. Building and making new things out of salvaged goods can help students think creatively. Students may turn a piece of cloth into a cape or a pile of newspapers into snowballs.

3. Celebrate art, artists and creativity.

Display art in your classroom. Discuss people who create new things as artists. Find creative role models for students. Encourage creative, process art whenever possible.

4. Do not hijack playtime.

Many adults step in when conflict arises during play. However, creative problem solving is developed during this time. Children learn to negotiate and compromise during play by making up or bending the rules. Play develops creativity by encouraging students to try something out in a safe environment and then possibly carry over that set of thinking or behaviors into other social situations.

If you are interested in helping the youngest learners develop skills that will positively impact their futures, you should consider pursuing a Bachelor of Science in Early Childhood Education or a Master of Education in Early Childhood Education degree at Grand Canyon University.

To learn more about how Grand Canyon University’s College of Education provides teachers with the tools to work with the youngest learners students for future success, visit our website or click the Request More Information Button on this page.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University.

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