Expressive arts and design

Imagination and creativity

Learn more about imagination and creativity as part of the early years foundation stage (EYFS) including advice from experts and suggested activities.

Why imagination and creativity are important

Having an imagination is the ability of the mind to be creative and resourceful.

Creativity is children’s unique response to all that they see, hear, feel and experience. A child’s individual responses to materials, experiences and ideas inspire their creativity and imagination.

Children’s responses can be physical, emotional, social, cultural or a combination. Younger children might respond in verbal and non verbal ways, for example, a toddler swaying to music.

For young children to have an individual response it’s important you do not have a set goal. Children need their contributions to be noticed and valued so they build confidence and resilience. Give children enough space and time to experience and explore. Help and encourage them to develop their own curiosity and creativity. A child’s imagination and creativity are enriched through their awareness of art and other children around them. All of these creative experiences build powerful connections within the brain, Creativity is associated with focus, independence, a willingness to explore and ingenuity.

As children develop in imagination and creativity they are able to tell a story, relate to other people, keep themselves emotionally grounded and enter their imaginary worlds.

Video

In this video, an early years expert explains the importance of imagination and creativity in the early years foundation stage framework. There are also some tips on how to support children in this area.

What the EYFS framework says

The development of children’s artistic and cultural awareness supports their imagination and creativity. It is important that children have regular opportunities to engage with the arts, enabling them to explore and play with a wide range of media and materials.

Statutory framework for the early years foundation stage, page 10.

What this means in practice

To support children’s creativity and imagination you will need to consider the range of what you offer.

Use a wide range of interesting and beautiful found materials, like wallpaper and fabric. Fabrics, fastenings and accessories for roleplay can have more potential than dressing-up costumes. Exploring materials and media inspires children to think flexibly and creatively.

Stimulate children by using different materials for exploration. Give them plenty of multi-sensory experiences and the opportunity to see images of art works. Eventually children will offer their own thoughts about their experiences. ‘This feels like a cuddle’ (a 3 year old exploring a strip of velvet).

You need to be confident and give children time to respond to the things they see, hear and experience at their own individual level. This is as relevant to babies as it is to older children.

Focus on the experience rather than have a defined outcome. Children’s responses or representation may be different to what you expected, you should welcome this.

All children have their own creative and imaginative responses. Encourage and notice the children’s responses. Knowledge of the children can help you plan ahead.

Suggested activities

Have a musical ‘jam’ session

A table of musical instruments

You’ll need:

  • trays, colanders, different sized plastic containers or pans that can be beaten with a wooden spoon
  • whisks in saucepans
  • shakers made from small plastic containers filled with rice, lentils or pasta
  • pan lids for banging together like cymbals
  • straws to blow bubbles in glasses of water
  • corrugated cardboard
  • paper bags for scrunching up
  • metal tongues for clicking together like castanets

Let the children explore sounds that can be made from ordinary household objects. Encourage links with parents or carers and ask them to help their child choose things from their kitchen cupboards at home. Challenge the children to make sounds from all the objects and utensils.

Bring in similar objects from home to compare and contrast with any traditional instruments you have, for example, drums, maracas or bells.

You might want to use music to help you carry out the activity. For example, use a favourite song, nursery rhyme or action song. You could ask the children to play to the beat of the song.

Introduce children to language to describe the sounds they are making. Talk with the children about how the sound is being made and show interest in how many sounds they can make from one instrument. Can they change the sound of the instrument by playing it in a different way?

Use strips of paper or white boards and pens to allow the children to experiment with making marks to represent each sound. They could also represent sounds in the form of movements too.

How this activity links to the other areas of learning

Physical development is supported by moving and handling objects and toys and moving to music. Literacy is encouraged by writing making marks. Musical activities are good for communication skills in speaking, listening and understanding and personal, social and emotional development.

Making a house for a superhero

A superhero model

You’ll need:

  • a superhero toy (or a favourite teddy or soft toy)
  • pieces of fabric
  • a range of construction materials/kits
  • a collection of found materials
  • materials for fixing materials, like masking tape
  • pictures of superheroes or teddies
  • pictures of houses and other buildings
  • non-fiction books about homes and buildings
  • story books with superhero characters or teddies and soft toys as characters
  • construction area

From your observations of the children engaged in self-initiated play you will have knowledge and understanding of their favourite television characters, soft toys or superheroes. Very young children may be interested in putting their toys in pieces of fabric. Playing peek-a-boo and hide and seek are good ways to extend their play, in ways that are sensitive to their needs.

For older children, choose a superhero that’s popular in the setting, for example Super Daisy or Spider Man. Provide pictures of the superhero and a superhero toy. Suggest to the children that they could make a house for her/him so that he can live in the setting. If you do not have a superhero toy in your resources, improvise with dolls’ house figures. These interactions invite children to listen and to use spoken language to imagine, recall stories, predict and give each other instructions.

At first see what the children do spontaneously. Which construction materials do they use? Is it the wooden blocks? How successful are they? What do they imagine the superhero’s house to be like? Are they able to create their own unique, ‘superhero’s house? The complexity of their constructions will depend on their fine motor control and skills. Remember for children, a pile of bricks is as representative of a ‘home’ as a built construction out of bricks.

Either on that day, or maybe a few days later, depending on how the children respond, start to make some suggestions, point out that they may need to make their buildings stronger, bigger, smaller or more fit for purpose for their superhero. Bring books and images in to show a range of different houses.

How this activity links to the other areas of learning

Constructing with a variety of materials develops the children’s fine motor skills, including muscular strength and hand-eye-coordination. Superhero play provides children with an emotional outlet as well as opportunities for playing in a group. To further develop communication and language skills children can share their ideas, direct each other, describe their models and tell their own superhero stories. Scribing the children’s superhero stories supports their future writing skills. The children may want to illustrate these. You can provide story books as suggested, to support the children’s literacy learning. The construction process, whether on a small or large scale, develops children’s use of technological and scientific language (understanding the world). Children can consider which materials work best and why.

Other activities

Develop children’s imagination and creativity with visits to local venues such as parks, parks with sculptures, art galleries, museums or libraries. These are often free or at a low cost to under-5s.

Tate kids has a wide range of online videos to support and inspire activities from sound creatures to colour walks.

What other nurseries and childminders are doing

“In our nurseries we see the expressive arts and design part of the curriculum as an opportunity for the children to experience everything in a way that is bigger and messier. We provide a wide range of materials with lots of everything.”

Mandy, Naturally Learning, Truro.

“We don’t buy any of our collage materials, everything is ‘found’. Parents bring in bottle tops, old hats and handbags. We go to charity shops too.”

Julie, childminder, Ilkley.

Summary

  • Imagination and creativity are children’s unique response to what they see, hear and experience around them.
  • Children have a natural curiosity to explore experiences. Non-verbal and verbal creative expression must be valued and noticed.
  • Repetition allows children to explore and make sense of their experiences and to respond in their own unique way.

Next steps

  • Think about how you use resources to develop children’s imagination and creativity.
  • Make sure children have repeated opportunities for imaginative play.
  • Find out what other providers are doing and then try out new ideas.
  • Review your curriculum to ensure you cover the requirements in the EYFS for this area of learning.