kids buckets sand creative play

Why creative play?

Creative Play is unstructured, free play. It stimulates curiosity, imagination, and is vital for a child’s emotional and physical development.

From infancy, play stimulates physical progress by promoting the development of sensory exploration and motor skills and also helps prepare children for adulthood.

New and expensive toys or play materials are not needed. Homemade, recycled, and natural materials all inspire play and imagination.


Free play develops these essential life skills for a fulfilling life. For example, free play helps develop patience. How? Real-life requires thinking, effort, and patience since results usually come at a slow pace – not at the super speed of a computer game or television show.

Creative thought is the fundamental key that is vital for new ideas, innovation, progression, and discovering solutions to problems encountered in life.

Knowledge isn’t a substitute for experience.

These “core or soft skills” are increasingly in demand in the workforce. A recent article on Linkedin revealed that in 2020 the top soft skills in high demand are: creativity, followed by persuasion, collaboration, adaptability, and emotional intelligence.

Creative play encourages all these skills and some hard skills like STEM:

Creativity and Innovation

Play is open-ended, and children have the freedom to use familiar or old materials in a new or unusual way, stimulating mental growth by providing opportunities for trying new ideas, ways of thinking, and learning creative problem-solving.

Creativity and innovation are key components to a successful life. Learning to love the creative process will build the ability of a child as a creative thinker in all avenues of life, transferring skills to other areas.

This helps with nurturing growth as an individual, in all areas of learning, and enhances self-development.

The more varied experiences children have, the wider the range of creative expression.

Confidence and Self-Esteem

Creating something to hold in their hand encourages pride, satisfaction, and self-worth. This in turn helps a child gain confidence in their abilities and inspires them to keep trying new experiences and activities, knowing that their ideas or creations are valued.

Their scribbles or lumpy sewn pillow is a treasure to a child (and likely for you too!)

Knitting your own sock, building a rocketship from cardboard, painting your own picture – all contribute to a quiet confidence that you can do anything.


Focusing on one item at a time requires concentration, and provides time for the brain to connect what is being learned to what has been learned and to possibilities of what can be learned.

Decision Making

Play is an opportunity to achieve mastery over their environment. Children can control experiences through their imaginations, and exercise their powers of choice and decision-making as the play progresses.

Emotion Intelligence and Understanding the World

It is well known that creative activities provide a positive outlet for all ages as a healthy way to express both positive and negative emotions, helping work through difficult emotions and understanding them.

Playing provides opportunities to explore real-life situations, emotions, and dynamics in a way that makes children feel safe. Acting out everyday situations, like arguments or cooking, helps children rehearse and understand the world around them.

For example, issues and problems encountered in real life can be acted out and processed through playing with miniatures (like dollhouses) where these feelings and challenges can be explored and sorted through on a small scale.

Additionally, free play has been proven through extensive research and real-life experience to reduce stress, anger, depression, and ADHD, to name a few.

Play helps children understand they can affect their own environment.

Hand-Eye Coordination, Dexterity and Spatial Awareness

These fine motor skills take practice to develop. Holding a pencil, cutting with scissions, all contribute to developing proprioceptive input, dexterity and tactility.

For example: Learning where to place furniture so that the door of the fridge doesn’t hit the table, or the toilet is placed where you can reach the toilet paper, helps children to understand the position of things in space.

Playing with blocks, children are confronted with challenges related to measurement, equality, balance, shape, spatial relationships and physical properties.

Assembling tiny mechanical objects using a tool, fitting lego blocks, or throwing a rock all help in this area.

Physical Health and Motor Skills

Play counteracts obesity, improves movement, balance, gross and fine motor skills.

Dancing, climbing, throwing and crawling all help develop gross motor skills, which involve movements of the large muscles, and relate to body awareness, reaction, speed, balance and strength. Humans rely on gross motor skills for everyday life and form the basis for fine motor skills.

These days children are exposed to screens at an increasingly young age, so developing fine motor skills (hand and finger strength) is vital.

Painting, drawing, cutting, manipulating clay all help develop these skills.

In a year, a child goes from not really recognizing they have hands, to using the right pressure on crayons to draw. The amount of strength and coordination needed for children to accomplish this is more challenging than trying to draw with your toes!

Problem Solving, Logic and Intelligence

The ability to overcome challenges leads to success in so many areas of life.

Creative play allows children to work things out for themselves, organize and analyze information, make connections to achieve their goals.

F.A.I.L” is First Attempt in Learning – Avul Pakir Jainulabdeen Abdul Kalam

Whether it’s figuring out what material to use for a craft, learning if a particular glue is strong enough, how big to cut something to fit, or stopping paint from dripping – all contribute to the creative problem-solving thinking process.

If two children want to be the same character, they have to decide a way to solve this problem and will experience the results of good and poor decisions.


Different activities require more complex thinking skills, and need a growing understanding of basic science to make sense: mixing specific colors to create a picture may seem like fun, but without an intellectual component, the creativity falls apart (everything looks like mud!)

Even at a young age, creative activities develop basic math skills such as geometry, measuring, and sorting.

Sensory Development

Concepts like large and small, above and below, hard and soft, wet and dry can be grasped through play, as well as develop observation skills, the ability to listen to instructions, explore different textures, and recognize different smells.

Social Development

Ever watch a child playing and talking to themselves about what they are doing? Or how much do children talk to each other when playing? This is helping to build vocabulary and develop imagination, doing so without embarrassment if using the wrong words.

Learning to play with others is essential in developing the ability to get along, communicate, allow a free flow of opinions, collaborate, learn to consider the needs of others, and appreciate different values and perspectives.

Dramatic play allows children to experiment with and understand social roles.

Interpersonal skills can only be developed with people, not machines.

Speech Disorders and Depression

More time spent isolated in front of a computer or television means less time talking and interacting.

The University Clinic for Communication Disorders in Mainz, Germany, has discovered that every fourth child of preschool age, and 18 to 34 percent of children three and four years of age, suffers from speech disorders. Yet, researchers observed that children who could barely talk were lightning-quick when it came to computer use.

Carnegie Mellon University psychologists Robert Kraut and Vicki Lundmark discovered serious negative long-term social effects sustained through extensive use of virtual reality. After following a study group of 96 families of various backgrounds for two years, they found an average increase in depression by about 1 percent for every hour spent online per week. Loneliness increased as well. On average, subjects began with 66 people in their social circle, and for every hour each week spent online, this group shrank by 4 percent (from the book High Tech Heretic by Clifford Stoll).

I’m Bored

These dreaded words can be instantly transformed into a precious opportunity for imagination and development by encouraging creative play.

These days, free play has largely been replaced with organized activities or passive entertainment. Think soccer practice or video games compared to adventuring in the forest with friends, making mud pies, or playing make-believe with a cardboard box and blankets.

There is a big difference between being entertained and entertaining yourself.

Constructive boredom paves the way for using your imagination. Remember Calvin & Hobbes? He traveled in his cardboard box to distant planets, walked on the ceiling, turned himself into a dinosaur, and built snow forts.

Simple things like looking at pictures, a walk outside, playing with two objects that don’t normally go together, can ignite the imagination.

start at Home

Outdoor Play

As your circumstances allow, encourage kids to spend as much time outdoors as possible, as nature is one of the best platforms to stimulate creative play (and happiness!). Look for natural materials to make art or just go exploring.

child free play creative play

Hobbies, Toys and activities

Choose (or let your kids choose) some hobbies and toys that encourage and nurture free play. The general idea is to unplug from technology. Whatever is hands-on and tactile, allows your child to make their own rules and use their imagination, such as items discovered in nature, blankets, boxes, etc.

Craft Box: Keep a box with natural or recycled materials like cardboard boxes, toilet rolls, juice bottles, string, wrapping paper, popsicle sticks, straws, glue and tape, markers and paint, dress-up clothes…

Or check out our ideas page for some inspiration!

girl playing outdoors nature creative play

Organized Activities

Structured activities like piano lessons, sports teams, and so forth definitely have their benefits. But it might be beneficial to review the amount of time dedicated to organized activities, as too much structure deprives children of the essential time needed for the type of free play to encourage creativity, curiosity, and develop core skills.


Many studies continue to document how overexposure to electronic media can be harmful to children. Rising concerns over obesity, aggressive behavior, stunted social skills, and even technology addictions are driving changes both in education and at home.

“A good toy is 90 percent child and 10 percent toy.” Conversely, “Most children’s software is 90 percent computer and 10 percent child.”

Jane M. Healy, Failure to Connect

A child who relies on technology, or is only used to organized activities, may sit and stare at a box, or google what to do with it. 

Relying on someone else’s ideas makes for a lazy brain.

Perhaps review how much time is being spent on devices or watching television. The Canadian Pediatric Society published an interesting article concerning young children and screen time, and recommend:

  • Younger than 2 years old: screen time is not recommended
  • 2 to 5 years, limit screen time to less than 1 hour per day
  • Younger than 5: ensure sedentary screen time is not a routine part of child care
  • Have daily ‘screen-free’ times, especially for meals and book-sharing
  • Avoid screens for at least 1 hour before bedtime (due to potential for melatonin-suppressing effects)

Food for thought: Computer play alone only offers a controlled, mediated environment – the real world is complex. A great quote “Simply by turning to a computer when confronted with a problem, you limit your ability to recognize other solutions. When the only tool you know is a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” Silicon Snake Oil, Clifford Stoll

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A terrific video by Rebecca Ellison, who presents the benefits of art to children’s minds, bodies and emotions.
creative nature play outdoors kids activities nature

Nature Play

Why is connecting with nature one of the most beneficial aspects of creative play?

Article coming soon.