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Creativity At Various Ages

This Web site focuses on individual creativity, with attention to how it might develop in children at different ages. In addition to the elements of creativity, there are also physical, intellectual, and social dimensions of creativity. These dimensions vary considerably from child to child, and from age to age, but the following are some examples of what creativity might "look like" in a given age range. The ranges are Infants, Toddlers, Preschoolers, and Early Elementary Students.


While very young babies cannot paint or make up a poem, they actively engage in playful exploration of their environments. They explore with their senses as they look, listen, feel, and test their influence.

That must be Daddy's face; it always makes Daddy's voice.
Mmm, this blanket smells like Mommy—I can sleep here.
I smile, she smiles. Does that always work?
I think this is my hand. I wonder if I can make it touch that.
"Lurdle lurdle lurdle," I have a talking voice, too!

To promote the openness to experience that underlies and expands playful exploration, try holding or "wearing" your infant in a soft carrier (such as a sling, a front carrier, or a traditional baby wrap worn on the back). The pre-mobile infant will have a new and dynamic point of view. He will not only have more experiences than in a seat or swing, but will also feel the caregiver's own emotional responses to these experiences through the adult's heartbeat, breathing patterns, skin temperature, and muscle tension. Assuming a confident, competent adult is holding him, he learns openness to a variety of experiences.


As babies mature, they employ their physical, tactile mode of exploration on a larger environment, and their emerging language skills produce unique pronunciations and combinations of words. Toddlers can focus almost exclusively on their processes of exploring places, combining materials, and trying out ideas. What parent isn't bursting with stories of their toddler's creative exploits?

Just fill a sink with water, add some bubbles and a cup or two, and watch what a toddler does. He or she explores the properties of the substance itself, the laws of physics, mathematical rules, cause and effect, and associated language. The toddler's natural, playful exploration fills her or his brain with new ideas.

Play may be both instinctive and necessary just as chimpanzees’ play in the forest happens to let them know about sources of food. Play gives animal young a way to make sense of their world and their resources in it. Toddler humans, who are aquiring cultural knowledge, often imitate adults. This is a form of play where they try on other ways of acting and being in the world. It is fun to copy Daddy while he brushes his teeth, even if you have only two. It is fun for both the mimic and the mimicked.


Imagination grows dramatically during the preschool period, bringing greater freedom to try out new ways of being in the world. Alone or with others, preschoolers spend hours in worlds created entirely in their minds and from their hearts. This imaginary play is sometimes based on actual experiences. You may observe preschoolers re-enacting something but changing the scene or ending. They are practicing social skills and trying out different ways of acting in the world.

Imaginary friends express children's creativity in action. Consider for example a preschooler whose real friends from preschool inspire for her an entire cast of imaginary friends at home. These companions are playmates, rivals, and often, creative solutions to preschool problems. For example, there is "real" Jamie (the preschool friend), then there is Little Jamie who is "a toddler and she's little and she plays with us every day," and then there is Big Jamie who "doesn't come to my school but she sleeps in my bed with five blankets and five pillows and five stuffed animals." Demonstrating a preschooler's increased planning skills (see the Understand section of Window Boxes), she can now argue that she needs to sleep with her parents because her own bed is too crowded.

Early Elementary Students

Good schools help children increase their reservoir of knowledge about the world. Most children also learn to read in their early school years, opening up even more information and ideas. These are important ingredients for novel combinations because the more you know the more connections and combinations you can make. In the intermediate grades, students will also acquire more explicit problem-solving techniques, like the scientific method, which parents can help students apply to other problems. Adapting established problem-solving techniques to new uses can be a source of fluent ideation. And even finding the right answer, provided students are not afraid of exploring numerous possibly "wrong" ones, can encourage the evaluation of creative ideas for their practicality and success.

Creativity during this period of development is also enhanced by improved thinking skills. Between the ages of 5 and 8, children will develop the ability to think in their heads. They can try out certain, most often physical, courses of action mentally before deciding whether to try it or not. Soon, perhaps by age 8 for some, they will be able to mentally try out social situations, too, because they will grow out of their egocentric worldview. They will be able to be creative in more situations. Also, children of school age can set goals for their creativity and put their creative impulses into action. So they will sometimes deliver creative products like videos or music compositions and perhaps begin to evaluate whether the product "worked" or came out as well as they hoped.

More Specific Information

The Interact sections for each game also contain suggestions for using the activities with older and younger children to help you support your child's creative process.

You can also see an age-by-age breakdown of what your child might be ready for at the PBS Parents Child Development Tracker.

Sources and further reading:

Ackerman, D. (1999). Deep Play. New York: Random House.

Baugh, D. (2003). iLife—Developing the Creative Curriculum. Retrieved January 14, 2005, from

Boden, M. A. (1990). The Creative Mind: Myths and Mechanisms. New York: Basic Books.

Goleman, D. (1997). Emotional Intelligence. New York: Bantam Books.

Loveless, A. M. (2002). Literature Review in Creativity, New Technologies, and Learning. (Report No. 4). Bristol, UK: NESTA Futurelab. Retrieved January 19, 2005, from

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