Reflections On . . . Creative Arts in Early Childhood Education

By Paula Walshe

Updated / Monday, 30 May 2022 09:38

Children love being creative, whether it is to express themselves or to just have fun. We are all familiar with poster paints and paint brushes, but there is so much more to the creative arts than painting and colouring. Isn’t it about time we spent a little more time looking beyond paper and paint? This blog explores what else can be included under the umbrella of creative arts in early childhood education and suggests ways in which parents, guardians, and early childhood practitioners can broaden children’s creative horizons.

The What and Why of Creative Arts

There are many individual and group activities that fall under the umbrella of creative arts, such as dance, music making, singing, drawing, painting, dramatic play, and puppetry. Children’s imaginations can be boundless. But the opportunities this affords in relation to holistic development is equally boundless. While expanding their imaginations through the creative arts, children also develop valuable skills, like critical thinking, communicating, collaborating, and problem solving. This is also true of important dispositions, such as persistence, resilience, self-confidence, and a strong sense of self-identity.

Facilitating the Creative Arts

Adults and practitioners can do a number of things to encourage children to engage in creative arts. These include consulting with children, providing appropriate resources, offering specific praise, asking questions, actively listening, and displaying the works created by children. When we take the time to stand back, watch, and listen to children as they play, we can build a picture of their unique interests. This allows us to establish and facilitate an environment that is rich in the resources needed to support the individual and emergent interests of children. To really get their creative juices flowing, it’s best to provide plenty of “loose parts” and “open-ended” materials, like boxes, cartons, containers, and bottle lids, as well as natural items, like pinecones, conkers, leaves, and flowers. These materials empower children by supporting them to choose the terms of their creative participation while expressing their own authentic voice in a way that is child-led.

Encouraging children through specific praise is also crucially important. Instead of looking at children’s creations and dramatisations and simply saying “wonderful” or “very good,” be more specific to show the children that you value, respect, and are interested in their activity.  Specific praise should highlight aspects of the child’s work. For example, “that song you were singing about rain was wonderful” or “the green hair in your painting looks really good.” Interacting with children through conversation and asking plenty of open-ended questions gives children the opportunity to tell us all about what they are doing, or what they have created.  It can also provide us with valuable insights into where the child is at, i.e. what is on their minds and how and why they are thinking in this way.

Finding ways to display children’s creations is a must because it shows that we value and respect their voice, choice, and creativity. We can stick children’s artwork on the walls at a height that allows them to view both their own and each other’s work. We can also display children’s work in the common areas of an early childhood setting so that parents can experience and engage in their child’s creativity. When children participate in dramatic play, using light tables, music, dance, or puppetry, it is important to find ways to document these activities. Photography and short video snippets present wonderful opportunities to do this. Captioned photographs can be displayed on the wall or included in a collage or learning story. Video snippets work in much the same way, but they can also be played back to the children which allows them to revisit and self-reflect on these experiences.

Creative Arts for All Ages

Even the youngest children can engage in the creative arts and garner the benefits of doing so.  For babies, using light, shadow play, and reflective surfaces adds drama. Likewise, classical music, action songs, and shakers encourage engagement in music making. Babies and toddlers can creatively express themselves using paint and their hands to mark-make and engage their sense of touch.  When older toddlers are ready to engage with play dough, herbs can be added to stimulate the sense of smell and add texture in a safe way, while boxes filled with gloop allow for squidging, squeezing and shaping. The ideas are endless and are only limited by the imagination.

Benefits of Creative Arts

Finding ways of expression through engagement with the creative arts is a wonderful way for children to express their creativity and imagination. But it also allows them to express their emotions, which in turn reduces stress and builds resilience. Creating collages, or identifying and making patterns through art, stimulates early maths and numeracy concepts. The sensory manipulation of play-doh, or clay, and holding various utensils for mark making supports the development of early writing and fine motor skills. Dramatic play, puppetry, song, and music making help children to extend their language skills. Dance and movement build gross motor skills as well as providing an outlet for creative self-expression.  The benefits of looking beyond paper and paint when engaging in the creative arts are vast. Let your imagination run wild!

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not represent or reflect the views of the Museum of Childhood Ireland.

Paula Walshe is an ECEC trainer and placement assessor in the further education and training sector and a freelance writer. She currently holds a BA (Hons) in Early Childhood Education and will complete her studies for a Master’s Degree in Leadership for ECEC in 2022. Paula has extensive ECEC experience in both pedagogical practice and ECEC management. You can find additional blogs as well as useful professional and academic resources for ECEC students and professionals at Paula’s website:

LinkedIn: Paula Walshe / Twitter: @digitalearlyed / Instagram: @digitalearlychildhoodeducator