Children's Creativity

Part 2 of 3 - Sensory and Make Believe Play

4 October 2017

children's creativity part 2 | Sensory & Make Believe Play

Let’s go deeper into the importance of play in the growth of your child’s creativity by exploring the four specific kinds of play that enhance creative development. Today I’ll cover the first two types of creative play: Sensory play and Make Believe play.

But first, let me take a moment to share the importance and place of creativity in your child’s growth. In my blog, Child’s Play Is Major Work, I explained how important play is in your preschooler’s life for the development of their creativity. Creativity for your child and, in fact everyone, contributes to the very quality of our lives. What your preschooler is learning now will surely become obsolete in her lifetime. Remember rotary phones or car phones? Gone with the wind … While your little one will continue to learn throughout life, rote knowledge alone is no guarantee that your child will be able to meet the changes in the future effectively. Only a strong creative ability built on a strong foundation of play will provide your child the means for coping with the future/meeting the future head on. Preschoolers enjoy creativity and benefit from it in many ways, including:

  • Learning to feel good about themselves
  • Learning to see many answers to a problem
  • Developing their potential to think
  • Developing their individuality
  • Developing new skills
  • Experiencing the joy of being different

Always remember, there are many varieties of play that children engage in, and one is not more important than the others. Your children may move in and out of these different types of play over time and in various settings. What is most important is that preschool children enjoy their time at play, because play is essential to their growth and creative skills.


Exploratory or Sensory Play  

During sensory and exploratory play, children examine the qualities of materials, objects and items in their world. This exploration supports their curiosity as they investigate different ways to learn about objects, such as comparing or contrasting. For example, your child may find that white Elmer’s glue works better than a glue stick like this when adding details in making a Readymade Styrofoam Sculpture. This type of play also encourages the finding of identifying features of materials like water while splashing in puddles and making mud pies. Discovering the qualities of materials, for example, how changes in temperature can make or melt ice, is key to your preschooler's science learning. 

Children also use their senses to extend their understanding of objects. They do this in things like rubbing tree bark to feel textures or gazing at clouds to see animals. Take a moment to stand still, listen, and observe with your preschooler. What do they hear, see, or smell? Our Chatty-do activities are perfect for encouraging children to explore with their senses. For example, many senses are explored when you ask your preschooler, What was the softest things you saw today? Or, What loud sounds did you hear today? Activities and conversations like this encourage your child's sensory exploration.  


Support your child’s sensory and exploratory play:

  • Provide lots of open-ended materials that offer rich exploration for all of your children’s senses. Look for different kinds of sand and mud, water and ice cubes, twigs, rocks of various colors, textures and shapes. Reach out and touch fabrics such as leather, fake fur, plastic, burlap and silk. We’ve created lots of Skilly-do activities that make creative use of sensory materials to flex your child’s senses. Just a few examples are Magical Ice Coloring for exploring water, color and ice cubes and Rock Critters for exploring the many possibilities of rocks.
  • Try new treats with different ingredients, colors, textures and shapes. Or you can put a spin your favorite snack, like our Walking Apple Sandwich, which makes apples and nut-butter mobile. Our Eat It! activity collection has simple, healthy recipes that have ingredients perfect for engaging your child’s senses of seeing, feeling, smelling, and tasting.
  • Zoom in on the changes that take place in your child’s world everyday. For preschoolers, discovery is everywhere and anywhere-- make space for it! Our Visual Acuity, Audio Perception and Change Perception activity collections are another great place to dig for easy ideas.
  • Explore and extend your child's understanding of materials such as water, wind, and light with our Science Learning activities.


Make Believe or Symbolic Play

During the preschool years, children grow in their ability to use symbols in their play. Throughout their lives, your child will use many symbolic systems, including spoken language, reading, writing, numbers, music, and various visual media, including painting and drawing. Initially children use realistic symbols, such as a wooden block to represent a car or a piece of cord for a snake. Each item has some semblance to the object being represented. Very young children regularly use pretend play to learn about the real world and navigate the world they are in. For example, your toddler pretends to comb his hair with a brush. As their ability to use symbolic representations expands, children being to use more abstract symbols no longer based on how the actual object looks. Now, the brush becomes a magic wand to change their blocks into super heroes. The clay that was at first simply squished and pounded by your toddler, becomes a more advanced form of symbolic play when she a rolls it out in long skinny coils and calls it a snake. In this more advanced symbolic play, they create stories and art, perform scientific experiments or collaborate on group projects. Several blocks might represent a skyscraper; scribbles on paper stand for a dollar bill, the watercolor picture is a favorite pet.


Support your child’s Symbolic or Make-Believe Play:

  • Encourage your preschooler each day to have some make-believe play. Your little one needs to continue to pretend and create with things like puppets. Check out our Popsicle Stick Puppets or Envelope Puppets for easy ways to make their own unique puppet friends.
  • Build imaginative structures indoors. Provide building blocks of all kinds or use those old towels and blankets to create forts or houses where your child’s imagination can blossom in all kinds of symbolic play scenarios. 
  • Challenge yourself to recognize and come up with ways to make the most mundane, everyday chores opportunities for make-believe fun. At meal time, you could say, “Those aren’t pork and beans on your plate, they are Cowboy Beans.” Pouring your child’s milk, how about saying, “Did you know this milk came from an enchanted cow named Bessie the Beautiful?” And if you run out of ideas, check out our Pure Imagination for more creative play experiences with zero materials required.


Now that you have this knowledge about your child’s play, I hope you will find it easy to support these two types of creative play in your preschooler’s everyday activities. Simply remember to focus on play, consider these suggestions, and go from there!



Up next is the third and final part of our Children's Creativity series. I'll cover the two remaining types of creative play, Construction and Dramatic play and sharing more ways to encourage the growth of your child's creativity through play. And in case you missed it, here's Part 1: Children's Creativity - Four Essential Skills. Don't forget, I’d love to hear about your play time experiences with your little one.



Inspiration/thanks goes to the artwork's that Claire first remembers seeing as a preschooler. Pictured here, Mark Rothko’s painting, Orange, Brown No. 202 in the Detroit Institute of Art. You can learn more about Mark Rothko from the National Gallery of Art right here