1. Preschoolers
  2. Play & learning
  3. Learning ideas

Imagining and creating: preschoolers

3-5 years

Preschoolers have very active imaginations. Their worlds are full of all kinds of magical and made-up characters. Here are some play ideas and creative activities to nurture your preschooler’s imagination as part of her overall learning and development.

What to expect with your preschooler’s imagination

Your preschooler will probably be very keen on any chance to scribble, draw, paint, paste, sing or dance. Your child is also likely to:

  • enjoy more active, loud and rough play, particularly at 3-4 years
  • make music part of other activities – for example, singing and drawing at the same time, or making up songs
  • enjoy playing with other children, joining in games with clear rules and making up pretend games with other children at five years.

From around three years your child might enjoy dramatic play using puppets and dress-ups, tell you very detailed stories about things that never happened, or have an imaginary friend. Dress-ups and pretend play – for example, pretending to be a grown-up, a doctor or an explorer – let children explore ideas about the real world in a safe environment.

At around four years, your child can draw places, things and people with lots of detail from his imagination.

By five years, your child is starting to get better at drawing complex shapes – like diamonds, triangles and stars – and can express thoughts and ideas through drawing. She might also start to use art to tell stories, show feelings or describe things that she has seen.

You’ll see your child expressing his imagination and ideas in all kinds of creative ways. Find out what to expect from preschooler creative development and get some ideas for creative activities to do with your preschooler.

Play ideas and creative activities for preschoolers

Here are some play ideas to encourage your child’s imagination:

  • Tell stories and read books. You can ask your preschooler to come up with new endings to the story.
  • Share silly rhymes and riddles – preschoolers especially like word games and enjoy making up their own jokes or rhymes.
  • Play with musical instruments or listen to music.
  • Visit different places – like the bush, a zoo, a museum, or the beach in winter – or have some outdoor play in a safe space with freedom and time to explore.
  • Draw with crayons or pencils.
  • Let your child play with toys like blocks, which allow for open-ended play, rather than relying only on toys that come with structured play expectations.

You can also get creative and make up some activities for your child – these can be cheap and easy to do:

  • Collect a box of old clothes, shoes, jumpers, boots, handbags and other things your child can use to act out different roles and express emotions. For example, an eye patch will turn your child into a pirate, some old glasses could make her into an inventor, and a towel could make a superhero.
  • Set up a messy play area with sand, clay, playdough, paints, water or mud.
  • Keep old magazines and catalogues – your child can cut out pictures of people, animals and objects and paste them into a scrapbook.
  • Make musical instruments from everyday objects like empty milk cartons filled with uncooked rice.
  • Turn a cardboard box into a playhouse, boat or car, or turn a small table on its side and drape it with a blanket to make a house, pirate’s cave or local shop.

Try to step back and give your child the chance to decide what and how he wants to play. But don’t completely back away – your child still needs you to encourage and help him if he’s having trouble or gets overwhelmed.

All children develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s development, it’s a good idea to talk with your child and family health nurse or GP, your child’s preschool teacher or your child’s child care educator.

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Last updated or reviewed
10-03-2016

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Raising Children Network is supported by the Australian Government. Member organisations are the Parenting Research Centre and the Murdoch Childrens Research Institute with The Royal Children’s Hospital Centre for Community Child Health.

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