1. Preschoolers
  2. Play & learning
  3. Play & preschooler development

Imagining, creating and play: 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 as your preschooler’s imagination grows

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. She might pretend to be a grown-up, a doctor or an astronaut. Dress-ups and pretend play let children explore ideas about the real world in a safe environment.

Your preschooler will probably be very keen on any chance to scribble, draw, paint and paste. 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’s seen.

It’s worth remembering that children at this age can’t tell what’s real and what’s made up. This might mean that any scary monsters from stories become real to your child. If he has nightmares, reassure him that he’s safe and explain that the monsters are only make-believe and can’t hurt him.

You’ll see your child expressing her 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

Try to step back and give your child the time and space to decide what and how he wants to play. But remember that your child still needs you to encourage and help him if he’s having trouble or he gets overwhelmed.

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

  • Tell stories and read books. Your preschooler might enjoy making up new endings for familiar stories. Also try sharing silly rhymes and riddles. Preschoolers especially like word games and enjoy making up their own jokes or rhymes.
  • Visit different places, like the bush, a park, a zoo, a museum, or the beach in winter. Make time for outdoor play in safe spaces that give your child freedom and time to explore.
  • Get your child to help you with simple household chores. She could be a waiter who helps to set the table. Or she might like to pretend that she’s a chef and help you with some basic cooking.
  • Set up a special play space within your home. Large cardboard boxes or table cloths draped over chairs provide endless possibilities for pretend play. Include plenty of toys like blocks or balls, which allow for open-ended play.

You can also get creative and make up some activities for your child. These can be cheap and easy:

  • Give your child crayons or pencils to draw with. Your child might like to make simple maps of your neighbourhood or the way to a friend’s house.
  • Make a ‘busy box’ for your child, full of things like sticks, feathers, coloured papers, old boxes, string and glue. These are great for craft projects.
  • 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 him 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 to make up a story.
  • Listen to music or make musical instruments from everyday objects like empty milk cartons filled with uncooked rice or pebbles, or rubber bands stretched over an opened box. Make music a part of your preschooler’s other activities – for example, singing and drawing at the same time.
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
16-02-2018

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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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