1. Toddlers
  2. Play & learning
  3. Play ideas

Imagining and creating: toddlers

1-3 years

Your toddler is exploring the world in imaginative and creative ways. Here are play ideas and creative activities to support and boost toddler imagination and creativity.

About toddler play and imagination

Your toddler is like a little scientist – experimenting, observing, testing, trying out ideas and working out big questions about himself and the world he lives in.

A lot of this learning is done through play. Play, especially unstructured or open-ended play, allows your toddler to decide what to do and how to do it. This helps to develop toddler imagination and creativity.

What to expect with your toddler’s imagination

Your child has lots of thoughts and ideas, and is keen to express them all in creative, imaginative ways. Your toddler will probably enjoy:

  • messy play
  • singing aloud to songs and rhymes
  • making ‘music’ and dancing
  • pretend play and copying the behaviour of grown-ups and older children.

Dressing up and pretend play start at around 15 months. Your child might imagine she’s driving a bus or putting out a fire as a firefighter. If you provide plenty of props, like old clothes and hats, it gives your toddler lots of ways to play at being a grown-up.

Your toddler learns by copying what others do – especially you! For example, by the time your toddler is two years old, he might imagine, that he’s talking on the phone, but in real life he’s holding a spoon to his ear and babbling to himself. Or he might pretend to cook dinner using leaves and grass he’s found in the backyard.

Music of all sorts can have your toddler imagining fantastic things like flying or floating in space.

Moving to favourite songs, splashing or pouring water, digging sand, and squeezing paint between fingers and toes will all be popular play activities too.

Your child might also enjoy playing with water in the bath. She might test what her toys can do by pouring water from one to another, dunking them underwater – or using them to empty the bath! If your toddler is playing around water, always make sure you’re there to supervise. Toddlers are naturally curious and often fearless, so they’re particularly at risk of drowning.

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

Play ideas and creative activities to encourage toddler imagination

You can try the following activities to encourage your toddler to put her imagination into action. It’s good to follow your child’s lead with most of these activities:

  • Read books and tell stories together about wonderful places and creatures. Talk about the stories with your toddler.
  • Recite nursery rhymes using our Baby Karaoke and encourage your toddler to make up his own actions to songs.
  • Play dress-ups with old clothes, handbags and hats.
  • Make some sounds and rhythms with musical instruments. Listening to different types and styles of music can also support your toddler’s imagination and be lots of fun.
  • Scribble with crayons and paper and let your child draw from her imagination.
  • Give your child toys like blocks and cardboard boxes for open-ended play.
  • Give your toddler time to play outdoors. This could be a walk in the park, on the beach or anywhere with new sights and sounds that will inspire your toddler to grow creatively.
  • Set up water play from 12 months. A bucket of water with bubbles and a few plastic cups are all your toddler needs. Always supervise your child for safe fun with water.
All children develop at their own pace. If you’re concerned about any aspect of your child’s play development, it’s a good idea to talk with your child and family health nurse or GP.

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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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