In the first year of your baby’s life, his thoughts are concrete – connected to his senses and the objects he sees and feels. Cognitive psychologist Jean Piaget described this as “sensory-motor thinking.” Your baby grasps an object in his hands and explores it through his senses . He looks at it, listens to it, touches it, tastes and smells it. Later on, he conducts other “experiments;” he jumbles materials together, tosses them, throws them, etc. Towards the end of the first year, the first sparks, or hints, of his imagination appear. When imagination first kicks in, it paves the way for imitation. At first, your baby’s attempts at imitation are simple. He imitates concrete actions which he sees around him, such as speaking on the phone, combing his hair and more. The game then becomes symbolic – a rattle turns into a telephone, and a wooden spoon is his comb. Gradually, he is able to dissociate himself from the concrete reality and create more complex situations – which he may not have ever seen or experienced in reality. Eventually, he will begin to involve other children in these games. They become longer, more complex and less tightly connected to reality.
As a parent, it may be worrying to see your child spend a lot of time playing with dolls, cars, or superheroes. You may want to see your child spending more time on didactic games that encourage “real” learning. While your concern is understandable in light of the demands of a competitive society that encourages academic achievement, it is important to understand that imaginative play is significant to every aspect of your child’s normal development. Research has shown that the richer a child’s imaginative play is, the richer his thinking is. Research has also shown that there is a connection between imaginative play in childhood and originality, spontaneity, rich vocabulary and greater flexibility in coping with new situations in adulthood. The potential for creativity exists in all of us. It is best to enable your child, from a young age, to experiment freely and explore the world in ways that are appropriate to his developmental stage. During the first two years of his life, you child learns about his world and himself and acquires the skills that enable him to express his inner world and his creativity throughout the rest of his life. The first two years of a child's life are the foundations of a person's imagination and creativity.
A creative environment is not necessarily one that is filled with crayons, reams of paper and paste. Creativity is not just about a creative project, but rather a way of life. Creativity can be a way of life for anyone – not just for those born with the gifts of a painter or a musician. So when you encourage creativity, think about life beyond the right materials or extracurricular classes. When your child places a bowl on his head like a hat, or picks up a broken branch he has found in the yard and pretends it is his pet dog, he is showing you just how creative he can be. So create an encouraging and supportive environment in which your baby or toddler feels free to dare, experiment and express his creativity. A creative mind thrives where there is freedom and joy. That may mean he makes a mess of the kitchen floor, his clothes and your clothes too, but perfect order isn't an essential part of the creative process :).
Of course, safety comes first and it is important, from the very start, for your baby to feel secure as he explores his environment. But try to reduce your control and supervision to a minimum. Too much supervision may inhibit your child’s spontaneity and limit his self-confidence – essential elements for a creative mind. Be sure to provide your growing toddler with a creative environment filled with the materials that will stimulate various imaginative games and creative expression. Toys such as kitchen utensils, toy cars, etc. and other creative materials suitable for his age. Remember: during this period the process is more important than the end-result. Let him explore his own way, and let him discover the qualities of the object he holds to uncover what else he can do with it. For example, let him discover that he can put a ring on a rod, roll it or put his arm through it like a bracelet. And when a problem comes up, this is the time to look for new and different ways to solve it. Encourage your child to look for new solutions, and guide him if he becomes frustrated.
Any advice and information provided in this website is given as suggestions only and should not be taken as a professional medical diagnosis or opinion. We recommend you also consult your healthcare provider, and urge you to contact them immediately if your question is urgent.