Your toddler is already an expert at creative thinking. When you look at a washcloth, you probably think of its practical purpose. When your toddler looks at a washcloth, they may see a very small blanket, a hat for the dog, an opportunity for peekaboo, or something they can stuff into the crevices of the couch 😉
For young toddlers, the possibilities of just about anything are endless. Seeing an object in many possible ways and for many possible uses is the foundation for divergent thinking, an early developing component of creativity. Taking others’ perspectives, solving complex problems, and approaching new situations with an open mind all rely on creative and divergent thinking.
4 ways to encourage creativity in your toddler
Offer open-ended play materials
Some toys have a very specific purpose or limited range of uses (push a button and electronic music plays). Open-ended materials, on the other hand, are simpler in design and can be used in all sorts of ways, which provides opportunities for creative thinking. A rectangular block can be held up to your toddler’s ear like a cell phone, munched on like a sandwich, stacked into a tower, or lined up to make a road. Try putting out some open-ended materials, like an assortment of blocks from the Lovevery Block Set, and give your toddler the time and space to try out different ways to play.
Ask open-ended questions
Open-ended questions and prompts don’t have a correct answer or response. If you hold up a red block and ask, “What color is this?”, there’s only one correct answer. But if you hold up a red block and say, “This block is red! What can you do with it?” you encourage your toddler to experiment and come up with their own ideas.
Model divergent thinking
Show your toddler that even closed-ended toys can be used in different ways. If you and your toddler are playing with a toy tool set, model that you can hammer with the hammer, but you can also use it to pull an out of reach toy closer or spin it on its side.
Try modeling a new way to use play materials when your toddler starts to lose interest. If you are playing together with the The Lockbox, and your toddler starts to look away or look up at you, pick up a bunny and show them that you can make the bunny “hop” into the box, and then open the door to find it. Showing them new ways of playing can extend their play and encourage creativity.
One study showed that young toddlers whose parents model divergent thinking are better at solving simple problems creatively on their own. Another bonus of this activity? When you practice divergent thinking during play with your toddler, your divergent thinking skills will get stronger, too 🙂
Sit back and watch
Your toddler is already coming up with so many new ideas while they play—eventually, you will help them learn to evaluate their creative ideas rather than generate them. For now, sit back and watch your toddler play. By giving them many opportunities to experiment and explore, you’re creating the ideal environment to foster their curiosity and creativity.
Learn more about the research
Hoicka, E., Mowat, R., Kirkwood, J., Kerr, T., Carberry, M. & Bijvoet-van den Berg, S. (2016). One-year-olds think creatively, just like their parents. Child Development, 87.
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