Creative, open-ended activities can help promote your child's love of learning.
Creative, open-ended activities can help promote your child's love of learning.

Much of a child’s day is ruled by routine: get up, get dressed, eat breakfast, play, eat lunch, play, eat dinner, take bath, read story, go to bed. Repeat. Repeat. Repeat. During a given day, many parents focus on teaching their tots important social skills and academic skills, like sharing, waiting their turn and learning numbers, colors and the alphabet. While these skills are certainly critical to a little one’s development, it’s also important for parents to promote creativity and help little ones foster their imagination through open-ended play, because playing with no rules not only influences a child’s intellectual development but also increases his yearning to learn.

Music and Dance

Are you living with a mini dancing machine? If your tot has trouble sitting still or always seems to be on the move, you can use music and dance to corral his energy while promoting open-ended play at the same time. Hand your kiddo some kid-friendly instruments and clap, dance and sing to made-up songs, or you can turn on some kid-appropriate dance music (this is not the time to break out your gansta rap collection) and have him shake his booty for a short while. Don't direct or guide him; simply let him take the lead and decide how he wants to interact with the music. Whichever route you take, don’t just sit there and watch him; get out on the dance floor and move it, too.

Painting

Yes, it can be (it usually is) very messy, but painting is one of the most effective methods for promoting creativity in young children. Why? Because there typically are no rules; kids can swirl, blend, dab and dot to their hearts’ content. Whether you have your child smear finger paints at a table or paint at an easel with watercolors or tempera paints, your mini Monet will love the opportunity to express her artsy side. Yes, the end result may look more like a glob of drips, swirls and streaks and less like an actual image. However, giving your child the freedom to explore with a paint brush will certainly encourage her creative-thinking skills. To boost the learning benefit, try playing some classical music while she works.

Dramatic Play

It’s no secret that young kids have active imaginations. For instance, despite the fact that many kiddos have toy collections that envy the local toy store, they often would rather play with empty boxes. Why? Because an empty cardboard box has no rules. That box that the new microwave just came in? It can be a pirate ship, a race car, a rocket ship or a new home for dolly. It can be colored, painted on and stickered up. The same goes for common household items like blankets and pillows — hello, fort! — or even kitchen supplies; that old plastic spatula makes a great fairy wand. The point is to allow your tot access to everyday items that require him to use his imagination to play. Once again, make sure you’re helping to promote this type of creative play. Get down on the floor, put that blanket on your head and roar like a dinosaur right alongside him.

Modeling Dough and Compound

It’s squishy, it’s colorful and it can be pounded, squeezed and cut into just about any shape imaginable. No wonder kids love modeling dough and compounds so much. To help encourage your child’s creativity when working with these malleable mediums, try engaging her as she creates certain shapes. For instance, you could ask your tot, “What is it that you're creating there? Tell me about it," or, "You're making a penguin? Fantastic! What do you like about penguins?" Even though the end result might be quite primitive, simply encouraging her through the process can help her learn to be more creative, insightful and intuitive.