Creative Child

Pretend Play and the Development of Creativity

Creativity makes the world a better, more beautiful, more friendly place. When you think creatively, you’re opening your heart and mind and you're relating to people as humans. Creativity is an incredibly human thing. - Jenn Maer
by Rebecca Eanes

Creativity is beneficial to every one of us. It allows us to view and solve problems, enables us to be innovative and have new ideas, inspires us to live fully, relieves stress, and supports resilience. As Jane Fulton Suri says, “Creativity is at the core of being human.” It is an important element for success in adulthood and a vital component to the healthy development of a child.


When one thinks of creativity, what often comes to mind is art in all its various forms - an interesting painting, a beautiful piece of music, an innovative dance routine, a riveting novel, or a breathtaking sculpture. Yet, artists are not the only people who hold, value, and use creativity. We all have the potential for creativity, and it can be found anywhere - from a PowerPoint presentation to a homemade meal to an invention that improves our daily lives. Pointedly, creativity is always found wherever there is a child pretending. Creativity begins in childhood, and perhaps this is there where it can best be observed, studied, and understood.


Researchers in creativity and child development have identified various cognitive abilities that are especially important for creativity, such as divergent thinking, insight, cognitive flexibility, broad associative skills, and perspective taking, and have observed that many of these also characterize pretend play.1 Pretend play gives children opportunities to express many different processes important to creativity, including:

  1. Affective processes which include all positive and negative feelings and responses.
  2. Cognitive processes such as sensation, attention perception, language use, memory, reasoning, and decision making. Interpersonal processes which is the interplay of cognitive, motivational, and behavioral activities in social interaction.3

When children are engaged in pretend play such as exploring a cave, using one object as something else (a Lego brick as a horse, for example), role-playing, story-telling, playing with puppets, painting, dancing, or any form of creative play, they are developing and strengthening creativity which in turn will help them be more confident, socially and emotionally intelligent, and successful.

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