The SPICE of early childhood education, Part 4

Rachel Zeng

This is the forth in a series of articles written by Ms Rachel Zeng towards equipping parents and care-givers with more effective skills in helping their charges cope with the stresses of early childhood education in Singapore.

Have you ever wondered if the girl having an interesting conversation with her doll needs a psychological review? Have you also wondered if the boy telling you that his toy brick tried to gobble him up earlier on may be hallucinating? Or have youbeen annoyed by your cousin’s three-year-old bugging you with endless questions everytime you meet. Either that or you have probably been worried that your child might grow up to be a great big liar just because she has been filling you with untruths.

Now may I invite you to stop for a wee moment to cast all your little worries and annoyances aside and think out of the box.

Creativity in early childhood

Being creative helps children make connections between concepts and thus developing a better understanding of the world around them. Besides that, it also helps children find ways of expressing themselves, their thoughts and developing new ideas and perspectives.

Here is a summary on the stages of creative development in children from birth to the age of 6. Please bear in mind that the ages stated are general estimates and that each child develops at varying paces.

0 to 2

  • absorbing information about surroundings and new objects using their five senses which always result in prolonged gazing, touching (exploration of textures and temperatures), holding, throwing and putting (often inedible) objects into the mouth

  • explore different ways of communication using sounds and gestures to garner reactions

  • light scribbling may emerge towards the end of this stage if materials are made available

2 to 3

  • the exploration of new and unfamiliar materials continues

  • scribbling starts to take place and each line or dot or a marking might represent an object, a place, a person etc.

  • name scribbles whether pre-intended or spontaneously, when asked by adults what the scribbles mean

  • symbolic and imaginative play starts to occur and simple objects like a toy brick may become a ferocious monster and a basketball may become a giant fishball

  • along with the emergence of speech, children might first attempt to make simple stories from pictures using words, that will gradually lead to putting additional details when relating events past, most of the time due to their own imagination of the situations (shouldn’t be misunderstood as lying)

  • develop a sense of spatial relations but might not be able to accurately articulate (on, under, in, out…)

  • attempts to create their own movements in response to music will begin

3 to 4

  • children begin to create with specific intentions more often, for example, the desire to illustrate members of the family or any other objects

  • role play occurs and children may start putting themselves in the role of a doctor nursing a sick patient (rag doll or fellow peers) for example

  • more details will arise in their stories

  • children will begin to find simple solutions to problems such as how to build a higher tower with their building blocks

  • children will also find new ways to position objects, co-ordinate colours in their drawings or paintings, new uses for familiar objects

  • group games consisting of dramatic content occurs

4 to 5

  • find ways to explain accidental creations

  • dramatizing a particular situation or emotion and attempting to involve and direct fellow peers in the drama and their roles begins

  • graphic symbols may come to represent specific objects or concepts (e.g., a heart shape to represent love)

  • story telling becomes more detailed and complicated

5 to 6

  • developing a personal style in their drawings, dramatic play and movements in response to music

  • illustrates and creates specifically for example, drawing a portrait of a best friend and making birthday cards for members of the family

  • drawings become more complex and detailed, sometimes with minute details like the rough texture of the tree or decorative lines on the legs of a table

  • able to script out and dramatize a story or a particular situation with emotions and expressions included

  • dramatic play becomes more complex, with every possible objects in the surroundings being utilized, for example, books will become cakes or cookies and placed in between the gaps of stacked up chairs to be ‘baked in the oven’

  • able to create imaginative objects from scrap materials when encouraged

  • replacing words of familiar songs to create new songs, sometimes with intentions to make fun of fellow peers in the name of fun and laughter


Encouraging creativity development

The encouragement and development of creativity in early childhood is important to aid learning and is often nurtured at best with a supportive attitude towards their endless curiosity, often wild imaginations and such.

As matured adults, we sometimes view the imaginations and games of the young ones as silly and ridiculous. In our own ‘experienced and grown up’ perspective, we may tend to judge them a little too critically, making discouraging comments or gestures that might in turn end up frustrating their young minds.

Keeping in mind that they are going through a period of trying to understand this bizarre world, we should play the role of facilitators and sometimes, as their playmates to go along with their dramatizations, no matter how silly or ridiculous you think it may be.

Employing an encouraging attitude as well as providing a wide range of materials that allow for exploration, imagination and dramatization, children will thrive to become creative individuals. The materials need not be expensive.

Children will be happy enough to be given a bucket of water along with cups and bottles to play with or scrap materials to create according to their imagination. This should in fact continue even when the child reaches beyond pre-schooling age as creativity should always be encouraged and nurtured but of course, the materials provided must be age and interest appropriate by then.

Here are some examples of situations and suggested actions you can take to help encourage creativity:

When a child puts an object into his mouth, instead of reprimanding him, what one can do is to simply explain in very simple words and dramatic gestures (e.g., pretend to choke) why you stop him as well as suggest new ways of finding out what the object is like (e.g., guiding him to touch the edges of the object). If the object is huge and the child is not in danger of choking upon it, just let it happen while at the same time explaining that the object is dirty or inedible. Just be patient and be prepared to repeat this several times until they stop doing so and start trying to put objects into their noses or ears instead. (And then you will have to start all over again!)

When a child shows you his ‘nonsensical’ scribbling, ask the child to explain what the scribbling represents using questions such as “What did you draw?”, “Who is this?” (when it is said to represent people) instead of “Did you draw a giraffe?”, “Is this a ball?” or “Did you draw daddy wearing his pair of blue jeans?”. Always keep questions open ended and let the child tell you what the scribble represents. Do not be bothered if it all doesn’t make any sense to you. It will be encouraging for her if you can listen patiently.

When a child tells you that his toy brick tried to gobble him up, instead of being a party pooper and putting him back into reality, play along! Ask him how the brick tried to gobble him up, when and why. Get him to tell you the story, and just have a good laugh with him later on when he is older.

When a child informs you that his friend bit him and you found that to be untrue, try to find out from him how it happened. Then ask how why no bite marks could be found and let him realize that he imagined it.

Children imagine possible future consequences and articulate them out as if they actually happened. Some may even get emotional about their imaginations and might start crying as they relate the ‘incident’ to you. Don’t accuse any child of lying but inform the child of the consequences of lying. Say something like: “Complaining to me about something that your friend did not do to you will get him into trouble. Will you like it if they do the same to you?”

When a child informs you that you are a wicked witch, be a wicked witch. Turn him into a frog and get him to pretend to be like one too.

When a child changes the lyrics of a song to make fun of his peers, suggest new ways of changing the lyrics to something more positive, but make it fun and get him to participate in coming up with new lyrics.

When a child asks you one question too many, you can dramatically yawn and fall asleep on the floor. Get the child to participate in the dramatization too. But if she wants you to wake up, just yawn again and say: “Shhh… will you pat me to sleep? I need a rest.” At the end of it all, the questions will most probably be forgotten (but I am not going to guarantee that new ones won’t come up). At least have some fun while you stop the interrogation.


Sometimes it is not easy to stay patient when you’re faced with the little ‘nonsensicals’ that children come up. The trick is to stop to think before reacting negatively and try to be as encouraging and patient as you possibly can.

The most important thing is that it does not hurt to become a child yourself an hour a day to engage in their dramatic games. Whatever it is, children can never see things from our mature perspective and should never be expected to do so till much later. This is what we should all remember before snapping at them or becoming impatient.

Read more on the SPICE of early childhood education:
Introduction: What is early childhood education
Part 1: Social development
Part 2: Physical development
Part 3: Intellectual development

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