Nurturing Creativity in a Child’s Early Years with Associate Professor Tan Ai-Girl

Nurturing Creativity in a Child’s Early Years with Associate Professor Tan Ai-Girl

Wednesday, 07 June 2017

Most of us know that creativity is integral to our children's lives, yet we are not sure how we can nurture this in our children. Creativity in early years is often emergent and spontaneous. It occurs in every moment of life within the interdependent relation of the caregiver and the child, conditioned by the love and care, and showed by the feeling of warmth and security of the baby. In fact, movement is the first phase of creativity development of the child. In a recent whatsapp video that was sent to my mobile phone, a baby was extending her hands towards her mother in the video. The mother smiled and said, “She wants me to hold her”. This is a product of joint-creativity between the mother and child. In her ecological space, the baby communicates, interacts, and plays by moving her hands, legs, eyes and body. It creates meaning of life; and the infant’s creativity begins with her caregiver’s interpretations of her actions.


When children are taken out of their classrooms such as to a walking tour around their kindergarten’s premises, they are usually excited as they are able to move out of their classrooms to the designated spaces around.  During their walks, they would notice the plants, grasses, tracks and people.  They would see the sky, feel the ground, notice the sounds of the vehicles and listen to their teachers’ instructions. When they return, they would be tasked to draw what they had just experienced, and to narrate what they liked.  Although the outdoor activity would usually take less than 30 minutes, their day has been enriched by a series of follow-up activities – movement, observation, dialogue, and representation. This process of creativity is termed as imagination in action.

During the early years, we can nurture creativity by interpreting movements creatively and by encouraging imagination into action.  At home, parents can consider creating physical space for movement and spontaneous play.  The space could be used for mindful exercises for the child and the caregivers and/or with siblings or with their peers for a playgroup session. These activities would encourage spontaneous play and encourage the young child to explore the space with their desirable objects such as blocks. 

The space can be moderately furnished with child friendly items such as mirrors on the walls, soft cushions and dim lights.  The child can sit, move and sing freely.  Within the space, the child would be able to undertake different activities with different people.  The child would also be able to unleash her potential through self-discovery in free play, and develop her competencies through her interaction with her peers and playmates. 

Early years creativity is a beautiful experience if adults can co-create space of interaction and co-interpret the child’s movement, behavior and expressed needs for a holistic growth.  The adults and the children are agents of creativity, and their home, kindergartens or schools are environments of creativity. Together, the adults, children and environments can collaboratively act, construct, imagine and create joy and hope with love and care. 

Ai-Girl Tan is an Associate Professor with the Early Childhood and Special Needs Education at the National Institute of Education, Singapore.  Her research interest includes creativity in early childhood, theories of emotion, design and invention.