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Why Creative Play is Important to Child Development

Discover why creative play is crucial for child development in our latest blog. From fostering imagination to enhancing problem-solving skills, learn how it shapes young minds.

April 10 2024 - 5 min read

Whether you are a foster parent or are thinking about fostering, you may ask yourself, ‘How can I encourage my foster child’s development’?

Our answer: creative play!

Fostering with the FCA means you are not alone on your fostering journey. You're part of a community dedicated to improving outcomes for all our foster children and young people. We understand that children with complex pasts need time to heal through therapy and other innovative means.

Creative play helps build the foundations for a child’s emotional, motor and problem-solving skills. Not only that, creative play can be a fundamental part of therapy for trauma and attachment, along with supporting those who have special educational needs and disabilities.

Creative play comes in a variety of forms, from painting to playing instruments and from dancing to baking. With so many options, play is an easy way to encourage your foster child’s development and strengthen your bond.

What is creative play in child development?

From the moment a child is born, they are absorbing their surroundings. Their senses are helping them to understand the world. Creative play starts here. When a child looks at a mobile, respond to your voice or makes seemingly random movements, they are beginning to learn through play. When they are toddlers, they may respond non-verbally by swaying to music or laughing. As they grow, they may act out stories and become storytellers themselves.

The Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) framework explains that children can react to creative play emotionally, physically, socially, culturally or a combination of these, learning and discovering through play. Creative play is about giving your foster child the freedom to express themselves.

Things to consider when you are engaging a child in creative play:

  • There should be no set goal; creative play encourages freedom.
  • Value your foster child’s vision and contribution; there is no right way to be creative.
  • Give your foster child enough time and space to explore and experiment; they may prefer one type of creative play over another.
  • Nurture their curiosity and creativity so they'll be passionate about engaging in creative play regularly.

Types of play in child development

There are numerous types of play in child development; they often encompass each other, and the benefits overlap. Play can happen inside the home, outside or at another venue.

  • Physical play encourages children to get active and enhance motor skills. They could play hide and seek or use a hula hoop.
  • Sensory play stimulates the senses and is brilliant for supporting autistic children to process sensory information. Baking, water play and interacting with nature are accessible sensory activities.
  • Role play in child development can aid children in practising their social skills through real-life scenarios like going to the doctor's or supermarket.
  • Imaginative play gives children the freedom to use their imaginations to create stories. They could have magical powers and bring their toys into their imaginary world to process trauma.
  • Arts and Crafts play lets children create anything they want using various materials. It provides a safe place for children to express their emotions and builds the foundations for a love of creation.

Benefits of play in child development

Emotional Skills

Regulating emotions is a crucial skill that foster children can harness throughout their lives. Creative play is an excellent way to help your foster child articulate their feelings, enabling you to provide appropriate support. For example, if you have a child with trauma, play therapy can be used to help a child work through trauma at their own pace and develop coping mechanisms.

Robust emotional skills will help your foster child build resilience, become more confident, help them to learn to empathise with others and create their sense of self.

Creative play ideas that enhance emotional skills:

  • Teddy Bears - When a child has a teddy bear to cherish, it can provide a sense of security. Your foster child can also develop empathy by having something to nurture. They can then use this teddy bear in imaginative and role play.
  • Imaginative and role play are opportunities to act out imaginary or real-life scenarios. That could mean past traumatic experiences or practice at making friends and being in social settings, such as a picnic.
  • Arts and crafts encourage free expression, providing an outlet for your foster child's emotions. Supply tools, such as paper, paints, pipe cleaners, glue, and glitter, and let your foster child's imagination, feelings and experiences put the tools to work.

Motor Skills

There are two groups of motor skills: gross motor skills and fine motor skills. Gross motor skills develop through the use of a child's whole body. They include activities such as crawling and walking. Fine motor skills develop through the use of smaller muscle groups. They include activities such as using cutlery, writing and using zips.

The EYFS framework emphasises that gross motor skills are crucial for developing healthy bodies and overall well-being. The framework also suggests that fine motor skills can help a child develop their hand-eye coordination and lead to early literacy.

Creative play ideas that enhance motor skills:

  • Sandpits are an easy way to enhance your foster child's fine motor skills. Using their hands, a bucket or a spade to play with the sand will encourage your foster child to use those smaller muscle groups.
  • Gardening is another fun activity for fine motor skills as it requires handling small objects, such as seeds. They will also use gross motor skills when pushing a wheelbarrow or using a watering can.
  • Playgrounds - Designed with children's gross motor skills in mind, playgrounds are a brilliant place to practice those skills and burn off excess energy. They can use their legs to push higher on a swing and their arms to tackle the monkey bars.

Problem-Solving Skills

Creative play can aid in equipping your foster child with the problem-solving skills needed to help navigate life challenges. Engaging play can hone your foster child’s natural curiosity and help them develop their critical thinking skills.

Creative play ideas that enhance problem-solving skills:

  • Obstacle courses - You can create safe obstacle courses using almost any household object, such as cushions for inside use and tyres for outside use. Make sure the obstacle course is challenging so your foster child can problem-solve their way around it. Obstacle courses are also brilliant for gross motor skills and coordination.
  • Scavenger hunts involve collecting various items inside and outside the home. They can include clues like 'I'm found on a tree, but sometimes I fall off' (a leaf) to add further challenge. Your foster child will use their problem-solving skills to investigate the clues and collect the items.

Special Educational Needs and Disabilities

Creative play is vital to the development of all children and, therefore, inclusive and accessible to all. If you have a SEND foster child, you can adapt the play to suit their needs.

Creative play ideas for SEND children:

  • Resonance boards amplify sound and vibrations so a child lying on the board can hear or feel the vibrations. They are a fantastic way for children with hearing or visual impairments to enjoy music.
  • Messy play helps SEND children with difficulties processing sensory information learn to cope better with sensory stimulation. Messy play can include mud kitchens or edible materials like custard. Messy play can support the development of fine motor skills because your foster child will use their hands to familiarise themselves with different textures.

Creative play gives your foster child the freedom of expression, supports their development and enables you to learn about them as an individual.

Tips to help introduce your foster child to creative play

FCA celebrates play; however, some children may initially find creative play overwhelming due to trauma or a lack of experience in play. They may not know how to react to new toys or arts and crafts materials, so here are some tips for introducing creative play to your foster children:

  • Start slowly, introducing various methods of play in stages.
  • If your foster child has never experienced play, too much choice could leave them feeling overwhelmed, so it's ideal for them to pick a toy from a small selection.
  • Give your foster child praise for playing; hopefully, this will motivate them to play again.
  • If your foster child has a favourite TV programme, you can relate your creative play to this, for example, by re-enacting scenes and scenarios from the TV show.
  • Join in and demonstrate to your foster child how to play.
  • Encourage your foster child to spend time with other children; watching other children play could help your foster child learn how to play.
  • Read to your foster child; stories will help their imagination grow.
  • To help your foster child role play, take them to the supermarket or a local coffee shop to give them real-life scenarios to practice.

If you would like any further guidance, our therapy service is available to support both you and your foster child. The service will help you better understand your foster child and will deliver additional support to assist you on your fostering journey.

Creative play starts young, but there is no upper age limit. The FCA hosts events to promote creativity in all ages, such as family fun days and charity art workshops. If you are already fostering or are thinking about fostering, contact us for more information on the events happening in your area.