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Creativity, play, childhood, and the developing brain

Creativity and play are a foundational building blocks in childhood. Children need plenty of opportunities for creative play and imagination. Hands on experiences support children’s development, as they explore new avenues of creativity through their physical environment.

Exploration of the natural world can spark new ideas and creative expressions for children.

Rural children and youth in particular tend to have more exposure to spending time outdoors, in nature, on the farm, and building connections to the earth and animals. Creative thinking, cognitive, and emotional development can be encouraged through play, practice, and experiences.


In childhood the first five years of life are critical, when it comes to brain development (2). Early childhood experiences shape the developing brain, molding the physical architecture of the brain (1). Children need support when it comes to building a healthy brain — they need positive, nurturing interactions with caregivers that support their emotional, cognitive, social, and physical development (1). Early childhood experiences both positive and negative can change the structure and function of the brain. There is rapid development happening in the brain in the early years of life, connections are being formed in brain cells that allow for the exchange of information and formation of brain circuits (1).

Brains are built over time (1). From childhood we are hard wired for human connection. Early attachments with caregivers, parents, and teachers sets the stage for lifelong learning and how the brain will interpret information. Secure attachments support a healthy brain. Whereas, children who have exposure to insecure attachments with caregivers or parents, brains become wired for protection — activating the stress response in the body (2). When the stress response in the body is “turned on”, also known as “toxic stress” it can disrupt healthy brain development, making it more difficult to learn, play, and work as children grow older (2). Children who have repeated exposure to Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) are at increased risk to poor brain health, as the impact of toxic stress in the body can lead to changes to the structure and function of the developing brain. Adverse Childhood Experiences are classified as negative life experiences including physical and emotional abuse, neglect, caregiver mental illness, addiction, and household violence (3). Children who experience ACES may encounter greater adversities in life including learning difficulties, emotional problems, and developmental issues.


A family’s role in a child’s development is crucial to ensuring the child feels safe and supported, and that they are able to build stable nurturing relationships. Communities also influence a child’s development by creating a network of support persons outside of the home including teachers, mentors, community members, and sports coaches (4). Children grow and learn through play. Play is a key ingredient in a child’s development as it expands self-expression, creativity, self-knowledge, and self-efficacy. Play helps to reduce stress, regulate emotions, and boosts children’s confidence (5). The heart of the matter is caregivers and parents role is integral as children grow and develop, by providing children with a secure foundation to grow their confidence, creativity, resilience, and love of learning.


(1) Alberta Family Wellness Initiative. Brain Architecture.

(4) Centres for Disease Control and Prevention.

(5) Mental Health Professionals. Applying the Therapeutic Power of Play.


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