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Expressive arts and design

Expressive arts and design involves enabling children to explore and play with a wide range of media and materials. It also provides opportunities and encouragement for sharing their thoughts, ideas and feelings through a variety of activities in art, music, movement, dance, role-play, design and technology.

Children’s deep curiosity leads them to use all their senses to explore in real hands-on activities and then to put the information together in their own minds to form ideas and make sense of the world.

Helping your child

Role modelling

Provide a wide range of resources for your child to explore, experiment and play with. Join in and have fun together. Be prepared that this might mean getting messy together.

Mark making

Encourage your child to make marks using a variety of items. For example, pencils, feathers, chalks - either on paper, in sand, soil or on paving. This helps children understand that different things can be combined to create new effects.

Design and create

You can provide all sorts of materials including boxes, tubes and cartons for your child to make a variety of models. Being able to use scissors, glue and string when they are developmentally ready, will also help move children from exploration and experimenting to selecting and using specific tools safely and appropriately.

Explore malleable materials

Provide time, space and freedom for your child to explore different media. For example playdough, cornflour, custard, sand and mud. By pressing, squeezing, rolling, poking and pinching they start to understand the properties of these materials. This will lead to your child manipulating materials to achieve a planned effect.

Natural materials

Provide natural materials such as shells, leaves, feathers, plants seeds and ice for your child to explore, touch and talk about them.

Drawing and painting

Children with painted hands

Provide things like different sized brushes and string for your child to paint with. Also have fun printing with fruit or vegetables, hands and feet so that your child can have a wide range of experiences to explore and create with.


Play different music from pop to classical, sing nursery rhymes and dance, move and clap to the beat. Using props such as scarves, ribbons or feathers lets children express themselves and to begin to move rhythmically, moving from spontaneous movement to copying and planning movement to music.

Pretend play

Provide opportunities for imaginative play by using clothes and props to help children to be whatever they want to be. For example, hats, shoes and bags and so on. This will help your child to express themselves in response to feelings and experiences.

Small world

Using farm, zoo and other animals, cars, trains, people and so on, all help to extend children’s imaginative play, and create simple representations of events, people and objects. Join in their play and follow their lead.

Imaginary worlds

Playing in a cardboard airplane

Encourage children to use their interests to create imaginary spaces.


For example create dens, caves or homes with boxes, blankets and other materials. This enables children and helps them understand that one object represents another, introduces a storyline or narrative into their play and create simple representations of everyday life.


Reading stories and rhymes, old and modern, to your child, will help them to develop imagination. Over time, this activity can lead to children telling their own stories, acting these out and eventually wanting to write them down.

Encourage your child to create their own stories, write down what they say for them and then have fun together acting them out.


Help your child to make their own puppets with socks and bags and then to use them for storytelling, songs and dance. Maybe recording their performance to play back to them.

What your child can do