SEATTLE - Ranier doesn't have all his teeth yet. What the smiliing toddler does have, is a healthy curiosity about the world around him. His parents, and KidsQuest Museum in Bellevue want to encourage that curiosity through something called "creative play."
While many parents may think all play is creative, experts say there's something different about creative play. The focus is on the experience, inquiry and expression that happens -- rather than the outcome. And the developmental benefit, according to experts, is the curiosity and love of trying new things that helps a child thrive and an older adult keep learning throughout their lifetime.
KidsQuest has a babies and toddlers group that involves parents and focuses on creative play -- which can sometimes be a messy adventure.
"Parents get to play and experience with their child, and we clean up the mess. Parents love that," said Stacia Servos-Mejia of KidsQuest.
Ranier picks up a cup full of apple cider. His little toddler fingers squeeze the cup as he holds it over the table. Then suddenly, he dumps the whole container on the table, tosses the cup and starts splashing the sticky cider with both hands. Slap, slap, slap on the table while he smiles gleefully, aware that his mother and other adults are encouraging him to keep exploring.
Sixteen month old Sarah has a slightly different take on creative play. She comes to KidsQuest and can't start painting fast enough. Her mother, Michele O'Connell, was amazed to see Sarah go from never having picked up a paint brush before to fervent painter so quickly.
"This was very different for us. And now, she is so proud of her paintings that are hanging in our home. She's so proud of them," said O'Connell.
Experts say creative play can be as simple as taking out different size spoons in your kitchen and different size pots and pans and letting your child go at it. What kinds of sounds do they make? Children need encouragment from caregivers to explore and learn in new ways.
Many parents make homemade play-dough and then hand over the finished product to their children so they can be creative. But creative play should also include the children in the making of the play-dough.
There are endless opportunities for creative play. And the benefits last a lifetime.