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Creativity is natural in children. You can see it as early as the first few months when an infant experiments with the sounds she can make and squeals with delight at what she hears.
Or watch a toddler at work with blocks, and see how many ways he tries to stack a pile before coming up with a topple-proof design. As verbal skills and physical dexterity increase, preschoolers express their natural inventiveness in many ways -- indulging in word play, submerging into imaginary worlds and transforming simple objects into favorite toys.
Because creativity helps us live joyously and wisely, it may be every bit as significant as reading, writing or manners as children grow up. If you're looking for low-cost, easy and imaginative activities you and your child can do together, try these five: Imaginary Stew, Homemade Toys, Family Band, Neighborhood Walk and Dirtyville.
Get out a big pot and take turns choosing all the silly things you can put in your supper. A sprinkling of pine cone? A dash of talcum powder? A hearty helping of crayons? Fine dining!
Go exploring with your child at home; see what you find in your drawers, cabinets and closets; and then play with everything. Turn a shoebox into a make-believe truck. Get out the ruler and measure each other. Build a miniature junk palace. What can you make from the trove of items you discover?
Turn on the stereo and get out your kitchen instruments. Coffee beans in a tin can make an ideal maraca. Wooden bowls and spoons are easy drums. Metal whisks and colanders double as timpani and cymbals. Turn up the jazz, classical or rock and roll, and play that funky music.
See your neighborhood together for the first time by talking about everything you come across. Ask your child questions that invite creative answers: "What do you think that cat ate for breakfast?" Make up games along the way: "How many different kinds of animals can we find?" Or start a collection of pretty rocks, shells or leaves.
Find a controlled space in your home to dub Dirtyville, at least for a couple of hours. Place a tarp down to collect the chaos. Then get out giant pieces of paper, paint, glue, safety scissors, string, old magazines, colorful feathers, glitter. Roll up your child's sleeves (and yours too!) and create paintings, collages, sculptures -- no masterpiece is too messy!