Fostering Creativity Through Doodling

By Lisa D. Heintz, M.Ed.

child painting on paper

Supporting Creativity to Enhance Brain Development in the Early Years and Beyond 


Have you ever “caught” yourself mindlessly doodling or humming?


How about…


  • Tapping your toe to some barely noticeable (or inaudible) tune?
  • Mentally reconfiguring the layout of the store while you’re shopping?
  • Reimagining a room with a different color scheme?
  • Creating rhymes or ditties in your head?
  • Solving mental puzzles or riddles while listening to a speech?
  • Dancing (like no one’s watching) in the store aisle while selecting pasta sauce?
  • Twisting yourself up into a comfortable position or changing positions frequently while trying to focus?


Whether distracted, feeling agitated or uncomfortable, or listening intently, many people doodle on the edges of their agenda, in the margins of their notebook, or even on a full sheet of paper. The doodles rarely have meaning or significance (though some psychologists can interpret them to find deeper suggestions), and even onlookers don’t judge them. They are simply accepted as a means of…what? Entertaining oneself when bored? Calming? Focus? Self-expression?


If you are a pen-and-paper doodler, it may surprise you to know that some people do not doodle like that at all. Some mentally doodle by ciphering out math problems they create for themselves or looking at a box and imagining it unfolded to determine where the print and design would be on each surface. Others prefer to bend, stretch and move, or sing or hum softly (or inaudibly) to themselves. Still others can “mindlessly” cook or bake. Some doodle in multiple mediums! All of these can be examples of creative expression or can represent the need for creative expression. We all have at least one way in which we “doodle” and we usually use it daily!


“Doodling” happens when the mind is just relaxed enough to allow for creative expression. Doodling provides a richer sensory experience through auditory, kinesthetic, tactile and/or visual modalities. Each added modality accesses different motor and neural pathways, which aids in processing and memory, and increases creativity and motivation. In addition, research shows that “doodling” relieves stress and improves problem-solving ability. Doodling can be a powerful learning tool!


If you work with younger children, you may not have noticed them drawing doodles yet, (scribbling, which typically has meaning to the author, is the beginning stage of writing), but you may have noticed children spontaneously dancing or singing, dressing up with all the clothes in the basket, observed them painting freeform, or absent-mindedly playing with words that rhyme or sound silly. The mental freedom to explore all creative channels--doodles--should be encouraged and fostered for all children, regardless of age, gender or perceived skill.


Children follow our lead! One of our challenges as educators is to foster creativity even when we do not see ourselves as “creative” (as defined by social norms), so that no child feels inferior in creative expression. We must begin to break out of our own limited views of creativity and “talent” if we are to promote creative thinking in our classroom.


Research has confirmed that participating in any creative arts “measurably changes the body, brain and behavior” because creative arts are transdisciplinary, utilizing both sides of the brain. This cross-pollination has the capacity to improve physical and mental health which, in turn, fosters positive social-emotional connections, and a sense of belonging.


Fostering Creativity through Doodling


Every teacher has the means and ability to foster creativity in the classroom in a variety of ways. What could “fostering creativity” look like in your classroom? How might you encourage a variety of doodling?


Open-ended art: This usually refers to visual art and means simply making a variety of consumable supplies available for children to use to create whatever they want. With open-ended art, there are no expectations for what will be created. All end-products are the sole creation from the imagination of the child and are celebrated!


Free-Form Friday, Creation Station, Wood Shop, or Invention Convention: This can be a center with a variety of supplies available that might not be typical to visual arts. Materials like egg cartons, plastic containers, lids, bits of wood, small hammers, nails, screws, washers, scissors, hot glue, glue, styrofoam chunks or peanuts, foam padding, small parts, measuring tools, old computer chips, fabric scraps, needles and thread, “loose parts”--anything goes! And the most important provision here: supervision!


This is a great way for adult volunteers to get involved in donating odds and ends and assisting children. You may keep the center open all the time or pull the supplies out for one week at a time (they need ample time to explore before creating), or one day every week; whatever best meets your scheduling and assistance needs. 


Biggie Brain Breaks: Everything in our culture is “super-sized” so why not amp up your Brain Breaks, too? Brain Breaks can be very creative with little prep or materials.Favorite Brain Breaks can also be adapted to allow for more creativity.


Freeze a Pose: Play lively music and instruct children to move around the room by walking, hopping on one foot, frog hopping, etc. When the music stops, they should freeze in place as any “ice sculpture” of their choosing, striking any pose.


Doodle Duo: Play music that is unusual for your students (Native American songscapes, classical, sea shanties, reggae, etc.). A quick search online will reveal many unexpected genres to try. Lyrics should be appropriate but are not the focus of this Break; the music could also be without lyrics. Tempo and mood/tone should be moderate to upbeat.


Give each child two markers (they move across the page more smoothly), one for each hand. As the music plays, children draw free form (random marks, swirls, etc; no specific shape/object) with both hands on a piece of 12” x 18”. Play the music for 1-2 minutes. At the end of the music, children find a partner and discuss one another’s designs, looking for anything they might “recognize,” as you would when searching for identifiable objects in the clouds. If time permits, they may outline or color-in those objects, but the focus should remain on the free-form, not a finished product.


High-Flying Fives: Partner children and ask them to create a unique “high five” greeting. Some teachers plan this at the beginning of the school year and then welcome each student to class each morning with their uniquely created greeting!


Monkey-See Monkey-Do Conga Line: Children line up, hands at their sides. Choose some unique music or the class’ favorite upbeat song to play. The leader chooses a movement to repeat or pose to hold while dancing in the conga line around the room. When the music stops, the line stops while the leader moves to the “tail” of the line. The new leader models their movement for the rest to follow. Repeat.


Tiny Theater: Place some simple costumes or various character headbands (not necessarily from one story), paper and pencils in an area of the room or outdoors that will serve as a theater. If you have long, hollow wooden blocks that can be placed end-to-end you can create a stage. Children can create/write/dictate their own story and act it out. If you provide materials, they can also create their own simple costumes, props, and tickets. Ideally these materials would be left out for at least a week to allow for the story and costumes to develop.


Open-ended activities from a variety of arts and academic areas, like Legos, Architectural Building Blocks, Create-a-Maze, Treasure Chest of Wood bits, jumbo building blocks (and lots of space!), Tinker Tubs, Kodo Ramp Investigations, Gears. Incorporate books that encourage creative thinking in various areas of your class, such as The Dot, and Harold and the Purple Crayon (see Resources for more).


The brain that experiences regular opportunities to initiate, experience and enjoy creative, multisensory outlets produces dopamine (the “reward” hormone), serotonin (a mood moderator), and endorphins (stress-reducing). The mind and body literally react to creativity with pleasure, relaxation, and motivation! This helps address the current concerning trend toward poor mental health that young people are experiencing, while also promoting academic learning. What could be a more useful tool in your classroom?


So however, you “doodle,” and however skilled you think you are in being creative, it is vital to your mental and physical well-being to keep doodling! Be your best, most creative self so your children can be, too!



Asher, Dr. Claire. Is There Such a Thing As Left Brain vs Right Brain? BBC 10/11/22.

Cassani Davis, Lauren. Creative Teaching and Teaching Creativity: How to Foster Creativity in the Classroom. Psych Learning Curve, American Psychological Association.

Harvard Health Review. The “Thinking Benefits” of Doodling.

McPhillips, Kells. What Your Doodles Say About Your Personality, Kells McPhillips. 9/11/2019.

NeuroArts Blueprint.



Acrylic wall frame for multiple/varied size works


Clay Rolling Pins

Colorful Rollup Keyboard(children can write their songs using colored dots or crayons)

Natural color Modeling Clay

Pipe Tube Blocks (sanitize between uses of horns)

Putamayo Kids World Music

Smart Smocks - easily add fabric, feathers, etc to smock to create simple costumes

Visual arts supplies

Writing Center/Book Making supplies


Picture Books

Adalucia. The Magic of Clay.

Alber, Diane. I’m Not Just a Scribble.

Beaty, Andrea. Iggy Peck, Architect.

Becker’s Dream, Read and Build Book Set

Berger, Samantha. What If…?

Bluemle, Elizabeth. How Do You Wokka-Wokka?

Cronin, Doreen. Stretch.

Ehlert, Lois. Scraps.

Fogliano, Julie. In Case You Want to Fly.

Giles, Andreae. Giraffes Can’t Dance.

Johnson, Crockett. Harold and the Purple Crayon.

Lehman, Barbara. The Red Book.

Litwin, Eric. Sing and Dance in Your Polka-Dot Pants.

Portis, Antoinette. Not a Box.

Reynolds, Peter. The Dot.

Saltzberg, Barney. Beautiful Oops!

Schofield-Morrison, Connie. I Got the Rhythm.

Smith, David J. If.

Snider, Grant. The Shape of Ideas. (ages 7-10)

Spires, Ashley. The Most Magnificent Thing.

Willems, Mo. Because.

Yamada, Kobi. What Do You Do With an Idea?


Lisa Heintz, M.Ed., is an educator with over 25 years of experience supporting learners from toddlers to adults, and owner of Little Songbird: Songs for Learning, a site that provides quality children’s music and book recommendations for PreK-grade 3 educators. She stays “green and growing” by volunteering in community and school projects that focus on Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, as well as with the Children’s Music Network. She is fascinated by birds of all sorts, loves cats, and is the proud mom of a son who is a shining example of what intentional teaching and parenting can do for children with disabilities. Connect with Lisa at