Best Pretend Play Toys for Kids in 2017 – My Thorough Guide

Watching kids take on different roles as they play pretend is one of the most amusing things for parents to see. It’s a joy how little kids interpret and copy adult behavior. You can also learn a lot of things about your child when they’re involved in these games.

Most parents may brush off pretend play as simply their little one’s way to pass the time, but in reality, it offers much more than just that. It’s easily one of the best ways for them to play, offering so many developmental benefits for a child.

While make-believe play comes naturally to kids and they can make do with almost anything to bring what’s in their imagination to life, toys can also help out greatly. While most toys will help get the job done with ease, the best ones will add more excitement to their games. This makes such toys essential.

Pretend Play Toys for Kids - My Top Picks

If you think your child needs a few items to make their playtime more engaging, here are some of my picks for the best pretend play toys for kids today.

1. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Teaching Cash Register​

If your little one loves going to the store, then she’ll enjoy having her very own cash register to recreate her experiences at the grocery. This award-winning toy from Learning Resources offers four built-in math games and three levels of play. It can scan, accept payments, weigh items, and even talk.

What's Great About It: It’s a highly realistic cash register, as it works with real coins and fits real bills inside. It also comes with play money (coins and bills), credit cards, and a coupon card that your child can use for their pretend games.

2. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Doctor Set

A lot of kids dream of becoming doctors when they grow up, so why not let them play as one while they’re still little? Learning Resources’ Pretend & Play Doctor Set is another award-winning product from this renowned brand that offers a wide array of tools and accessories needed to cure a doll or playmate of a serious illness.

What's Great About It: From its 19 different items that can help improve a child’s fine motor skills, I love the stethoscope, with its realistic sounds, and the battery-operated cellphone. It can offer hours of unstructured pretend play. This set also comes with a carrying case so your junior doctor can easily lug her equipment around when needed.

3. Kidzlane Durable Kids Play Dishes

A great option for families who spend most of their days in the kitchen, let your little one recreate your mealtimes with this 29-piece dish set. Each piece is designed to look highly realistic so your child can easily stage his own version of your dinner parties and kitchen cleanup sessions.

What's Great About It: The pieces come in vibrant colors that will surely entertain your little one. They’re also made of BPA-free plastic, so you can be guaranteed that they’re safe for your child to use and very durable.

​4. Little Tikes Splish Splash Sink & Stove

Households who love cooking will enjoy playing with the Little Tikes Splish Splash Sink & Stove, as it offers a miniature version of your kitchen. Complete with a two-burner range, a sink that drains, a working faucet, and 13 accessories, it can be your little one’s first kitchen.

What's Great About It: Aside from being portable and equipped with storage underneath the unit, the faucet of this toy actually works. You just have to put water inside the bottom red tub and your child will have to press on a knob to pump the water out of the faucet. It’s actually very fun and realistic, making it ideal for amazing make-believe games.

​5. Uptown Espresso Kitchen by KidKraft

If you have the space and want something grander than just a working sink, then KidKraft’s Uptown kitchen set will surely tickle your fancy. Standing at over 40 inches tall, this playset is fashioned after a well-equipped modern kitchen. It features a refrigerator, an oven, a microwave, a dishwasher, four raised burners, and a sink so your little one can have her own version of your home’s kitchen.

What's Great About It: All of the doors in this set can be opened and its knobs turned. It also has a nice size, so multiple kids can play with it simultaneously. Your child can use her other cooking sets with it easily.

​6. Melissa & Doug Food Groups

Play food pieces are essential parts of pretend play, as they can take on different roles and purposes for your child’s playtimes. Melissa & Doug’s Food Groups is a good option if you’re looking for a sturdy set that will last for years, since it is made from wood and comes with crates for quick and neat storage.

What's Great About It: Whether you’re creating a fully stocked kitchen or a grocery store for your little one’s make-believe games, these wooden food toys can be great options. They’re very sturdy and durable and offer a wide array of different food items, so there will be a good deal of variety in their games. They can also be very educational, as they can get your child acquainted with different food items.

7. Little Tikes Cook ‘n Play Outdoor BBQ

If you love hosting barbecue parties during the summer months, it makes perfect sense to get your child his own barbecue playset. This one from Little Tikes is a miniature version of a custom barbecue grill with a brick oven underneath, offering the finest equipment for your child’s playtime.

What's Great About It: Aside from looking really fancy with the brick oven, I love the additional counter space that will allow pretend “prep” play. The knobs make clicking sounds and the doors are fully functional, which make the set more exciting. Accessories are also included, so your child can start having his own cookout right away.

​8. The New York Doll Collection Toy Shopping Cart for Kids and Toddlers

Kids who love trips to the supermarket may also enjoy having their own shopping cart. This one from the New York Doll Collection is actually made from metal, so it's not only very realistic, but durable as well.

What's Great About It: This miniature shopping cart will be easy enough for a toddler or young child to maneuver, and it can seat a doll. It’s also foldable, so you can take it with you on your next trip to the grocery store.

​9. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Pro Chef Set

Complete your child’s kitchen play set with high-quality toy pots and pans from Learning Resources. While there are tons of other pots and pans play sets available, these actually look like the real deal, except for their small size. It comes with two deluxe stock pots, a skillet, two lids, play food, an oven mitt, and cooking implements.

What's Great About It: This playset will let your little one shine as a junior chef. Let her make you a sumptuous meal and hone her motor skills, coordination, imagination, and language skills while also having a fun playtime.

​10. Melissa & Doug Show-Horse Stable

Add another dimension to your child’s playtime with horse figures with this playset from Melissa & Doug. Perfect for kids who have fallen in love with the beauty and majestic nature of horses, this set will give them a chance to hold their own races, or just care for their own horses.

What's Great About It: The design of the stable is just beautiful. The doors open easily and close securely. There are also individual stalls for the horses with labels where your child can put the name of each horse. I also love that it comes with a handle, so the entire thing can be lugged around easily by your little one.

​11. Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House! Grocery Cans

Another amusing pretend playset is Melissa & Doug’s Grocery Cans. These are actually replicas of canned goods that your little one can use to recreate a kitchen or grocery store. The set comes with 10 different cans.

What's Great About It: Each can has a removable lid so your child will not only be able to use them to play, but they can also double as storage for smaller toys and other items. This design also makes it more useful for developing a child’s motor skills and allows make-believe games to be more realistic.

12. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Cooking Set

With its use of vibrant colors and a wide variety of designs, Learning Resources’ Pretend & Play Cooking Set is another solid option for your child’s play-house sessions. This 10-piece plastic cooking set includes a tea kettle, a frying pan with a lid, a lidded stock pot, and five cooking utensils.

What's Great About It: The playful design and colors used for this cooking set will easily attract your child’s attention. They’re also articulated, so your child will get to enjoy the functionalities of real cookware with these toys.

​13. Small World Toys Living – Peel ‘N’ Play Playset

With so many toys fashioned after food items, it is hard for companies to make food toys that stand out. This set from Small World Toys sets itself apart, however, due to its adorably unique design. This set has 13 pieces of different vegetables that your little one will enjoy playing with.

What's Great About It: What makes this set special is its “peelable” and “sliceable” design. It's not just plastic food, really, because your child can open or slice them up. It offers a more realistic pretend playtime, especially if he likes to cook and eat his play food.

​14. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Fishing Set

Foster your child's interest in fishing with the Pretend & Play Fishing Set of Learning Resources. This playset will give your child everything she needs to recreate a fishing trip at home.

What's Great About It: I love that this set comes with an adjustable fishing vest, as this can really get a child in the mood to fish. The fishing pole also has a magnetic hook that can really catch the play fishes that come with the set. There are even worms included that your kid can use as bait, ensuring exciting and realistic playtimes.

​15. Learning Resources New Sprouts Camp Out Play Set

If you aren't able to go on camping trips very often, why not give your child a chance to play pretend that you’re camping with this playset from Learning Resources? This 11-piece set comes with a mini bonfire, a lantern, ingredients for making a s’more, a duffel bag, and a fork with a hot dog on it, so they can easily create bonfire moments right in your living room.

What's Great About It: Who wouldn’t love a portable and safe fake bonfire? I adore this set because of its very cute design, and its pieces can always be used for other pretend scenarios. The lantern also glows in the dark, so they can really get your little one excited and entertained.

​16. Little Cosmetics Pretend Makeup Essential Set

Lots of little kids are very curious about the colorful products Mommy applies to her skin. Since putting makeup on a young child is not only expensive, but also potentially dangerous, a makeup playset like this pretend makeup kit from Little Cosmetics should do the trick in letting them recreate Mommy’s prep time.

What's Great About It: This play makeup kit comes with all the basics: a compact, blush, eyeshadow palette, lip gloss tube, brushes, and even a glitter pot. As these are made completely from plastic, the colors won’t transfer to your child’s skin, guaranteeing their safety.

​17. Theo Klein Weber Kettle Grill Toy

The Weber Kettle Grill is an iconic piece of cooking equipment that has its own following, so it shouldn’t come as a surprise that some parents would love to get a miniature version for their little one. It will be a passing-of-the-baton sort of thing for most folks, with the proverbial baton being their love for the Weber Kettle Grill. It’s a very cute idea, making Theo Klein’s product one of my picks for the best pretend play toys for kids.

What's Great About It: Aside from looking just like an actual Weber Kettle Grill, it comes with a light-up charcoal lump that also makes a sizzling sound, providing a realistic experience for your little one. It also comes with play food and a pair of tongs, so your little one can easily grill to his heart’s content.

​18. Play-Doh Perfect Twist Ice Cream Playset

Play-Doh has been providing kids the best pretend play toys for decades, so they definitely deserve a spot on this list. The Perfect Twist Ice Cream Playset is my pick because of its adorable design and uniqueness. It can definitely add more functionality and excitement to your child’s play kitchen.

What's Great About It: With its classic design and use of fun colors, this Play-Doh playset will surely capture your little one’s attention. The fact that it incorporates play dough in her make-believe games is a great plus as it can stimulate her senses and contribute to her development.

​19. Green Toys Pizza Parlor

If pizza nights are a big deal for your little one, this set from Green Toys will be a good pick for him. At first glance, it might seem like it’s nothing special, but if you take into account that you can take the whole toy apart, you’ll know that you’re giving your little one not only a pretend play toy set, but also a building toy as well.

What's Great About It: Aside from its unique design, this toy set is also made from 100% recycled plastic milk containers, so you’re not only giving something fun to your child, but also minimizing waste. It’s also food-safe, so even if your child likes to get very real in her roleplaying games, you don’t have to worry about harmful chemicals getting into her system.

​20. Little Tikes Count ‘n Play Cash Register Playset

Teach your child basic math concepts while pretending to run a store with this Little Tikes cash register toy. It makes use of colorful coins with denominations to help kids learn about counting, numbers, and money. It’s also fun to use with its put-and-take and coin-drop play.

What's Great About It: Not only will this toy teach your child to count and allow him to roleplay, but it’s also great for sorting. There are also lots of ways to play with this toy, so it will surely keep your child entertained.

Entering Your Kid's World: How Children Benefit from Pretend Play

Do you often find your little one talking to her toys? Does she usually conjure different scenarios with playmates, pretending that they’re doctors, parents, cashiers, or firefighters? Does she sometimes wear your shoes and act like you?

You might find these goofy, but these make-believe moments are actually very useful in your child’s development.

What makes pretend play a vital developmental exercise for children? Here are some of the most important reasons:

Pretend play develops their language skills.

Pretend play makes use of symbols, so a child's understanding of language improves. Because words are basically symbols, they share the same concept behind pretend play. Little kids can practice the idea behind symbolic thought through their make-believe games and get a grasp of how language works at the same time.

The actual make-believe games also make kids use their communication skills to express their ideas, so their language skills are honed as well. If done with parents or peers, the exchanges will surely give them a chance to further improve their command of the language.

Kids learn more about themselves through make-believe games.

Roleplaying will also put your child in different situations that can help him discover his likes, dislikes, interests, and abilities. This makes these games great opportunities for him to learn more about himself, so he can better express his ideas and feelings.

It plays a huge role in their cognitive development.

There are tons of studies that will tell you just how great pretend play is for a child’s cognitive development that I don’t have to go into detail about it anymore here. It has been proven that these games help refine her problem-solving, cognitive functioning, impulse control, and higher-order thinking skills, among many others.

It hones their emotional and social skills.

Pretend play often involves playmates, so your kid will have to interact with other kids if he wants to rule a country, put out a fire, or operate a restaurant in his own imaginary world. He’ll need to negotiate playing procedure, know how to take turns, and read social cues to have a smooth-sailing playtime. All of these will help him regulate his emotions and master social interactions with peers, while developing his emotional and social intelligence in the process.

Pretend play allows them to put their knowledge into practice.

Playing pretend games can help children synthesize the information they’ve absorbed and actually use them to better understand the concept behind them. They can use their abilities to differentiate and sort fruits and food items, as well as test out some of their math skills, through playing “grocery store.”

They can repeat what they’ve learned in the classroom by playing a “teacher” to a classroom filled with stuffed toys. Doing so also helps them have a deeper understanding of what they’ve just learned, allowing their minds to be stimulated and for the information to be retained.

It can present things in a more fun manner.

Some schools use pretend play to explain math and reading to young kids, making such activities more fun and less threatening to learners. This can ease a child into more challenging concepts, allowing her to learn without the added anxiety or pressure.

Encouraging Creativity and Imaginative Play

With the number of benefits that imaginative play offers, promoting it in young children is an important task for parents. By encouraging your kids to play make-believe more frequently, and even earlier in their lives, they’ll be able to enjoy these developmental benefits. So, how do you do that?

According to researchers, explaining social issues and features in nature, as well as regular bedtime storytelling can help foster pretend play. While they may not understand everything their parents say to them, they will still try to reconcile with the concepts they’ve just encountered and explore them further through play.

Giving your kids the opportunity to play make-believe is also an effective way to encourage pretend play. Allow them to be chaotic from time to time, as their fear of creating a mess might be the very thing that’s holding them back from playing pretend. Give them a space where they can play and allow them to execute their own game.

Rules aren’t always compatible with pretend play, so you need to unleash your little one if you want him to reap the benefits of this type of play.

Unstructured playtimes at school are also great ways to encourage pretend play. Being with peers tend to be a great way for your little one to explore and express her imagination. Kids can combine their ideas and learn from each other in this way, allowing them to share new concepts with each other and explore those ideas through their games.

Lastly, learning more about pretend play can help you better understand its importance and benefits. A lot of parents today tend to be afraid of their kids spending a lot of time playing, thinking that it takes away from their learning. By understanding that playing has a huge role in your child’s cognitive development, you should be able to relax a bit and encourage your child to engage in imaginative play even more.

Conclusion

With the right toys, fostering your child’s development through pretend play can be done more easily. Hopefully, these twenty toys that I’ve picked out get to help you find the perfect match for your child so they can continue playing exciting make-believe games.

    Sandra Cobain
     

    Mum of two. Child psychologist. Ardent admirer of art, crafts and cooking. She is the head of content for BestForTheKids. When she's not busy crafting posts & researching about compelling content ideas, she can be spotted playing outdoors with her two adorable children.

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