Pretend play is one of the best ways for kids to stretch their imaginations and creativity, and while kids can play with basically anything, good design can help your child grow. That’s why we’ve decided to figure out what makes a great pretend play toy.
While researching, we found that the best toys are durable, age-appropriate, and sometimes even useful (to mom and dad). Toys that can be used in multiple ways are great, and ones that can grow with a child are even better. Keeping these factors in mind, we’ve put together a list of our favorite pretend play toys available online.
Top 10 Best Pretend Play Toys to Buy Online
While kids do have preferences, most can find a way to have fun with almost anything. Just be sure that the pieces are age-appropriate to prevent choking or injuries.
1. Battat Farmers Market Basket
Best Full Sensory Toy
This play set includes fruits and veggies attached together with velcro that kids can “cut” apart. This set is great for kids who like to watch mom and dad cook, and it even comes with two cutting boards and knives so siblings or friends can play together.
Reviewers write that the knife is comfortable for kids to hold and that the whole set is very well made. The velcro is fairly strong, which means it makes a satisfying crunch sound and provides realistic tactile feedback when cut.
|Materials||BPA- and phthalate-free plastic|
|Size||10″ x 8″ x 3.5″|
2. Tresbro Wooden Dentist Tool Toys
Best High-Quality Medical Set
This extremely high-quality play dentist kit is perfect for kids curious about their bodies. Each part is made from wood aside from the real, working stethoscope.
Reviewers write that this set is very well-made and will last years of regular wear and tear. Do note, however, that several of the smaller pieces are removable (teeth, toothpaste cap, etc.), so be sure to keep an eye on younger kids.
|Materials||Wood with non-toxic water-based paint; metal stethoscope|
3. Melissa & Doug Take-Along Tool Kit
Best for Kids Who Like to Build
This tool kit doesn’t only come with play tools, but it also acts as a medium for kids to use the tools on. It comes with screwdrivers, screws, and pegs that you can use to customize the box with.
Reviewers note that the pieces fit snugly into the box, which gives kids the ability to “turn it into” something else for other imaginary games. However, it may be a little difficult for younger kids to figure out how to use at first.
|Size||9.9″ x 5.5″ x 4.8″|
4. Maple Landmark Mites Wooden Cars
Best Wooden Toy Cars
These cars are the perfect size for small hands and imprecise fingers. They’re made from wood and have no small parts, which makes them great for little ones who may still be prone to putting things in their mouths.
Reviewers appreciate that they’re made in the US and are vibrant and well-constructed. They roll smoothly, though not quite as smooth as a plastic car would and may get a little stuck on carpet.
|Materials||Wood with non-toxic paint|
5. Learning Resources Pretend & Play Calculator Cash Register
Best Kids’ Cash Register
This cash register is a great introduction to money for kindergarten-age kids. It comes with life-sized bills and coins and a scale, and features a working calculator. It also comes with four interactive learning programs.
Reviewers write that it’s a great toy for younger children without the batteries and a good learning resource for older ones with the batteries in.
|Size||13″ x 9.5″ x 8″|
6. Learning Resources Primary Science Lab Set
Best First Science Kit
This science kit is great for curious kids and fosters a sense of discovery and learning. It comes with several activity cards that explain how to use the kit to conduct experiments using items you should already have at home.
Reviewers write that while it’s appropriate for younger kids, it’s still a great kit for kids already in elementary school as they might be able to do the experiments all on their own.
7. Grimm’s Set of 12 Rainbow Friends Peg Dolls
Best Simple Dolls for Imaginative Play
These extremely high-quality peg dolls are attractive yet generic enough to inspire hours of creative play. They are larger than they look, made from one solid piece of wood, and completely safe for even the youngest children.
Reviewers write that they’re durable and can withstand years of daily use (and abuse). They also note that kids tend to like these more than other plastic toys or electronics.
|Materials||Wood with non-toxic paint|
|Size||6.1″ x 4.1″ x 2.8″ together; 1.25″ in diameter each|
8. Teamson Kids Little Chef Florence Classic Kids Play Kitchen
Best Pretend Kitchen
This play kitchen is the perfect size for a toddler or early elementary child. It comes with moving knobs, working doors, and a few other kitchen accessories.
Reviewers appreciate the wooden construction and timeless look of the set that allows it to blend into home decor. It’s fairly easy to assemble alone and is quite sturdy (though rough children may need to be taught to treat the downwards-opening oven gently).
|Materials||Wood with lead-free paint|
|Size||38″ x 21.5″ x 12″|
9. Prextex Plush Farm House
Best Plush Toy Set
This plush horse set is perfect for animal-loving children of all ages. The horses hold their positions, stand on their own, and support the farmer figure. Plus, the barn has real, open windows and a carrying handle.
Reviewers write that all of the pieces are very well stitched and that none of them could come apart easily. Parents report that it holds up well to daily play and kids who like to carry it everywhere.
|Size||Barn: 11″; Horses: 5″ long|
10. Melissa & Doug Let’s Play House! Dust! Sweep! Mop! Pretend Play Set
Best Functional Toy
For kids who like to help out around the house, this functional cleaning set is sure to be a hit (with mom and dad too!). It’s the perfect size for older toddlers and younger elementary students, and the heads are quite effective.
Do note that the mop has a hard connective disk in the center that could be rough on hardwood floors. Reviewers write that it’s well-made and easy for kids to handle.
How to Choose a Pretend Play Toy – Buying Guide
Finding the right toy is about striking a balance between preferences and some of the factors featured below.
Find a Toy That’s Age-Appropriate or One Your Child Can Grow With
Though some kids may not be picky about what they play with, it’s important to find a toy that’s appropriate for your child’s developmental stage.
The littlest ones probably won’t care much about what a toy is so long as it’s engaging and stimulating. To that effect, look for toys that are colorful and made from different materials to activate their senses. Slightly older kids will benefit from toys that work their fine motor skills–toys with more moving parts or component pieces that come apart.
For early elementary-age kids, look for toys that encourage them to act out real-life situations with more detailed parts. Some examples of this type of toys include doctor sets with various tools, kitchen sets with utensils, and store sets with toy money.
Ensure That Parts are Non-Toxic and Aren’t a Choking Hazard
For parents of young children especially, it’s important to ensure that all of a toy’s parts (including glues and paints) are non-toxic and won’t accidentally come off. For plastic toys, look for labeling that says plastics are BPA-free. For wooden toys, check whether the description specifically says the paint is non-toxic.
And remember that even if it looks like there are no small parts, you should always pay attention to your little ones to make sure they’re not putting anything they shouldn’t be into their mouths.
Look for a Toy That Fits in Your Space
Some pretend play toys like miniature kitchens or playhouses can take up quite a bit of space. And while they may be fun for kids, it probably won’t be as fun for you if it takes up half of your living room. So, be sure to check measurements before buying, especially if you’re on the hunt for something larger.
It could also be important to look at measurements if you’re looking for toys that can match with other toys in your child’s collection–for example, if you’re looking for a kitchen and utensil set that will fit the fake food you already own.
For Industrious Little Ones, Look for Functional Toys to Help Mom and Dad
Some pretend play toys are a little less pretend than others and actually function as miniature versions of real adult products. Many of these are cleaning- or cooking-related items and can be used by little ones to help parents around the house. These are great for encouraging responsibility and beginning to implement chores while also allowing kids to feel grown up.
Why Pretend Play is Important for Children
While math and reading are undoubtedly beneficial for children to learn, it’s perhaps equally important for kids to play pretend as it helps them develop important life skills. For instance, pretend play can help kids learn to navigate social and emotional situations as they take on characters and see the world through different eyes.
If they’re playing with other kids, it also gives them a chance to practice patience, cooperation, and communication/ language skills. Often, kids pretend to take part in situations that they may not ever have been in (have you ever seen a 4-year-old cashier?), and acting out a role allows them to use words and phrases that they may have heard somewhere and wouldn’t otherwise get the chance to try.
And of course, pretend play is a fantastic way for kids to stretch their imagination and critical thinking skills as they create scenarios and rewrite the rules of the world to fit their imagined world.
Pretend play is an invaluable part of being a kid, and having the right toys can make it that much more believable for them. Just be sure that the one you choose is high-quality and built to last.
By Jacqueline Oshiro
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