Pretend play offers children a chance to explore roles and develop imagination. They learn to interact with others, which in turn builds self-awareness, social, emotional and conversation skills, and broadens their learning opportunities.
Encouraging pretend play is immensely important to your child’s development. Sense of self, communication skills, and resiliency are all practiced through pretending.
From the time your child is about 3 years old (give or take), pretending becomes a part of daily interaction. Imaginary friends, teddy-bears who “come to life”, role-playing “family”: these are the joys of childhood.
In today’s post, I’ve outlined some of my children’s favorite toys that encourage pretend play.
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Play Kitchen (we have this one, pictured above and below)
The most common response from the elder generation when Santa brought this gift to our house full of boys was, “Isn’t that a girl-toy?” My response was simple, “Santa is an equal-opportunity provider.”
Without getting too far into the debate about gender-specific toys, who says boys shouldn’t get comfortable in the kitchen? As a matter of fact, in our home, my husband does the cooking (I don’t know how I got so lucky), so it only made sense to expose my son to this sort of toy. Since then, he’s been involved in helping us roll the dough and assemble pizza, pass the pasta through the pasta cutter, and bake cookies, so why couldn’t he “practice” in his own kitchen?
When we bought this toy three years ago, we only had one child at the time, and he played with it every day for hours on end. Now my little guy, who is nearly 2 years old, is the primary participant in kitchen-play, but it’s a toy that the boys will often play with together.
Two additional perks to having a play kitchen that I hadn’t anticipated:
- It engaged our caregivers! Who would say no to a little boy who asks if you’d like a cup of tea? Our son has always been very eager to include others as he plays, and this kitchen has encouraged him to learn from our caregivers as they act out cooking, serving and cleaning tasks with him. Since each person operates in her own way, he learned to make meatballs out of tin foil, set the oven timer, and invite guests over the phone to join him for supper!
- Bonus: the refrigerator doubles as storage for toys baskets and games!
“Doll House” (we have this Fire station/Police station)
We wanted our kids to engage in pretend play, but didn’t want to buy a doll house, so we bought what is essentially a doll house for boys! What impressed me the most about this toy is that it comes with EVERYTHING, people, pets, furniture, vehicles, the whole nine yards. Some of my favorites include: bunk beds, treadmill, bathtub, dog bowls, basketball court, and helicopter. They really thought of everything with this one. When family and friends come over, this is the toy that the kids all want to play with. And what’s especially nice is that it opens up wide enough for more than one child to play with at once and it interests both boys and girls—score!
By the age of three, many kids are interested in (read: obsessed with) some sort of Disney, Sesame Street, or Super Hero character. Even if your child doesn’t watch television, he or she has likely been exposed to a Disney princess, Elmo, or Spiderman in some capacity.
Costumes add to the fun of pretend play. Kids can pretend to be anything they desire, any day of the year—even after Halloween!
The costumes in our home include a fireman, a knight, a dinosaur, a construction worker, and a baseball player. Some of them get more use than others, but they have been worn by neighborhood friends, cousins, classmates, and are still in great shape.
Keep in mind that you don’t need to BUY costumes for kids to dress up. Some of the items my boys run to time and again are hats (baseball caps, sun hats, or ones with ear flaps!), sunglasses, and scarves. They will try on our shoes and dress each other to make the craziest outfits possible—and we never tire of it!
My boys love to take out their toy tools whenever my husband is working in the garage or fixing something. They received a play tool bench one year and rarely use it, but the tools are used all the time (this one is great for little ones). While the hammer is probably the most used, the tape measure is their hands-down favorite for its retractable properties. Toy tape measures don’t keep their interest as well as the real ones, and although it’s probably not “recommended” for children, we let them use the real ones under supervision. They love to see how tall things are and identify the numbers on it!
· Cash registers: kids LOVE to play with pretend money (construction paper, old coupons, used gift cards, Velcro wallets)
· Tea cup set (the plastic kind, of course!)
· Food: You can buy (or make) anything from pizza toppings, to sliceable fruits and veggies (complete with a cutting board and plastic knife).
· Animal figurines (Little People or figurines from the Dollar store) to play zoo, farm, or jungle
· People: this can be characters they like or generic boys and girls that can be used to play “family” (my son’s favorite!)
The Bottom Line
Encourage your kids to be creative, role play, and think outside the box. You don’t have to spend a lot of money (or any!) to provide your children with fun opportunities that will help them learn and grow. Hey, you might learn something in the process!
Which toys do your children love to pretend with? Let me know in the comments!
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**This post contains affiliate links. I earn a commission for purchases made through links in this post, at no additional cost to you. As always, all opinions are my own.