As children, we all have imagined having superhero powers and fighting villains. Such pretend play for kids is beneficial as it fires their imagination and makes them creative. Even if it is wearing mother’s makeup and clothes as a costume or acting like a school teacher, the pretend play game takes them into another fascinating fantasy or make-believe world. It also helps keep the children entertained for a long time and boosts their physical and mental skills. In this post, we bring some interesting pretend play ideas and games that encourage them to play and enjoy more. You can also make beautiful memories by recording your little one’s imitations.
When Do Kids Start Pretend Play?
Babies aged one to two years start showing the first signs of pretend play as they imitate the actions of adults they see around them. When toddlers reach three years, their thinking and imagination skills develop, and they learn to use regular objects as symbols (1) (2). Apart from gestures, they now try to talk or pick up peculiar behavior that they notice in adults.
Benefits Of Pretend Play For Kids
Pretend play is highly beneficial for a child’s mental and physical growth. The following are some reasons why you must encourage your child to indulge in pretend play.
- Linguistic skills: Pretend play helps a child develop linguistic skills (3). When children imitate adults, they use words and phrases that adults usually use. As they reenact scenarios with their friends and use these words and phrases, they learn to make a connection between written and spoken language (4).
- Problem-solving skills: When children imitate adults and imagine themselves in certain situations, they learn how to adjust and react like adults. For instance, if they are playing a game in which two children want to play the role of their teacher, they will have to find a solution to continue playing the game (5).
- Social skills: Pretend play helps children develop social skills and explore complex social ideas (6). For instance, if your child has taken up the role of a superhero and their friends are evil enemies, they will have to learn how to allocate characters to each one and remember to allow every child to become a superhero, and know how to react to others’ actions. Funny enactment can elicit a good laugh from all the children involved in the play.
A study of 100 children aged between 3- to 6-years in the United States revealed that the children usually preferred to carry out actual tasks over pretend ones, such as cutting vegetables. In addition, children frequently mentioned that they enjoyed practical real activities because they wanted to assist their parents in chores. Children endorsed hands-on activities as they found them highly engaging and fun.
Preference for real or pretend play/activities among young childrenSource: When it’s playtime, many kids prefer reality over fantasy; Science News/Developmental Science
Source: When it’s playtime, many kids prefer reality over fantasy; Science News/Developmental Science
30 Pretend Play Ideas For Kids
Pretend play can be a form of adventure if your child imagines it to be one. Here are some ideas that will engage your child in pretend play.
1. My tiny house
Using pieces of cardboard, build a small house for your little one. You could place a stool inside it so your child can sit comfortably. Create windows and decorate them with curtains using some old cloth. Let your child have their own house and take care of it like an adult. You can even give them a doll to keep them company in their own little house.
2. Dr. Dolittle
Get your child a doctor’s playset and some stuffed animal toys. They can wear a white jacket of their choice and pretend to be a veterinarian. Your child can then examine the health of these little animals and prescribe the medicines.
3. Little mailman
Create small colorful envelopes and stick them to a wall in your house. Write a family member’s name on each envelope. You can leave a mock letter in these envelopes, and your child can role-play a mailman, delivering each letter to the person to whom the letter belongs.
Your child can become a candy seller while you arrange for fake colorful candies placed in jars. You may act as a customer and ask your child to give you some candies and pay them some fake money. By the end of the game, your child can count their money and buy something from you with the money. This can also be an outdoor game if you set up a candy cart for your child in your backyard.
5. The special town
Get your child miniature versions of their favorite superheroes. Paint some old cartons and biscuit boxes and use them as buildings. Now, your child has a new town filled with superheroes who will save the city from the apocalypse. Encourage them to try storytelling by creating a story around the town and its natives.
You could improvise it further by adding the theme of a farm. Jackie, a teacher, shares how she prepares for her new themed dramatic play sessions. She says, “To begin the new farm theme, I put out tons of non-fiction books about life on the farm. We create an Idea Chart/Web. I task the students to “research” using the books (aka look at the photos). We discuss what farm animals, supplies, places, people, and food are on a farm. I use post-it notes so they will stick to the chart. It also shows me students’ prior knowledge and any misconceptions they may have… It gets the students excited for the next theme (i).”
6. The librarian
If you have a personal collection of books, you can ask your little one to arrange them and lend them to your family members like a librarian. Encourage them to have an interaction with the pretend library members. Of course, do not expect them to keep every book in its proper place and accept whatever the librarian gives you to read.
Create small tents with clean bedsheets and scarves. Use cardboard to create a pair of wings, a tiara, and a star wand. Now come up with a fairytale in which your little one is a princess of her town, and the citizens have to obey her orders. If she has friends over, she can play the role of a good princess who is known for her friendship with the common folk of the fairyland.
Buy a white round cap and a pair of extra-large glasses. Your child can dress in a smart pair of trousers and a shirt. Give them a fake magnifying glass, and let them act like a detective looking for clues to their lost soft toy.
9. Kids market
Has your child ever been to a market? Why not create a market for them at home where they can sell fake vegetables, fish, and meat? You can offer them fake Monopoly money and buy fresh veggies and fish from them. Try to bargain, and see if they lower the price.
You can find tons of plastic kitchenware for kids in the market. Buy one that suits your child. You could also buy some plastic veggies and fruits and a chef’s hat. Allow your child to create their unique food item and relish their fusion dish.
11. Pizza parlor
Cut a round base out of a pizza box. Next, cut the remaining pieces of the cardboard in the shapes of your favorite topping and then color them. Tell your child that you are hungry and want a pizza. Allow your munchkin with a chef’s hat to make a delicious pizza for dinner.
If your child loves playing with mommy’s makeup kit, let them try some makeup themselves. Let them apply makeup from a plastic makeup set and get ready to meet their friends or go shopping.
13. Doctor, doctor
Get a kid’s doctor set and tell them you feel unwell. Let them wear their white jacket and examine you with their stethoscope. Pretend to whine a little when they give you an injection, and take the medicines they prescribe you.
14. Travel play
Arrange some chairs and place a soft toy on each chair. You may take one chair too. Hand your child a pilot’s control wheel or yoke. Tell them they are the pilot of the airplane, and that the toys are passengers. It is now up to the pilot to fly them to any location of their choice.
15. Playdough bakery
If your child loves sweets, let them open their bakery where they can sell cakes and pastries made of colorful play dough. Let them create their own cakes by mixing ingredients of their choice.
16. Camping at home
Let your little explorer set out camping but in the safety of your home. Bunch up some pillows as mountains and build a kid’s tent in your house where your child can spend some time like a camper. At night they can narrate scary stories using puppets. Do not mind if they trek around the house like an actual camper.
17. Office worker
Make a laptop for your child using a cereal box. Next, dress them up in smart formals. Let them sit at their table and work on the laptop the way they see their mommy and daddy work on their computers.
18. Music time
If your child loves music, a kid’s guitar or drum set or even piano will help them get into rock mode. Dress your child in some funky pair of pants and jacket and hand them their favorite musical instrument that they can play and pretend to perform a live concert for you. Encourage them to dance like a real rockstar.
19. Speed racer
Create the exterior of a car and a steering wheel using some old diaper boxes. Paint it in the color of your child’s choice. Let your child wear a cool pair of sunglasses and drive their way to the finish line.
20. Little scientist
Your child might need some transparent plastic jars, colorful water, and a measuring cup. Allow your child to become a little scientist in their laboratory by conducting tests with colorful water. Tell them to mix liquids and notice how colors change as a result.
Let your little one sit on a small basket and hand them a kids’ fishing rod. On the floor, scatter some fish cutouts with the letters of the alphabet written on them. You can glue on magnets or use a bent paperclip and punch holes in the fish so they can pick them up. Now, tell them to catch the fish of a particular letter. This way, not only will they learn letters but also hone their motor skills.
22. Anytime money
Do you want to teach your child simple calculations? Build an ATM box and place fake money in that box. You can hand a fake card to your child and let them withdraw some money from the ATM. This way, your child can learn numbers.
23. TV Star
Using cardboard, create a box big enough for your child to fit in. Cut out a window on the front. Your child can dress up any way they want and pretend they are on TV. Be the viewer and enjoy their show.
You don’t have to go to the theater to catch the new superhero film. You can watch them in your house. Create elastic cuffs with a symbol of your choice for your child, and tell them it is their superpower. For instance, draw lightning bolts on the cuffs, and tell them they can hit any flying object with those lightning bolts.
25. Tea party
Gather all your child’s soft toys in one room. Ask your child to organize a tea party using some play tea set. Remember to let your child dress up and play a good host to their cute guests.
Tell your child they can fly. Using two old plastic bottles, create a jetpack for your child, and let them wear it on their back. With the jetpack on their back, they can fly to any place in the world.
27. Car wash
Stack a few chairs against each other and hang some clean socks from it. You can tell your child to crawl from under the chairs and cross the train of socks hanging from it. Like car wash, they too get clean and shiny each time they go from under the chair.
Build a home for your children and another home for yourself using mattresses and pillows. The two houses next to each other make you neighbors, and your children can acts as though they own the mattress house where they sleep, eat, and spend time.
29. Child care
Get a toy baby for your child, and ask them to care for them like a parent. They have to feed the toy, bath it, put it to sleep, take it for rides outside, and so on. In short, you are training them to care for a younger sibling if one arrives in the future.
30. Ice cream parlor
You can get your child a play ice cream cart and ask them to serve you an ice cream cone. They can give the cart a name and mix flavors to come up with a new, unique ice cream flavor.
How To Choose Suitable Toys For Pretend Play?
Choosing suitable toys for pretend play involves considering the child’s age, interests, and developmental stage. For toddlers, select simple and safe toys, like dolls, stuffed animals, and toy vehicles, that encourage exploration. As children grow, they opt for more complex sets that stimulate imagination, such as dress-up costumes, play kitchens, or toolsets. Ensure the toys are age-appropriate and do not have small parts that could be choking hazards. Look for open-ended and versatile toys, allowing for a range of creative scenarios. Encourage gender-neutral play by selecting a variety of toys and avoiding stereotypes. High-quality, durable materials ensure longevity and safety. Finally, consider educational value; toys that mimic real-life situations, like doctor’s kits or grocery stores, can teach valuable life skills and social interactions.
Frequently Asked Questions
1. How do I teach my child pretend plays?
To teach children pretend plays, you should (7)
- Show the actions and gestures you want them to learn
- Observe their interests and play with them accordingly
- Introduce new toys but do not get too many toys at a time
- Introduce simple actions and keep repeating them until they learn
- Get involved in the pretend plays
- Expose children to new ideas and experiences
2. What are the stages of pretend play?
The stages of pretend play are (7):
- Self pretend (12- 18 months): Children pretend to do a single task.
- Simple pretend (18- 24 months): Children perform simple actions with toys or people.
- Series of familiar actions (24- 30 months): Children pretend to perform actions from familiar routines.
- Series of less familiar actions (30-36 months): Children learn to perform actions based on new themes.
- Role play (three to five years): Children choose imaginary themes for pretend plays. They may also perform on stage with others.
3. What is the psychology of pretend play?
Pretend play is essential to a child’s development, including linguistic, social, emotional, and cognitive domains. It promotes creativity, empathy, self-regulation, and problem-solving skills while supporting the development of various talents and capacities.
Pretend play for kids is a fun way for them to mimic what they see around them. Apart from the ideas mentioned above your child can also pretend to be a builder who creates a building using cardboard blocks. Pretending to be someone else or be in an imaginary situation is an art that can hone a child’s imagination and creativity. It also helps them to express themselves better. Also, interacting with other children during pretend play can boost their social, communication, and cognitive abilities. But it can be effective only if there is full cooperation from your child. So, nurture your little one’s innate interest in pretend play by providing them with age-appropriate toys. Further, play along with them using these engaging and entertaining pretend play ideas for kids to make this natural learning process more fun and exciting.
Infographic: Potential Benefits Of Pretend Play In Your Child’s Development
Pretend play or imaginative play develops thinking skills in children and helps them stay entertained for hours. Children can use their imagination to become anything or visit any place while playing. This forms an important part of their psychological development. The infographic below highlights the benefits of pretend play for children.
- Pretend play benefits a child’s linguistic, problem-solving, and social skills development.
- Babies show the signs of pretend play from the age of one to two years when they start to imitate the activities they observe.
- Plays such as Dr. Dolittle, Fairyland, Detective, and MasterChef are examples of pretend play.
Vlad and Niki are back with another exciting adventure! Watch as they pretend play with their toys and tell funny stories for children. Get ready to be giggled and entertained thoroughly!
Personal Experience: Source
1. Toddlers (1-2 years of age) – Developmental Milestones; CDC
2. Toddlers (2-3 years of age) – Developmental Milestones; CDC
3. Myae Han;Does Play Make a Difference?; How play intervention affects the vocabulary learning of at-risk preschoolers; University of Illinois
4. 4 Benefits of Imaginative Play for Young Children; Horizon Education Centers
5. The benefits of imaginative play; Therapy Focus
6. Social Development in Preschoolers; American Academy of Pediatrics
7. The Land of Make Believe: How and Why to Encourage Pretend Play; The Hanen Centre