Teacher Favorites: Pretend Play

Today I wanted to share my favorite toys for pretend play. I wanted to create a few posts in case you are a parent or grown up in a child’s life and are looking for gift ideas. These lists are also great for teachers who are looking to add more play into their curriculum and day.

Sometimes I let my daughter choose her toys…we go to a store or check out a website and let her chose something she’s drawn to. I will say, though, most of the time she chooses toys she plays with for a few minutes or a few days. The toys she comes back to are the ones I researched, and found toys that are well loved by kids and parents.

Today I will be sharing Amazon affiliate links. That means I get a small stipend when someone purchases from my link. It is at no cost to you, and I use that income to keep this website up and running.

The great thing about pretend play is you don’t need any fancy toys! You can use things from your kitchen, your closet, or even outside for pretend play. I wanted to share some suggestions in case you are looking to purchase something, or ask for gifts.

What are the benefits of pretend play?

Pretend play offers so many benefits! It is difficult for some kids, and it’s probably not worth forcing. Instead of forcing a specific kind of pretend play, I encourage you to take their lead and see how they’re playing. They might like role playing from their favorite movie, or pretending to be a beloved family member. Pretend play helps kids to:

  • understand and express their emotions
  • develop empathy
  • use creativity and imagination
  • develop expressive language
  • develop content specific vocabulary
  • build number sense and mathematical concepts

There are so many other benefits of pretend play! What are some benefits you’ve seen?

Play Kitchen and Play Food

Play kitchens and food are definitely a favorite! We actually have a plastic kitchen outside that we use more frequently, because she loves using dirt, leaves, and mud to cook with.

Play kitchens create a constant “invitation to play” and lead to such engaging pretend play. They don’t require much from the adult…just setting it up, and you’ll find your child or student cooking, serving, cleaning, etc.

I wanted to share some of my favorite kitchens and food items, but there are so many options! My #1 suggestion is to check your local Facbebook groups and Marketplace. People are frequently getting rid of their kitchens and toys, and you can find some that are in great condition for a great price. You also don’t have to worry about putting anything together, and it’s a great sustainable way to get new toys for your home or classroom.

If you don’t have room in your house, I totally recommend getting a plastic one to keep outside. There are beautiful wooden, mud kitchens, but I’ve found just as much success and play with a cheaper plastic one. The Ikea kitchen is great for small spaces, and is less expensive than a lot of other options.

My daughter LOVES her play sink. We have one from Lovevery, but we’ve also played with some Amazon ones. Because they’re working sinks, they lead to pretend play, but she also spends a ton of time just pouring, scooping, and scrubbing.

We REALLY love the wooden foot that she can cut. We have this set from Hape, and it’s held up super well! The Learning Resources version are plastic, but they also sturdier than other brands.

Costumes and Dress Up

In our house, we LOVE costumes! When my daughter’s preschool teacher asked for costumes to keep in their class, I was thrilled. It’s amazing the way putting on a cape or dress can encourage creativity and innovation. I really encourage you to think outside the gender box! Superhero and princess costumes are always super popular, but I really love having “career” outfits readily available too!

Some of my favorites include:

I also love play scarves, because they are can be so many costumes. You can use them to make capes, dresses, skirts, and more! Sarah’s Silks are an investment, but they are such high quality and lead to so much open ended play.

Doctor or Vet Kit

Having our children or students pretend play being a doctor or vet allows them to share their fears around procedures (like shots or blood draws), talk about our bodies and parts, and encourages a love for science and learning.

PlanToys is one of our favorite brands, and this vet set is so cute. I love that it includes X-Rays. The Melissa and Doug set is great too! This kit is adorable too, and it comes with a kennel that Everly would LOVE!

I really love this doctor kit from Melissa and Doug. They also have a matching first aid kit.

If you have a ton of space and are looking for a big gift the vet and doctor play kits are SO cool. We don’t have the space, and I don’t know that it would get enough use, but she loves playing with them at play places and at friends houses. The Animal Care set is so cut for animal lovers, and the Get Well Center would lead to hours of play.

Cash Register

You can add a cash register to any type of play! You can pay for the food your child makes, or the vet care they just gave their favorite stuffed animal. There are a ton of options for cash registers, but here are some of my favorite.

We love everything from Learning Resources. It’s on the pricier side, but usually they are super sturdy and come with high quality pieces.

We’ve gotten a toy of play with our Ikea cash register too!

I also really love this wallet from Melissa and Doug!

Market or Store

The last toy on my list is another “big” item. You absolutely do NOT need to have this in your house to promote pretend play. But if you have the space and budget, your child or students might really enjoy it.

I love this store from KidKraft, because it has great storage, and is pretty small. It also comes with the little cash register!

If you have a big play area, the Melissa and Doug store is super popular, and your child will love it.

This is a great set from TenderLeaf that doubles as a puppet theater. On one side, there’s a cute little market, and the other has a stage for a puppet show.

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