little girl playing doctor with doll pretend play

The Importance of Pretend Play for Toddlers: 8 Special Toys to Spark Imagination

Oh, the toddler stage. The toddler stage is so full of learning and imagination and pretend play takes center stage. Anything can be turned into a toy. Even something as simple as a cardboard box! Yes, we’ve had to fight our toddler over recycling cardboard boxes on trash days on many occasions. 😆 While there is nothing wrong with a cardboard box (in fact, it is a great open-ended toy to spur imagination and creativity), pretend toys are great for long-lasting fun and should be a part of any playroom.

This blog post will be a guide to pretend play for toddlers. It will list the best pretend toys for babies, toddlers, and bigger kids that can spark creativity and imagination. Use this guide for special occasions, such as birthdays or the holidays!

Pretend play for toddlers encourage creativity in toddlers and helps develop fine and gross motor skills. Pretend play also helps develop important social and higher-order thinking skills.

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Why is Pretend Play Important for Toddlers?

Pretend play and toys are vital for toddlers because they encourage creativity. Like a cardboard box, they inspire imagination. They can also help the development of important skills, from social skills to higher-order thinking skills.

For example, caring for farm animals will teach toddlers how to be kind and compassionate. Pretend toys allow for hands-on play. They also allow for the application of play to real-world relationships, such as visiting the pediatrician or cleaning the house.

Also, pretend toys help develop fine motor and gross motor skills. Many of the toys listed will strengthen dexterity and improve hand-eye coordination.

Who knew toys could do so much in a playful setting! Without further ado, here is the guide for the best toys for pretend play for toddlers!

little boy pretending to be a pilot in a cardboard box pretend play

Doctor/Vet Set

By getting a doctor or vet set, you can help prepare your toddler for an upcoming visit to the pediatrician. Let them pretend to give their favorite stuffed animal a check-up. This can include listening to their heartbeat to even getting those dreaded shots. Doing this will show your toddler that going to the doctor is normal and there’s nothing to be afraid of!

Pet Groomer/Care Set

Let your toddler feed and take care of their stuffed animals with a pet groomer set. This will encourage imaginative play and can provide lessons about responsible pet ownership. If your family is thinking of adding a furry family member, a pet groomer and care set is perfect to prepare your little one.

Animal Figurine Set

An animal figurine set is made for endless imaginative play. This set can also be used to practice counting and sorting. With farm animals, your toddler will have fun taking care of them on the farm. This ranges from feeding them to organizing them into separate stables.

With jungle animals, your toddler can have the monkey swinging all over the living room or have the tiger meet the elephant at the nearby watering hole.

As a plus, animal figurines transition to sensory activities very well! For example, you can have “dirty” animals that need to be cleaned and scrubbed in a water table. Or the animals can be stuck in ice for an ice painting activity!

Use your little one’s interests to guide you in what kind of animal figurine set to get. Do they like farm animals and have a farmhouse that would fit these animals perfectly? Or do they love the zoo and would absolutely burst if given a jungle animal set?

Home Cleaning Set

As all parents know, toddlers LOVE making a mess! But cleaning? Not so much. Encourage your little ones to be responsible by getting a mini cleaning set that mimics the adult-sized version.

These cleaning sets can come with little vacuum cleaners, mops, and more. This way, your toddler can clean up their “house” on their own or can help you while you do real housekeeping. You kill two birds with one stone by playing with your child AND having a clean house once playtime is over!

Kitchen Set/Play Dishes

To go along with cleaning, toddlers are fascinated with the kitchen and dishes. I can’t tell you how many times I walk into the kitchen and all of the lower cabinets are open. Dishes are strewn about while my toddler is “cooking” on the floor with dried beans.

Get your toddler their own kitchen set and play dishes that are perfectly sized for them. They’ll love cooking their own “food”, then serving it to you or their stuffed animals at a fancy picnic.

Play Food

While your toddler can make anything into pretend food when playing with their kitchen set and play dishes (dirt, anyone?), pretend play food is even better!

There are a variety of options out there. There is wooden food that looks realistic and there are ones that velcro together so your little one can practice cutting skills. Play food can also help teach children the basics of nutrition and can be used to practice counting or sorting!

Toy Toolbox

Is your toddler always interested whenever the toolbox is brought out to fix something around the house? It’s time for their own toy toolbox!

Your handyman will enjoy “fixing” things while also developing their fine motor skills. Toy toolboxes come with mini versions of common tools, such as a hammer, screwdriver, drill, nuts, and bolts. Show your toddler how to hammer toy nails into a cardboard box and they’ll stay occupied for a while!

Cash Register

What better way to encourage a love of math and calculator skills than with a toy cash register?

Your toddler will love the “ka-ching” sound as they pretend to shop for food or when they ring up their stuffed animal’s items. Older children can practice early math skills, such as addition and subtraction.

What Pretend Toy is Best for My Toddler?

While this list of pretend toys covers most of the basics, it is by no means an exhaustive list. Pretend toys can be virtually limitless. Before making any decisions, observe your child. See what interests them. What pretend play do they gravitate towards more? Ask them how they like to play. Use those observations and discussions to guide you in which pretend toy to add to your playroom. Whatever you choose to get (or not get, that’s okay too!), pretend play is an amazing way for your toddler to use their imagination and learn through play!

little girl pretending to serve tea pretend play

Final Thoughts on Pretend Play for Toddlers

Am I the only one who gets excited about this list of pretend toys? I want to get ALL of them! We love pretend play so much in our house that I’m sure we will eventually have most of this list.

This list will be great to share with grandparents, aunts, and uncles, and friends for gifts, so be sure to pin in for later (or discreetly send it to their inbox 😉).

Tell me your toddler’s favorite pretend toy and/or activity in the comments below!

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