10 Best Pretend Play Toys for Kids in 2019

One of the most useful types of play for kids especially in terms of developing their divergent problem-solving skills, self-regulation skills, and counterfactual-reasoning skills is make-believe or pretend play. This kind of play helps children prepare for the different roles that the world may expect of them once they grow up as adults. It is therefore crucial to choose the correct pretend play toys to help bring out the best in children especially in terms of their cognitive, social, and emotional development.

Last Updated:
By Hristina:

In our most recent update, we have raised the bar even higher limiting our list of the "Best Pretend Play Toys" to only 10 toys, cutting the previous list in HALF! That means the toys listed below have to be the best of the best to make our list this time around. Each and every toy featured in this article is sure to help your child's imagination continue to grow and blossom!

Our Top 3 Picks

Learning Resources Cash Register
  • Learning Resources Cash Register
  • 5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • Solar Calculator
  • Price: See Here
Learning Resources Doctor Set
  • Learning Resources Doctor Set
  • 4.5 out of 5
    Our rating
  • 19 Pieces
  • Price: See Here
Kidzlane Childrens Dish Set
  • Kidzlane Childrens Dish Set
  • 4.3 out of 5
    Our rating
  • 29 Pieces + Drainer
  • Price: See Here

Criteria Used to Evaluate The Best Pretend Play Toys

Child Development and Pretend Play

Pretend play is a way for your child to discover that he can become anything he wants. His imagination can take him to any land he wants to go to. This is something that can encourage confidence, and as he grows, he will mature into a person that can be empathetic to others. Eventually, he could even teach those skills to other kids as they play together.

Build emotional skills and empathy for others.

By playing make-believe games and telling stories by role-playing, kids learn how to handle emotions such as frustration and being frightened, for example.  Parents and friends can play a role, too, by teaching how to problem solve so they learn and don’t get frustrated, but solve the problem instead.

Or if they are scared of the dark, parents can teach how to use a night light so the darkness goes away. Then reverse roles so that their child does the teaching.  If they can teach parents how not to be afraid of the dark, then they can feel more comforted and confident in themselves.

These are just examples, but there are many roles that any child can take on so that he learns to problem-solve, make friends, and learn to look at things from someone else’s perspective. Family can help out by suggesting and showing how it’s done. But it’s always good to give a kid time to play on his own so he can make up his own stories and try out different points of view. The more a child can learn at this stage, the better he will become at relating to others as he grows up.

Language and Communications Skills

Kids learn new words as they play, as long as the words were/are taught to them.  They learn them from parents talking and reading to them and from family and friends.  As children play in their make-believe worlds, they talk to themselves or their dolls and practice putting words together in phrases and sentences.

Parents can use objects and pretend play toys to teach kids to recognize what the objects are, and as they mature, they can start writing the words and even numbers. They learn colors, and numbers and words, using them more and more as they grow up. Kids are sponges at this age, and they can take in lots of information as they engage in more experiences, so as adults, we can give them what they can handle. A repetition is a good form of learning, too.

Language gives kids power, and they learn this fairly quickly.  Words and thoughts put together in pretend play can help kids think better as they learn to problem-solve.  It helps them get to thinking about solving problems in the form of many different solutions.  Kids learn to become creative in their solutions so they get much less frustrated, especially as they come out of the ‘terrible twos.”   Better thinking, less frustration, better behavior.

As kids grow and play with others, language helps her create stories with another child as they learn how to negotiate which roles each will play, switching roles, sharing toys, control of toys and the entire story.  This helps them come up with solutions to problems and learning from and teaching each other.  They act out make-believe events that go on in their own worlds.  As they grow, they watch family and friends, and it gives them new material to be creative with.

Thinking and Problem-Solving Skills

Kids can use pretend play to learn how to think and grow in cognition.  It helps them think about multiple answers to questions and many solutions to problems.  This is called divergent thinking and is one the basic tenets of becoming more creative.  It’s opposite is convergent thinking, the process of coming up with finite solutions. Kids boost their cognitive thinking and problem-solving skills by engaging in pretend play.

Kids learn thought patterns by creating scenarios in which they imitate parents, siblings, and others.  They repeat actions they see and sounds they hear. Parents are sometimes amazed at what their children remember about conversations their parents had.  Children say the darndest things is a phrase that often comes to mind.  This is because kids soak up information from the world around them at a fantastic rate.

Kids can imitate their friends and even the superheroes they see on tv.  When they are superheroes, children can take the role of saving people and caring for them.  Maybe they pretend they are a nurse or doctor with a doctor’s bag and instruments.  They get to be the person caring for others rather than being cared for. This can bring about a big boost in self-esteem. High self-esteem builds confidence.

Helping Children Build Creative and Imagination Skills

Kids can get help from parents who want to encourage their kids to build their creative and cognitive skills.   The trick is to provide your child with a larger variety of objects, toys, clothing, writing pads, books, blankets, and other things that can stimulate pretending.  You don’t have to go out and buy a bunch of expensive new toys.  They also don’t need the best electronics.  Playing with ordinary objects found in the home, even old pieces, can bring about more fun play than a kid can handle.

Provide a spot in the house to keep items your kids can use to build a house, like boxes and blankets.  Toy dishes and other home objects can provide hours and hours of make-believe.  With books, they can read to each other, or with flashcards, one can be the teacher and the other the student. As kids grow, they will become more and more adept at this and they will be asking you for all sorts of stuff.

Criteria for choosing toys for our list

Choosing products for our list can be difficult because we research many products to bring you the best that we can find. For this list, we tried to find the best manufacturers who make the best toys that stimulate creativity.  And the more of a variety of toys kids have, the better. It gives them multiple choices and experiences that they can learn from and input information to their small, but powerful brains.

Pretending with toys that are colorful, have a number of pieces, and are well-built is important to engage kids in a variety of activities. The kinds of toys that kids interact with can bring out their creativity, their interests, and their development of relationships with others. The best toys are the ones your kids like, that match their interests and extend the use of a toy that he or she already has.

Toys that can encourage a child’s imagination are the ones that fit a theme like shopping, fishing, going on vacation, or going to grandma’s. Toys can be simple for the younger folks, like a stuffed toy or big building blocks. More complicated toys work well too. Toys should be of different, attractive colors, have different textures, vary by hardness, be able to be used on land or water or both.

Toys should be age-appropriate, fit or slightly extend your child’s skills, aid in muscle development, and encourage as many of the areas of kid development as possible. It usually takes several toys to accomplish this, but toys don’t have to be expensive. Simple toys may even help your child develop more skills as they won’t be overwhelming.

How We Chose Our List

Toys have to be made of the highest quality and safe materials for kids in order to be considered in our list. They must also be useful in the development of many of the cognitive, motor, emotional, and social skills of children. Additionally, pretend play toys must be well-received by children as well as by their parents. The reputation of the toy manufacturer also needs to be factored in. These are the things that we had to consider in coming up with our list of the 19 best pretend play toys.

We are greatly optimistic that you, too, will agree with some, if not all, of the pretend play toys in our list.

Pretend Play Toys and Kids’ Cognitive and Socio-emotional Development

Studies show that children who are trained to play with pretend play toys are able to develop and strengthen their divergent problem-solving skills. Compared to convergent problem-solving toys where there is only one possible correct solution to a particular problem, divergent problem-solving toys allow creativity among children as they search for the best solution from a multitude of possibilities. This simply means that, given a particular scenario or problem, kids will be able to think of as many possible solutions they can. A classic example differentiating these two types of problem-solving toys are puzzles and building toys. A puzzle definitely has only one correct solution. If it does not fit the puzzle slot, then it is not the correct solution. On the other hand, building toys are open-ended. While building toys may have a predetermined design, it does not stop children from trying to figure out different configurations to the same problem. Hence, children using divergent play materials will be presented with a variety of solutions. This should help children choose the best according to the situation.

Additionally, pretend play toys have been shown to be particularly helpful in developing children’s counterfactual reasoning which is largely related to the divergent problem-solving skills. They begin to think on a “what-if” basis. Their thinking follows the pattern, “what if I do this and not that?” or “what if I don’t do this, what will happen?” both of which facilitates critical thinking and logical reasoning.

If the pretend play also involves other children, they will have to agree on the different roles they are going to play. For example, they may play house and someone will have to act as the father, the mother, and the children. Kids will have to agree on who plays which role. This helps them develop their sense of self-regulation as they try to conform to the roles that they have agreed upon. Additionally, this can lead to healthier emotions and better relationships with other children.

These are just some of the benefits of using pretend play toys. Of course, there are other benefits such as enhancement of both gross- and fine motor skills, language and communication skills, and even spatial intelligence. The most important thing to remember is that pretend play toys are one of the most useful kinds of toys you can ever provide your child.


Frequently Asked Questions

Q: My family isn’t very creative. How can I be proactive and help my child become more creative?

A: Try making your child a space in the house for some objects. You can keep it inexpensive by using boxes, plastic crates, an old telephone or phone book, clothes, fabric, pictures, anything like that. Maybe something theme related like dogs or horses. Then just let him or her go at it.

Have your child tell you a story about one of the objects or ask what her she can do with it. With a blanket or two, he or she can maybe build a fort. Or invite a friend. They can play together and learn from each other. The possibilities are endless.

Q: How do I choose the right toy for my little girl?

A: We can answer that with a few specific suggestions, but ultimately, it’s your choice. You should be matching toys with your child’s interests that will not be too hard or too easy for her.  You will be able to tell if she likes it by how often she plays with it.  If she likes it, then it’s probably the right toy for her.

The pretend and play toys should encourage your child’s abilities to come out by offering several different ways to play with the toy. Play should be open-ended so that there are many scenarios she can make up. They should be interesting and engage several different senses. They maybe should both make sounds and be colorful. Or engage the sense of touch with soft and fuzzy textures along with saying some words. And it should fit your budget.

Q: How will these toys help my son to develop physically?

A: Most toys are multi-purpose, even simple homemade toys can be. That is good for your pocketbook and great for your son. That means his body can learn activities in the cognitive realm as well as the physical realm.

The answer to this question depends a bit on your son’s age. Younger kids start out learning gross-motor skills, the basis of his growth in moving through his world.  This includes arm and leg movements when he’s a baby, then crawling, walking, running, climbing, and so on.

As you can see, there are toys for mostly ages 3 and up on this page, so they are past the baby stage and usually into walking already. So they can walk behind the shopping cart, hold the fishing pole or carry the tackle box.

Fine-motor skills involve small muscles in the hands, feet, face, eyes, and elsewhere. Some of the best pretend play fine-motor developers are small objects like the fruits and veggies that can be picked up and taken out of the basket. Then put on the table or back in the basket.  Kids can go on and on with just this one activity.

Other supported skills include piling small items on top of one another, like the pizza veggies. The cash registers offer multiple ways to build fine-motor skills by picking up coins, pushing buttons, sliding a card through a slot, and many others. They also have noises that stimulate the sense of hearing and give children a chance to respond. There are lots of opportunities for your son to build on motor skills, both gross and fine.

Q: What are some benefits of pretend play for my toddler?

A: Children love to pretend play because it’s so much fun. For toddlers, their imaginations can run wild. The more they engage in open-ended play, the better, and that is the basis for pretend play. Pretend play is important because it’s one way a child can learn about the world around them. They love to imitate others and this helps him learn what to do in identical situations. But the beauty of this is that as your child matures, he can create his own stories and problem-solving scenarios. This brings about experimentation with a myriad of solutions for each problem.

This is about divergent thinking which brings about creativity. Creative people tend to be able to solve complex problems more easily and come up with lots of new ideas.  This type of thinking also helps the child become more empathetic when playing with other kids or family members. Creating friendships is important in youth and this ability to play creatively and problem solve brings about the self-confidence a kid needs to be successful with relationships and job skills.

Q: My boys like to roll around on the floor a lot and tussle with each other. I would rather they played with pretend and play type toys and avoid the tussling. How can I get them interested more in pretend play?

A: You can relax and take a breath. Boys who roughhouse with each other are carrying on quite normally.  This can even be categorized as pretend play.  They just may not be using a toy, and that’s ok.  Tussling with each other is fine as long as you lay down some rules like no jumping off the couch and don’t get so rough that someone will get hurt. You have to teach boys how to keep their strength within certain parameters.

Psychologists say that with playing rough, kids learn how to be cognizant of the effect of their roughhousing on others. Roughhousing with dad is great because he can teach your boys self-restraint and explain how being too rough can hurt people. Kids who aren’t taught self-discipline in these activities sometimes become adults who can’t control themselves and end up hurting people in anger. So this type of play is something that boys need.

If you think they are tussling too much, try getting them interested in any toys on this page. Ask questions about what they are both interested in. Ask questions about how they would use a toy like the veggies or kitchen set. Ask them to help wash the dishes, but then have them wash their own dishes together. Or get them to pretend to go fishing together.  Find something they both like to do as an alternative to play fighting. And get them to help and teach each other.

Q: My daughter seems to get very distracted playing with her cash register. What should I do?

A: In the short term, try giving her something a little simpler to play with. Toys with too many noises or lights, too many activities or even too many colors may just be too complex for her at this point. Try using simpler toys or turning off the sounds on the register.

There is a benefit to simpler toys. They sometimes offer more opportunities for your child to use her imagination and create her own world. Try giving her some of your old dresses or shoes. Or maybe a box that can be painted like a house. Try a flat piece of cardboard with flowers on it or a bench where she can have a lemonade stand and just a cash drawer. Engage her with questions to help her use her imagination more than a toy.


  1. Scholastic , The Importance of Pretend Play, Informative Article,
  2. Scott Barry Kaufman, The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development, Informative Article,
  3. Scott Barry Kaufman, The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development, Informative Article,
  4. Deborah L. Bennett, Pretend play helps in language development , Informative Article,
  5. NYMetroParents Staff , 8 Questions to Ask When Buying Developmental Toys for Your Child, Informative Guide,