Pretend Play For Toddlers (22 Examples + BENEFITS!)

By Paula McLaren •  Updated: 05/25/22 •  14 min read  •  Toddler » Toddler Play

Pretend play for toddlers is one of my favourite aspects of raising children.

You get to watch the world through the eyes of someone experiencing it for the first time…

All whilst they discover the wonder that surrounds them to create fun scenarios and amazing games as a result!

And pretend play doesn’t have to be complicated and it’s my goal to ensure that everyone gets the most out of this incredible imaginative time…

What Is Pretend Play?

What Age Do Toddlers Pretend Play?

Pretend play actually has its roots in babyhood but does not really come into its own until the toddler stage.

And between 12 and 18 months is when your toddler will start to show signs of engaging in pretend play. 

And once they start using their imaginations, they will be pretend playing for years to come!

What Are The Benefits Of Pretend Play For Toddlers?

Pretend play is crucial for your toddler’s development and is so much more than dressing up or hosting a doll’s tea party.

The benefits of pretend play for toddlers are numerous and will help them develop many essential life skills:

6 Benefits of Pretend Play For Toddlers
  1. Encourage and nurture their creativity and imagination. Children will learn to see things from other people’s points of view and re-create what they have seen during their day.
  2. Improve their problem-solving skills. By exploring and acting out different scenarios, your child will learn how to overcome obstacles in a safe way.
  3. Help with their social and emotional development. By engaging in pretend play, toddlers will often be able to exhibit abilities beyond the norm for their age by reenacting adult actions.
  4. Develop empathy. Pretend play for toddlers will also help children to learn about the emotions involved in certain activities and begin to understand how others feel and think. 
  5. Improve physical development. As they act out more physical roles, such as climbing an imaginary mountain, your little one’s strength and balance will flourish.
  6. Develop their language and communication skills. By repeating what they have seen during their day, you will find your toddler will use varied language to make their pretend play scenarios as real as possible.

How To Encourage Pretend Play In 0-24 Month Olds

You can actually start to encourage pretend play when your little one is a tiny baby. 

Getting close up face to face and making different sounds and expressions that they eventually imitate are the foundations of pretend play for toddlers.

Later they will start to copy simple day to day actions that they have observed you doing such as sweeping the floor, reading a book or talking on a phone. 

Here are a some more brilliant pretend play ideas for 0-24 month olds:

How To Encourage Pretend Play In 2 Year Old Toddlers

At this stage, your toddler’s pretend play is based around their real life experiences so they may act out the bedtime routine with their doll or teddy bear, pretend to read a story or make a simple meal.

So what can you do to offer your little one the best opportunities to explore pretend play at this stage?

How To Encourage Pretend Play In 3 Year Old Toddlers

By three years of age, your little one will start to create their own pretend scenarios rather than acting out things they have seen in their lives.

So try and encourage the following pretend play for toddlers examples:

How To Encourage Pretend Play In 4 Year Olds

Pretend play for 4 year olds is now developing in complexity. 

4 year olds will now imagine play scenarios in a far more depth… acting out adventures and events that last for long periods of time and becoming ever more inventive. 

How To Encourage Pretend Play In 5 Year Olds

By the time your little one reaches their 5th birthday their capacity for pretend play will be in full swing and it will take up a large amount of their playtime, especially when playing with their peers!

As your child’s social skills have developed to the point that they can engage in cooperative play your 5-year-old will relish the opportunity to play ‘pretend’ with their friends and you.

Best Pretend Play Toys For Toddlers

To complement the pretend play examples I have mentioned above, here are the best pretend play toys for toddlers to get the most out of every play session:

Wooden Fruit And Vegetable Preparation Set

iPlay, iLearn Wooden Food Toy Set, Magnetic Fruit Vegetables

Perfect for a budding chef, this set of wooden magnetized foods will encourage your little one to develop their fine motor skills by imitating chopping and preparing whilst creating a delicious imaginary dish for you to try!

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Wooden toys are always a favourite of mine and this set of 26 wooden food items is the perfect way to inspire pretend cooking and imaginative restaurant play on rainy days.

Made from high-quality wood, this durable and safe set will stand the test of even the most ‘enthusiastic’ toddler chefs!

It is also the perfect accompaniment to my next favourite pretend play toy:

Mini Kitchen

Kids Concept - Natural/White Wooden Play Kitchen

I love all things Scandiborn and this play kitchen is no exception. Guaranteed to look good in any setting and provide your little one with hours of imaginative play that you can add to as you see fit.

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This gorgeous handmade wooden play kitchen is perfect for children who love to role play cooking food for their friends and family!

It’s even better to know that the pots and pans accessories are all included too!

Wooden Tool Workbench

ROBOTIME Creative Wooden Tool Toy Bench for Kids

Made out of quality wood, this bench will survive any hammering and sawing your little one can throw at it! All whilst providing hours of fun as your little one expands their imagination and improves their fine motor skills!

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Does your child love to replicate building trades instead of cooking?

Whether it’s measuring, cutting, sawing, hammering or drilling, this wooden tool bench will be the centrepiece in any little builder’s playroom!

Hand Puppet Set

Melissa & Doug Safari Buddies Hand Puppets, Set of 6 (Elephant, Tiger, Parrot, Giraffe, Monkey, Zebra)
Melissa and Doug do a wonderful range of hand puppets of which this safari set is a beautiful example! Perfect for pretend play, your little one can create an unlimited number of scenarios with these 6 quirky characters! And if they're a little nervous... You can take the lead to begin with and let them lead later on.
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This beautiful puppet set will help kids to practice new vocabulary, refine their fine motor skills and boost their self-confidence all whilst spending quality time with you!

Made with brightly patterned, washable fabrics and built to last, these delightful glove puppets are sure to be go-to toys for years to come.

Dressing Up Sets

Born Toys Dress Up & Pretend Play 3-in-1 Costume Set

Provide the perfect opportunity for your child to imagine, explore and play through the art of role-play with 3 amazing gender-neutral costumes!

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It’s time to do some research, go on a safari and plant some plants in the garden with this wonderful dressing-up set!

Designed to be super durable for ages 3+, these fun outfits will make pretend play even more real for your little one!

Toy Cleaning Set

Melissa & Doug Let's Play House Dust! Sweep! Mop! 6 Piece Pretend Play Set
Melissa & Doug have done it again! Perfect for little helping hands, this beautifully designed cleaning set will give your child the opportunity to help around the house and tidy up just as mum and dad do!
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I am a firm believer in introducing very easy and simple chores to your children from a young age to help them learn how the world and how a household functions. And this fun miniature cleaning set is the ideal way to gently introduce the idea of helping around the house on your toddler’s terms.

Frequently Asked Questions About Pretend Play For Toddlers

Looking for more information about pretend play for toddlers? Find answers to the most common questions here.

Is Pretend Play Montessori?

Montessori is a scientifically based education approach that focuses on teaching children to embrace their independence, embrace their freedom within limits, and respect their natural psychological, physical, and social development. 

Montessori education is based on the belief that all children are unique individuals, that they all have immense potential, and that they want to learn and be busy. 

Therefore, yes, pretend play for toddlers with the right tools and toys is classified as Montessori play… However, regardless of whether you follow Montessori principles or not… Pretend play is a vital part of every child’s healthy development…

What Is The Difference Between Pretend Play And Symbolic Play?

There is no difference between pretend play and symbolic play. 

Symbolic play is simply another name used to describe pretend play.

Why Is Pretend Play Important For Language Development?

Pretend play for toddlers is important for all forms of development, however with language development pretend play is especially vital as children will often use higher forms of language than they would use in their day-to-day conversations. This is because they are often pretending to be adults!

Is There Such A Thing As Too Much Imaginative Play?

I do not believe there is.

Imaginative and pretend play for toddlers offer incredible learning opportunities that will help your child to process what they witness in their life and boost their development in a fun and creative way.

Pretend Play For Toddlers Summary

Remember… Pretend play for toddlers is a type of play that lets children explore and experiment with different scenarios they have witnessed in their lives by engaging their imaginations to develop essential life skills.

They will learn, practise and develop the skills:

Providing your little one with the pretend play opportunities to explore this type play is very important and there are numerous ways you can help inspire imagination and have a huge amount of fun too.

After all…

A young child’s imagination is an amazing place to be and a wondrous thing to share.

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Paula McLaren

Paul Mclaren - Norland Nurse NNEB RSH is the founder of Teething to Tantrums and has been in the child care industry as a Norland Nanny since 1982. Since then, her mission has been to help parents become the best they can possibly be. And each year, she continues to help more families understand their child's development, the trials and joys of parenting and of course, how to care for their little ones.

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