25 Toddler-Inspired Pretend Play Activities

My earliest memory as a child was putting on a curly grey wig and funny looking apron over my nursery uniform! It’s a memory that makes me smile because although the dressing up clothes we had at the nursery were nothing special, I remember having fun in a make-believe world with my friends! Pretend Play activities for toddlers are just as relevant today as they were when I was a toddler (which is quite some time ago now!)

As adults is easy to forget that sense of imagination and pure enjoyment in such simple pretend play ideas, but for children, it is an integral part of their development. And it’s one that I want to encourage as much as possible in my kids! I want my kids to enjoy these moments, to explore the world through pretend play at home, in a safe and secure environment.

Imaginative play is so important for kids, especially toddlers as they start to make sense of the world around them. And so I want to arm you with lots of pretend play ideas for toddlers that you can try (well actually 25 to be precise!) so that you too can encourage pretend play at home with your little ones!

DIY Shoe Shop for Pretend Play with Toddler

What is Pretend Play?

Before we dive straight into the ideas I want to touch on what pretend play actually is, because it’s often talked about in many different ways and can become a little confusing! So let’s take a look at some examples of what might be considered pretend play:


Examples of Pretend Play

  • Dramatic Play
  • Imaginative Play
  • Pretend Play
  • Symbolic Play

Each of the above examples focuses on the idea that the imagination is used to create scenarios, characters, and plots. Symbolic play refers to the way in which a child may use an object to represent something else. It’s what I consider to be a make-believe play. Except that often these activities are based on experiences of the child. And so pretend play activities for toddlers can be about recreating some of their experiences in everyday life by using the things around them


What are Imaginative Activities For Toddlers?

An example of pretend play activities for toddlers might be a toddler who wants to play babies. This may be because there is a new baby in the family. They may begin to process that through pretend play and acting out scenarios that they are seeing for themselves. If toddlers are using dramatic play to process a new baby, the question is, at what age do babies begin the process themselves?


What age do babies pretend play?

You might be wondering at what age it is either time to introduce the idea of pretend play? Or when will you see signs of your little one using pretend play activities for themselves?

  • 8 monthsStudies have shown that a child as young as 8 months will begin their exploration into symbolic play and this can be seen in the way they roll a car back and forth or shake things to make a noise
  • 18 months – At this age, a child will start to combine objects and can be found mixing with a spoon and bowl
  • 36 months – It is around this age that pretend play activities for toddlers to become more sequential and structured. For instance, a toddler may plan with other children how the pretend play will go and who will play which role, etc

So really pretend play activities for toddlers start very early and they may be playing imaginatively without any prompt to do so!


Why are Pretend Play Activities for toddlers Important?

Pretend play is important for your toddler’s childhood development in so many ways! I talk about creative play all the time and I’m always learning more about how play is a vital part of a child’s development – but it still amazes me how much we can learn through play. And pretend play is no different!

Pretend play activities for toddlers helps them:

  • Express Themselves – Toddlers can reveal a lot about themselves and their likes and dislikes in imaginative scenarios. It is also a great opportunity for them to express different emotions as they process events in their little lives
  • Learn Life Skills – As toddlers explore different scenarios, they are faced with new challenges. It might be how to deal with conflict (something which many adults struggle with!) Or how to follow the rules of play. For example, there are certain ‘rules’ when shopping that a toddler will learn through play. Like paying at the checkout, and waiting in line!
  • Begin Early Literacy Skills – Toddlers will often want to act out stories they are familiar with or characters they know. This helps them understand the story better and gain a better understanding of the structure of stories. They will also be using text in play such as shopping receipts or shop signs – they are becoming familiar with certain texts around them

All these developmental stages are formed throughout childhood and the more we can facilitate children with these opportunities the better!


How do you Encourage Pretend Play Activities for Toddlers?

If pretend play is so important, how can you encourage children to engage in it?

Well, the answer is probably not as complicated as it seems! What toddlers need most is time and space to grow their imagination!

In a moment we’re going to get to the ideas, but I want to stress that children do not need a beautifully set up dramatic play area to be able to play imaginatively. Structured play is a big part of pretend play for toddlers, but so is unstructured play. So don’t feel that you always have to create an elaborate ‘stage’ for play – toddlers can fill in any gaps themselves!


How do I pretend play with my toddler?

Structured play is a great way for you and your toddler to engage in dramatic play together. It gives a frame for you both to play. This list of ideas should hopefully spark your imagination for future play dates with your toddler!


Pretend Play Activities for Toddlers who like to Shop

  1. Pretend Supermarket Shopping – Grab a trolley or a basket and either shop for pretend food or raid the fruit bowl or pantry!
  2. Set up a Shoe Shop – Trying shoes on for toddlers is so much fun! Check out this post on how to create your own shoe shop using an IKEA unit and a load of shoes!
Pretend Play Activities For Toddlers DIY Shoe Shop
Pretend Play Shoe Shop
  1. Create your own Toy Shop – Make good use of long-forgotten toys with a pretend toy shop. You’ll be amazed at what your kids will rediscover!

  2. Set up a Pet shop – If you have a large collection of stuffed animals then why not try a pet shop with some boxes and some food bowls

  3. Visit your own Farmer’s Market – Use some tables to set up your own market in the garden with some pretend play food

Pretend Play Health Care

  1. Set up a doctor’s surgery – Have a reception desk and maybe use a play doctor set to look after your patients (maybe use teddy bears for this!)

  2. Have a dentist chair – Practice getting in the chair with a fun activity

  3. Book an opticians appointment – Make an eye chart and have fun trying on glasses (without glass in them!)

  4. Play hospitals – Have a patient in bed and brave surgery if you dare!

  5. Set up a Vet Clinic – Another great one for animal lovers using doctors playset and some stuffed animals
Imaginative Play Vet Clinic
Vet Clinic

Education themed imaginative play

  1. Play School – A classic made complete with a chalkboard and eraser!

  2. Create a baby nursery – Take care of babies in a nursery setting with nappies and all sorts!

  3. Have a Playgroup – Get the pushchairs out and head on over to playgroup with your dollies

  4. Play Preschool – Use soft toys to engage your little ones in learning activities

  5. Create a mini Library – Creating a library is a super fun way to engage little ones with different books

Make-believe dressing up is a super fun way to introduce imaginative play

  1. Superheroes – All you need is a cape (or towel!) and off you fly!

  2. Fairies – Fairy wings are a really easy craft or you can pick them up fairly cheap in a local store

  3. Characters – Act out your favourite stories with simple costumes like pig snouts for the 3 little pigs

Days Out Pretend Play Activities For Toddlers

  1. Day at the Zoo – Another great stuffed animal idea, have fun being a zookeeper

  2. A trip to the Beach – Get the sandpit out and get your swimsuits on and reenact a favourite day at the beach in the sun

  3. Make an Art Gallery – Use your child’s artwork and create a display perhaps on the washing line!

  4. Set up an Ice Cream Shop – If you have a play kitchen then this is super easy to turn into an ice cream shop

  5. Play on the farm – Get out the ride-on tractor and turn the playhouse into a barn!

  6. Create a Restaurant – This is super fun with a tablecloth for added pizazz!

  7. Set up a Coffee Shop – Recreate your favourite coffee dates at home
On the farm set up dramatic play
On The Farm

Have fun with these 25 awesome Pretend Play Activities for Toddlers

I hope this list inspires you to get creating some imaginative play setups for you and your child!

There’s always going to be days when we just don’t feel like ‘playing’ but that’s the beauty of pretend play for toddlers, it is an intrinsic part of who they are, so don’t worry about setting up every little detail, simply provide a few props using the ideas above and let them show you their imagination at work!

Have fun creating memories that your child will look back on one day too 🙂

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