Best Pretend Play Toys for Kids 2020

Best Pretend Play Toys for Kids 2020

When your child engages in pretend play, they are using their imagination to learn about the world around them. Pretend play creates an environment where it is safe to experiment and mimic the language and activities that children see and hear from adults. This plays an important role in a child’s development, and we believe that parents should do whatever they are able to do in order to promote positive pretend play. That’s why we reviewed every one of the pretend play toys we could find. These are our top picks.

Features to Consider in Good Pretend Play Toys for Kids

Pretend Play Helps Kids Learn

Because there is no limit to the different ways that kids can play pretend, there are countless ways kids can learn through make-believe. For example, pretending to be a cashier at a store can help with basic math, while pretending to be a doctor can help them learn about their own bodies and health. Pretend play is a great tool for little ones to explore the world around them in a safe and creative way.

Finding the Best Pretend Play Toys for Kids

When we set out to find our favorite pretend play toy for kids, our goal was to find toys that encourage kids to use their imagination in fun and unique ways. All of the toys and playsets we reviewed were judged on the following criteria:

  • How they will play pretend: To give parents a better idea of how a toy or playset will be used once their kids get their hands on it, we’ve included make-believe ideas for each toy based on what other parents have told us about that toy. As the number of different ways a child can use a toy to pretend increases, the more likely it is to see a lot of use.
  • What they will learn: While not every toy on this list teaches skills like math and reading, there are several that encourage social skills like sharing and communication. We believe parents should seek out an assortment of pretend play toys for their kids that teach a wide range of skills:
  • Age Range: Kids respond better to toys that fit their age level and skill set. We give preference to pretend toys that appeal to a wide range of ages.
  • Choking Hazard: Because some of the pretend play toys on our list come with small pieces, we make sure to note which ones create a potential choking hazard for younger children.
  • Batteries Required: Some of the toys on our list below require batteries to operate. We’ve listed the number and types of batteries required as well as whether or not they are included with your purchase.

Top 13 Best Pretend Play Toys For Kids 2020

#

1. Best Overall Pretend Play Toy For Kids Melissa & Doug Dust! Sweep! Mop!

Melissa & Doug Dust! Sweep! Mop!

Why we like it: With four child-sized solid-wood pretend cleaning tools, the Dust! Sweep! Mop! Set from Melissa & Doug is our top overall pick for pretend play toys.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3-6 years

Choking Hazard: No

Batteries Required: No

For little ones who want to help around the house, there is this adorable set of pretend cleaning tools from Melissa & Doug. We heard from lots of parents with little kids who love to follow them around the house when they are doing chores and beg to help, but cannot because the tools made for adults are simply too big for them to handle. This can be particularly problematic because trying to use a broom or mop that’s too large can cause frustration or even damage. Thankfully, the Dust! Sweep! Mop! set comes with four pretend cleaning tools made for little hands.

Complete with a stand-up base for storage, included with this set is a broom, mop, duster, and brush. There is also a dustpan that clips onto the handle of any of the other tools for easy storage. While the pretend tools are not suitable for any heavy-duty cleaning, of course, we found them to be perfectly suitable for light dusting or sweeping. This is a great set of cleaning tools for any kid between 3 and 6 years old who wants to help out around the house.

How kids will pretend: Kids who like following mom and dad around the house while they do chores will have a blast with this set. It’s also great for playing house or for use in a playhouse.

What they will learn: Our favorite part of this set is that it teaches kids to have a positive attitude about housework. It can also improve their feeling of self-reliance and confidence to have tools that fit their size.

Pros

  • Kids build confidence and independence by learning to use these pretend cleaning tools
  • Solid wood tools can take a beating
  • The sturdy base makes for easy storage
  • Helps develop fine motor skills and coordination

Cons

  • Some parents report the screw underneath the mop included with this set can scratch hardwood floors if pushed down hard enough
#

2. Best Value Pretend Play Toy for Kids LeapFrog Chat and Count Smart Phone

LeapFrog Chat and Count Smart Phone

Why we like it: This inexpensive and educational toy cell phone is a perfect alternative to handing your young child your smartphone.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 18 months – 5 years

Choking Hazard: No

Batteries Required: Yes, 3 AAA (included)

Much more feature-filled than most pretend cell phones that only make simple sounds, the LeapFrog Chat and Count Smart Phone has lots of educational activities for children as young as 18 months. There are more than 15 activities that teach counting, encourage kids to sing along, and teach phone etiquette. While the phone cannot actually be used to make calls, the LeapFrog Chat and Count Smart Phone lets kids trade voicemails back and forth with their puppy pal named Scout or Violet.

We liked how well the Chat and Count Smart Phone prepares kids for real phone conversations by demonstrating proper phone manners such as saying hello and goodbye. The simple dot-matrix screen is black and white and will not cause any sort of eye strain. From a developmental standpoint, we think time with toys like this is far superior to allowing young kids to play games on a smartphone made for adults.

How kids will pretend: Not only will they enjoy the 15+ activities included in this phone, but kids will also love getting pretend voicemails from their puppy pal.

What they will learn: As the name suggests, the LeapFrog Chat and Count Smart Phone places a heavy emphasis on counting. Most included activities focus on counting from 1 to 10.

Pros

  • Includes more than fifteen activities focused on teaching basic counting skills
  • Best pretend cell phone for toddlers
  • Kids love to get voicemails from their puppy pal

Cons

  • Some parents report that the speaker on this phone is quieter than most other pretend phones
#

3. Best Pretend Wallet for Kids Melissa & Doug Pretend-to-Spend Wallet

Melissa & Doug Pretend-to-Spend Wallet

Why we like it: We think the extras included with this pretend wallet make it a great introduction to personal finance.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3-6 years

Choking Hazard: Yes

Batteries Required: No

Featuring some of the best play-money in any of the pretend kits we reviewed, the Melissa & Doug Pretend-to-Spend Wallet is not only one of our favorite pretend play toys, but it’s a great value as well. With a price tag of around $10, this wallet is a great gift all by itself or in conjunction with any pretend playset that involves money.

When looking through all of the 40+ pieces included with this set, we were particularly impressed by the selection of included cards that come with the Pretend-to-Spend Wallet. In addition to obvious inclusions like a credit card and a driver’s license, the wallet also comes with a grocery store discount card and coupons. Not only does this add additional options for play, but it also starts productive conversations about what kinds of things adults carry in their wallets.

How kids will pretend: We heard from lots of parents who say their little ones use this wallet every single day.

What they will learn: The Pretend-to-Spend wallet does a great job helping kids learn how to count money. It also helps build their self-confidence and their sense of independence.

Pros

  • Featuring large detailed bills, this set comes with the most realistic play money we reviewed
  • Comes with a wide variety of cards including an ID card, bus pass, library card, and more
  • Great value

Cons

  • Does not come with very many high-denomination bills
#

4. Best Pretend Food for Kids Shimfun Play Food Set

Shimfun Play Food Set

Why we like it: With a huge variety of pretend foods in one package, the Shimfun Play Food Set is our pick for any parent looking for plastic food to fill out a play kitchen.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3+

Choking Hazard: Yes

Batteries Required: No

For use by itself or as part of other food-based playsets, the Shimfun Play Food Set is our favorite collection of plastic food to help kids play pretend. With over 140 pieces, there is a huge selection of different foods to pick from. Several parents we talked to told us that this massive set of play foods breathed new life into their kids’ other kitchen or cooking playsets.

Not only is the Shimfun Play Food Set a great companion to other playsets, but it can be helpful for teaching toddlers shapes, colors, and names of different foods. We were impressed by the variety of food items included in the set. There are all kinds of meat, veggies, and fruit represented by realistic plastic models. We also liked that the set includes so many condiments, beverages, and other interesting food items that are sure to expand your kids’ horizons and introduce them to more kinds of food.

How kids will pretend: Because of the huge variety of play food included in the set, the Shimfun Play Food Set is perfect for playing restaurant, kitchen, house, or any other pretend game that involves food.

What they will learn: By playing with the play food in this set, younger kids will learn new foods and expand their palate. Playing a restaurant or kitchen using this set helps develop communication and memory.

Pros

  • Set comes with a large mesh bag for storing play food while not in use
  • Toy food is made out of hard plastic and will not crush or bend easily
  • Great for play by itself or for use with other playsets
  • Over 140 included pieces make this set a great value

Cons

  • Some of the stickers are prone to peeling after food has been played with for some time
#

5. Best Pretend Lawn Mower for Kids Husqvarna Toy Lawn Mower

Husqvarna Toy Lawn Mower

Why we like it: The most realistic toy lawnmower we reviewed, your little landscaper will love having a lawnmower that looks and sounds just like the real thing.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 2-5 years

Choking Hazard: No

Batteries Required: Yes, 3 AA (included)

From one of the world’s most well-reviewed producers of real power tools, this toy lawnmower is part of a collection of realistic pretend lawn tools produced by tool manufacturer Husqvarna. Featuring realistic engine sounds and lights when pushed, this mower is perfect for kids who are fascinated by adult lawn tools but are still too young to help mow the lawn themselves.

A near-exact replica of the Husqvarna HU800AWD mower, this toy mower is made with solid plastic and feels very secure when pushed. The tires are much nicer than the cheap plastic wheels included with most other make-believe lawnmowers we reviewed. This makes it easier to push this toy mower, even over long grass. While this toy is more expensive than some of the alternatives, we believe that the realistic look and engine sounds make it well worth the price, especially for families that already own a Husqvarna mower.

How kids will pretend: Having tools that look just like the real thing makes younger kids eager to go out and mimic the yardwork they see being performed by their parents and older siblings.

What they will learn: By going through the motions of doing yard work, kids learn what each tool does. This lawnmower also presents a great opportunity to talk to your kids about lawnmower safety.

Pros

  • Modeled after the best selling Husqvarna HU800AWD lawn mower
  • Realistic engine sounds and light-up engine
  • Better tires than other pretend lawnmowers we reviewed

Cons

  • Some parents think the engine sounds made by this mower are a little too loud
#

6. Best Pretend Doctor Playset for Kids Pretend & Play Doctor Kit

Pretend & Play Doctor Kit

Why we like it: The Pretend & Play Doctor Kit helps kids learn about their own health with a full set of pretend instruments just like the ones at the doctor’s office.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3-10 years

Choking Hazard: Yes

Batteries Required: Yes, 3 AAA (not included) for cell phone, stethoscope batteries are included

Pretending to be a doctor is not only fun for kids, but it also helps prepare them for their own trips to the doctor’s office. By playing with toy versions of the instruments that doctors use, kids develop a better understanding of how doctors conduct a check-up and treat their patients. This additional exposure often reduces the anxiety kids feel when visiting the doctor themselves

The Pretend & Play Doctor Kit from Learning Resources contains 19 pieces and is our favorite pretend doctor or veterinarian playset for kids. We like that there are enough doctor’s instruments included for several kids to play at once. We also liked that the included carrying case had spots for every instrument, and keeps everything in place with two easy-to-latch clips.

How kids will pretend: Using this kit, kids will assume the role of a family doctor or veterinarian. Parents tell us that after getting their hands on these tools, their kids were eager to use them to conduct check-ups on everything from stuffed animals to their parents. The included toy cell phone rings just like the real thing and lets kids take on the role of a doctor on call.

What they will learn: By pretending to be a doctor or a veterinarian, kids can learn more about the human body, biology, animals, their own health, and become more comfortable while visiting the doctor themselves.

Pros

  • 19-piece set contains a wide variety of toy doctor’s instruments
  • The convenient carrying case has a space for each instrument and latches securely
  • Helps kids reduce anxiety for their own visits to the doctor

Cons

  • Some parents report that the electronic sounds played by the stethoscope can be too loud for little ears
#

7. Best Pretend Workbench for Kids Black & Decker Power Tool Workshop

Black & Decker Power Tool Workshop

Why we like it: From one of the biggest names in tools comes this sturdy pretend workbench with a bunch of fun activities included.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3+

Choking Hazard: Yes

Batteries Required: Yes, 4 AA (not included) for drill press and saw, and 2 AAA (not included) for work light.

For kids who love watching mom or dad use power tools, this workshop playset by Black & Decker is a dream come true. With 9 tools and over 50 plastic screws, nuts, and bolts, your little carpenter will spend hours playing with this set. It comes with everything they need to assemble their own wooden toolbox to carry around the house.

The workbench itself is as impressive as the tools. It has lots of holes for the plastic screws and nails. Underneath the workbench are three storage trays for keeping the hardware organized. Attached to the bench are a power saw, drill, and flexible light, each with realistic movement, lights, and sounds. Handheld tools packaged with the set include a hammer, hand saw, screwdriver, wrench, and cell phone.

How kids will pretend: With a project to assemble and lots of options for pretend play, this playset will keep little builders busy for hours.

What they will learn: The Black & Decker Power Tool Workshop teaches creative play and tool safety. It also assists in the development of motor skills.

Pros

  • Three power tools with realistic action, lights, and sounds
  • Allows kids to assemble their own portable tool caddy
  • Realistic looking tools from Black & Decker

Cons

  • More expensive than other pretend workbench toolsets we looked at
#

8. Best Pretend Makeup for Kids Litti Pritti Pretend Makeup for Girls

Litti Pritti Pretend Makeup for Girls

Why we like it: We were amazed how realistic this pretend makeup set looks. This set lets little girls have all the fun of putting on makeup with none of the mess.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3+

Choking Hazard: Yes

Batteries Required: No

Even though it looks just like the real thing, the Litti Pritti pretend makeup kit contains no actual makeup. This 11-piece pretend makeup set comes with toy versions of blush, eye shadow, lipstick, nail polish, lip gloss, and a glitter pot. There is also a compact case with a mirror, a stylish cosmetic bag, and three real makeup brushes.

Moms we talked to really appreciated that buying the Litti Pritti pretend makeup set helped with their little girls who were either begging to use mom’s makeup constantly or getting into it when adults weren’t around. Many of these moms are also like that this set allows their little girls to “put on their makeup” when getting ready to go out. Not only does this stop the constant asking, but it also keeps them occupied! We were impressed by how much the pretend makeup in this kit resembled the actual thing.

How kids will pretend: Parents report to us that their little girls love using this set to pretend to put on makeup on themselves, their dolls, and of course, their parents.

What they will learn: Little girls will learn the names and purposes of each makeup item included in the set.

Pros

  • This great looking set looks just like real makeup without the mess
  • Real makeup brushes included
  • Keeps smaller kids from trying to get into mom’s makeup

Cons

  • The included fingernail polish brush can be too sharp unless it’s wet before use
#

9. Best Pretend School Kit for Kids Pretend & Play School Set

Pretend & Play School Set

Why we like it: Complete with displays that look like they belong on the walls of a classroom, this high-quality playset is perfect for playing school.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3-6 years

Choking Hazard: Yes

Batteries Required: No

Perfect for little ones who want to pretend to be their favorite teacher, this set contains everything your little one needs to set up their own classroom at home. Featuring a tri-fold board full of colorful displays like a calendar and map of the United States, there is an awful lot for aspiring teachers to do with this set. The Pretend & Play School Set comes with a total of 149 pieces, including hall passes, report cards, and stickers for rewarding good grades.

We were impressed by how light and portable the large included board was, as well as with its durability. The entire board is covered in a water-resistant fabric, which is particularly helpful when washing the whiteboard. The set also includes two erasable crayons. While we found this set to be a very good value, paper pieces like the report cards will eventually run out, so parents will want to buy more school supplies down the road.

How kids will pretend: We like how this playset promotes a positive attitude about school and learning. Older kids will love using the Pretend & Play School Set with younger siblings.

What they will learn: The Pretend & Play School set promotes social skills and the included maps help teach U.S. and world geography.

Pros

  • Best playset for playing school
  • The lightweight board is easy to fold and water-resistant
  • 149 piece set includes stickers, pointer, and a working school bell

Cons

  • Because many of the items that come with this set are disposable, parents will need to replenish school supplies to keep the fun going
#

10. Best Pretend Purse for Kids Litti Pritti My First Purse Set

Litti Pritti My First Purse Set

Why we like it: This faux leather purse is something your little girl is likely to carry with her for years.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3-8 years

Choking Hazard: No

Batteries Required: No

To most little girls, mom’s purse is magical. For kids that want a grown-up purse of their own, our top pick is the Litti Pritti My First Purse Set. This stylish purse looks just like the real thing and comes loaded with a wallet, keys, credit cards, makeup, and more. Lots of parents told us that their girls between the ages of three and eight love to carry the purse wherever they go

The Litti Pritti line of pretend play toys for girls is known for featuring realistic-looking makeup, and the lipstick and face powder included in this set definitely fit the bill. The purse is made from vegan leather and designed to last. The purse closes shut using a gold-colored zipper and has hand straps as well as a removable shoulder strap for easy carrying.

How kids will pretend: Toddlers as young as 3 years old will have a blast playing pretend with this purse and all the included accessories. Older kids can use this purse for carrying their own important things when they are out and about.

What they will learn: By using the Litti Pritti My First Purse Set, kids will learn about what adults carry with them on a daily basis and get an idea of what each item does. It also teaches them about staying organized and taking care of their own possessions.

Pros

  • Vegan leather purse looks great and is well made
  • Comes with lots of accessories including a cell phone and car key with working buttons
  • Best pretend play purse for girls between 3-8 years old

Cons

  • The hand straps on the purse can be ripped off if the purse is played with too rough
#

11. Best Pretend Cash Register for Kids Pretend & Play Calculator Cash Register

Pretend & Play Calculator Cash Register

Why we like it: This fully-featured calculator cash register is a great toy to encourage kids to learn basic math.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3-8 years

Choking Hazard: Yes

Batteries Required: No

Pretending to run a store is one of the most common ways kids engage in pretend play on their own. Help your little entrepreneur set up shop with the excellent Pretend & Play cash register from Learning Resources. This cash register for kids is solar powered and does not require batteries, and has a full-featured calculator as well. Not only will this toy entertain and keep them playing for hours, but it will also help your little one learn basic math skills while they play.

Included with this set is everything your child needs to start playing right away. The Pretend & Play Calculator Cash Register comes with enough play money and coins to fill the register’s cash drawer, as well as a pretend credit card that will make the cash register make a noise when inserted into the slot. There is also an included activity guide that teaches kids how to use the register and provides additional activities for both kids and parents.

How kids will pretend: Kids will love playing with this set as either the cashier or the customer. Thanks to the satisfying sound it makes, they will also love making the cash drawer pop out by hitting the open button on the register.

What they will learn: The Pretend & Play Cash Register is a great tool for teaching basic math, as well as teaching kids how to count money and give change.

Pros

  • This working cash register is fully solar-powered and does not require batteries to use
  • Encourages kids to learn addition and subtraction as well as money counting
  • Includes credit card that makes a noise when scanned by register

Cons

  • The included coins in this set are very light and tend to fly out when the cash drawer is open. Some parents told us they replaced these with real coins with good results
#

12. Best Outdoor Pretend Play Set Little Tikes Cook 'n Play Outdoor BBQ

Little Tikes Cook 'n Play Outdoor BBQ

Why we like it: Tough enough for outdoor use, this Little Tikes Cook 'n Play Outdoor BBQ can be used by lots of kids at once.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 2+

Choking Hazard: No

Batteries Required: No

Taking the traditional play kitchen outdoors, the Little Tikes Cook ‘n Play Outdoor BBQ is the perfect grill for your kid to host a make-believe cookout. Featuring a pretend two-level grill with a lid and side burner, an oven with a working door, and a sink, this playset is a great way to encourage pretend play and help kids improve social skills through play. The Cook n‘ Play Outdoor BBQ can also be used indoors.

This set can be purchased with or without play food to accompany it. Even if you purchase the version without the play food, it comes with a 10-piece accessory set including a hamburger and hot dog. Like other Little Tikes toys we have reviewed in the past, the plastic construction of the Cook ‘n Play Outdoor BBQ feels strong, sturdy, and built to last.

How kids will pretend: There are a handful of details that make this set lots of fun for pretend play. Kids will love being able to open and close the grill lid as well as the oven door. The layout of this set allows for several kids to play at once.

What they will learn: By playing with the Little Tikes Cook ‘n Play Outdoor BBQ, kids will learn social skills and sharing as well as some cooking basics.

Pros

  • Sturdy indoor/outdoor playset built to last
  • Grill lid and oven door can be opened and closed
  • Can be used by 2-3 kids at the same time

Cons

  • Play food must be purchased separately
#

13. Best Princess Dress-Up Set for Girls Disney Princess Dress Up Trunk Deluxe

Disney Princess Dress Up Trunk Deluxe

Why we like it: Containing everything they need to dress up as four different Disney Princesses, this dress-up trunk is full of surprises.

Editor’s Rating:

Age Range: 3+

Choking Hazard: Yes

Batteries Required: No

With four iconic outfits in one box, the Disney Princess Dress-Up trunk contains everything needed for your little princess to dress up as her favorite characters. Included in the box are full costumes for Aurora, Snow White, Belle, and Cinderella, complete with jewelry and accessories for each one. We think this set is perfect for throwing a dress-up party for your little girl and her friends.

The dress-up clothes are made to fit a large range of sizes and should fit any girl who wears dress sizes 4 through 6. There are also included stickers for customizing the necklaces that come with the collection. We found this set to be a good value, though we do wish that the costumes were machine washable. Instead, the instructions say to only wipe lightly with a damp cloth to clean the costumes.

How kids will pretend: This dress-up trunk lets little girls pretend to be their favorite Disney Princess.

What they will learn: The Disney Princess Dress-Up Trunk helps little girls learn to keep their clothes and belongings organized.

Pros

  • Comes with full outfits for four different Disney princesses
  • Three girls can dress up at once
  • Includes accessories and jewelry, including customizable necklaces and stickers

Cons

  • Costumes are not able to be machine washed

The Verdict

You should encourage your child to engage in pretend play whenever possible. By giving them options to explore the world around them in a consequence-free environment, you are giving them a chance to adopt a curious and creative attitude toward life. Pretend play helps little ones put the world around them into perspective and better learn their role in it. Improved social skills and a sense of belonging are just a few of the benefits of playing make-believe.

We believe that all parents should create an environment for their children to play make-believe at home. While the toys above provide a great start, it’s also important for parents to remain active and join in the pretend fun whenever they are able. Not only is it a great opportunity to bond and teach your child, but you may also be surprised by what they already know just from observing the world around them.