The Best Toys For Imaginary Play

The best imaginary play items are those that allow for open-ended play and enable your child to lead and guide the play to new levels. In this article, Early Childhood Expert, Anastasia Moloney, shares her top 16 toy picks to facilitate imaginary play!

A child playing with the plantoys motor mechanic toy

So much is happening during playtime!

When your child engages in imaginary play, also referred to as pretend play, they are actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life, which helps them develop a sense of self, confidence and empathy.

Defined as any type of play where children accept, assign, and act out roles, imaginary play is essential to all childhood developmental areas, which include: social, emotional, language, abstract thinking and creativity.

When children pretend and dramatize being someone or something different from himself or herself, they are able to explore using new words and find new opportunities to use their creative thinking and problem-solving skills.


Benefits of Imaginary Play

  • Helps a child develop a sense of self
  • Builds confidence
  • Helps develop empathy
  • Encourages creative thinking and problem-solving
  • Facilitates opportunities to expand vocabulary and numeracy skills
  • Can facilitate an understanding of different cultures
  • Enables gender exploration


Over time, children will learn to take various objects and start pretending. However, you can help spark your child’s imagination by creating an environment that allows them to expand on their play. While pretend play can be accomplished with almost any item found in your house, purchasing toys that trigger tour child’s imagination is highly encouraged.

Here are sixteen great toys that I would recommend having readily available for your little guy or gal that can help their imaginations soar! These items can all be found in our Imaginary Play section on The Tot.


16 Toys to Encourage Imaginary Play


Pretend Vet Set


Children love role playing. Watch as they become an attentive veterinarian tending to a pregnant pup with the PlanToys Vet Set. Consisting of everything needed for an urgent after hours house call, your little vet will have their sibling’s pet back to perfect health in no time!

PlanToys Vet set


PlanToys Vet Set






Play Kitchen + Pretend Fruit


Pretend play begins with imitating actions your child has seen their parents do. Encourage your child to have fun cooking, serving, and enjoying a pretend meal themselves—or maybe even invite mommy, daddy, or their stuffed animals. The Tender Leaf Toys Kitchen Range is just the thing your tot needs to whip up breakfast or serve a banquet for 12!



Tender Leaf Toys Kitchen Range


Tender Leaf Toys Kitchen Range






Tender Leaf Fruit Crate


Tender Leaf Toys Fruite Crate






Train Set


Also terrific for honing hand-eye coordination and encouraging problem-solving skills, the Tender Leaf Toys Wild Pines Train Set is a new take on a classic toy. Featuring over 30 pieces, this FSC certified wood set is just what your tot needs to imagine a life in the wilderness!


Tender Leaf Toys Wild Pines Train Set


Tender Leaf Toys Wild Pines Train Set






Doll Stroller + Doll Accessories


Children love being able to push things around—whether it’s their favorite teddy bear or taking care of a baby. They enjoy taking care of something else and exploring with dramatizing their own routines. The Olli Ella Strolley is genius because of its detachable canopy,  it can be used as both a stroller and a wagon. The Make Me Iconic Doll Accessories Kit is fantastic because it helps tots practice the life skills and self-care needed to form their independence later in life.


Olli Ella Strolley Wheeled Basket in Natural

Olli Ella Strolley






Make Me Iconic Doll Accessories


Make Me Iconic Doll Accessories








Transportation Toys


When thinking of imaginary play we often think of ‘dress up’ with different professions, such as being a doctor, cooking dinner, or playing house with baby dolls. We often forget that pretend play can also be exhibited in things like toy cars and trucks. I love this Fire & Recycle Truck set from Luke’s Toy Factory because it can be played with both inside and out. Whether your tot is zooming down the hall to put out a fire or working sun up to sun down in their sandbox to make room for a new structure, they’ll love having these two on hand to get the job done.



Lukes Toys Factory Fire and Recycling Truck


Luke’s Toy Factory Fire and Recycle Truck – 2 Pack







Dress Up Clothing


When kids wear costumes, they’re able to really let their imaginations run wild. Whether they’re expressing their own personalities or experimenting with what it’s like to be someone (or something else,) costumes can be wonderful props in whatever world your tot is imagining!


iloveplum shirley tutu dress


iloveplum Shirley Tutu Dress






Lovelane Pirate Vest

Lovelane Designs Pirate vest w/ Parrot







Aeromax Junior Astronaut Suite Front View


Aeromax Jr Astronaut Apollo 11 Suit


Ranging from $29.95 – $54.95




Meri Meri Mermaid Wrap Dress Costume

Meri Meri Mermaid Wrap Dress Up








Dollhouses and mini people are incredibly important for developing social skills such as manners and conflict resolution. Minimalist and timeless, the gender-neutral PlanToys Contemporary Dollhouse is sure to become an heirloom piece. When coupled with the brand’s Goodwood Family, your tot has everything they need to explore the concepts of relationships and meaning of home.


PlanToys Contemporaty Dollhouse


PlanToys Contemporary Doll House






Tender Leaf Toys The Goodwood Family

PlanToys The Goodwood Family






Pretend Animals


Farmyard animals are a tried and trusted imaginary play toy and I could not love this set from Tender Leaf Toys more. Made from non-toxic rubber wood, it is a great tool for kids to develop compassion for animals, expand their vocabularies and imagine a magical life on a farm with horses to ride and care for.


Tender Leaf Toys The Stables


Tender Leaf Toys The Stables






Checkout Register and Shopping Cart


Want your tot to develop numeracy skills while having fun? The Hape Checkout Register is a fantastic piece for playing shopkeeper! Perfect for introducing the concept of money, it’s particularly fun when paired with the Poppie Toys Shopper. By going pretend grocery shopping, your tot can start to understand the value and importance of food items.



Hape Wooden Cash Register Toy Set


Hape Checkout Register






Poppie Toys Shopping Cart

Poppie Toys Shopper






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