10 toys that encourage imaginary play

Have you ever seen your child grab a spoon and pretend it’s a plane or pretended a banana is a phone? Your child is using an object to represent something else by giving it action and motion. But this pretend play is not as simple as it seems.


Imaginary play can be defined as a type of play where children accept, assign, and act out roles. It allows children to pretend and dramatize being someone or something different from himself or herself; and sometimes the actions and roles are outside of reality. The process of pretending builds skills in many essential developmental areas in a natural manner: social, emotional, language, abstract thinking and creativity.

So much is happening during play! When your child engages in pretend play, s/he is actively experimenting with the social and emotional roles of life. They are also exploring using new words that you may not have heard them use before. Pretend play also poses many opportunities where children must use thinking skills to problem solve.

Over time, children will learn to take various objects and start pretending.  But, 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 are highly encouraged.  Here are a few 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.

10 toys to encourage imaginary play:

Playing Doctor

Children love role playing. Watch as they become an attentive doctor tending to their sick patients with Moulin Roty’s Doctor Valise Set. The sturdy case an 8-piece medical set, health records, bandages and everything a busy doctor on the go needs. Age recommendation: 3 years +

Cooking & Kitchen Play

Hape Cook and Serve Kitchen 




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 Hape Cook & Serve Kitchen, which includes clicking knobs, pull-out counter, shelves and a blackboard, is perfect for providing your child with the tools to explore and experiment in a safe way with an activity they have seen their caregivers do time and time again.  Pair with the Hape Chef’s Cooking Set to make the experience even more authentic. As your child explores cooking more you can provide food for them to pretend to cook and encourage healthy eating. The Hape Healthy Basics is a really cute and fun way for your child to learn more about fridge and pantry essentials.

Push toys and Doll Play


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. Hape has a great Doll Stroller or Bus Walker that will certainly appeal to your little boy or girl. At first, these types of toys will be used as your child explores their first steps and becomes sturdy on their feet.  But soon, these toys will become an imaginary play staple.

Blocks and things that Go, Go, Go!

Tender Leaf Penguin's Gelato Van 


Don't Cry Wolf Wood & Yellow Acrylic Unicorn Night Light 


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 building blocks and vehicles. Toy ice-cream trucks or police cars—a favorite of boys and girls alike—can lead to hours after hours of imaginary play.

Combining the vehicles and blocks allows for even more ideas including tunnels, garages, car washes, etc. The Tegu Blocks are exciting as they are magnetic which adds a new element for building, while the Green Toys Blocks are great for stacking and building larger structures.

Outdoor Play 

Moulin Roty Botanist Set 


Taking your play outdoors is always encouraged, as it allows your child to explore various elements and learn about nature. A great set to encourage their green thumb is the Moulin Roty Botanist Case. Featuring a wooden flower press, magnifying glass, scissors, a notebook and pencil, this is the perfect set for your garden enthusiast. Kids will love collecting and pressing flowers and leaves and storing collected treasure. They can learn about how something grows and what is needed to make it into a plant or food. Children love exploring with play after they are able to partake in a learning activity with you. This toy can be used as imaginary play, but it can also be used to learn about nature and the environment.

The best imaginary play items are those that allow for open-ended play and questions, let your child lead and guide the play to new levels. You can model new ideas and language, but then allow them to take it in different directions on their own or as they get older with peers. Now let the play begin and their imaginations run wild!


More on play…

See our curated selection of Imaginary play & dress toys.

If you’re short on space but still want to create a play area for kids, see our article on How to create a small space play room.