Pretend Play Buying Guide

Playing pretend has very real benefits for kids. This pretend play buying guide will help stock the playroom with toys that promote learning, development and fun.

Pretend Play 101

Pretend play is an essential part of a well-rounded childhood, helping kids develop intellectually, physically, social and emotionally. By the age of three, your children will naturally begin to engage in pretend play, and you can ensure this activity is safe and rewarding by providing them with a good selection of age-appropriate toys. Make-believe must-haves include play kitchens and play workshops, costumes, musical instruments and active toys like blasters and water guns. As your kids spend more time and energy in pretend worlds, their understanding of the real world will grow, and the skills they acquire will benefit them for a lifetime.

Types of Pretend Play


Play Kitchens & Playing House

Play kitchens allow aspiring chefs to have fun creating make-believe meals and running imagery restaurants, while developing important cognitive and social skills. Stock up on play foods for a variety of international dishes to promote healthy eating and experimenting with new cuisines. Pretend play allows kids to work with parents and peers to solve household problems. This fosters cooperation and helps develop basic problem-solving skills. Other pretend play sets such as baby care and doctor and vet toys teach kids to care for others and encourage empathy, while also introducing them to real-world life skills. Look for gender-neutral playsets to appeal to siblings and peers of both sexes, and choose a model that's sized to accommodate the needs of your growing child. 

Toy Vanities

Toy vanities and vanity accessories allow kids to run make-believe beauty salons or style their hair and makeup for pretend performances, while learning real-world skills of grooming and self-care. While often considered a girl’s toy, vanities can also be used by boys to get ready for pretend concerts, theatre productions, magic shows and circuses. Look for hair accessory sets, play makeup and dress-up costumes to promote dramatic play and encourage self-expression and creativity. You can help expand your child’s creative thinking and imagination by providing materials for make-your-own spa products and DIY dress-up accessories and costumes.

Costumes & Dress-Up

Kids’ costumes and dress-up shoes, wigs and accessories allow children to experiment with different imaginary and occupational roles, as well as act, sing and dance for adoring audiences of parents and peers. Whether it’s a pirate costume or a mermaid costume, dress-up play encourages kids to role-play, to express themselves creatively, and to confidently showcase their talents. Look for a wide variety of machine-washable costumes that slip on and off easily for fast costume changes. Provide plenty of props and accessories and watch their creativity soar.

Play Shopping

Whether filling a pint-size shopping cart or stocking make-believe grocery shelves, play shopping promotes early numbers, language and social skills. Electronic cash registers, play ATMs and play money all serve to introduce math concepts in a fun way. Look for kids toys that can transition from pretend play to real-world play: Kid-size shopping carts can be brought along on trips to the grocery store, and pretend cash registers can hold money and calculate change for outdoor lemonade stands!

Play Workshops & Tools

Play workshops, tool sets and building supplies let kids use their imagination and practice their building skills. Working with play tools develops dexterity, motor skills, problem-solving skills and hand-eye coordination. You can expand on this play by allowing your kids help with minor home repairs, like tightening a screw under parental supervision. Keep in mind that play workshops aren’t just toys for boys: Girls love building projects too, and may surprise you by transforming a play workshop into an outdoor potting bench or make-believe workshop for Santa.

Magic Sets, Puppets and Theatres

Magic sets, puppets and puppet theatres encourage kids to use their creativity and imagination, learn social skills and develop confidence. Magic sets foster self-esteem as kids master illusions and perform them for peers. Look for magic kits suited to your children’s stage of development, and add more challenging tricks and learning materials as they progress. Puppetry promotes language skills and literacy development as kids tell stories and act out characters. Be sure to provide plenty of props and stories to help them build narrative skills, as well as materials to craft their own puppets.

Musical Instruments

Toy musical instruments help promote musicality, rhythm, creativity, hand-eye coordination, memory, listening skills and abstract thinking. Music and movement go hand in hand and contribute to healthy growth and development. By moving and dancing to music and playing toy instruments, kids can learn cause and effect, fine-tune their listening skills and express their creativity. Building a collection of play instruments, including toy guitars, toy keyboards, toy drums and shakers, can inspire kids to jam with their parents and peers in make-believe musical parades and talent shows. Look for quality-crafted instruments that are suitable for all ages and all levels of musicians.

Active Play

Whether they’re using space blasters or water toys, kids love to shoot targets and play fantasy — especially when dressed as their favourite superhero, pirate or princess. Blaster toys allow kids to practice marksmanship, build concentration and improve hand-eye coordination. Pretend play with blasters is also an active form of play, which is important for good physical development. For safer play, look for soft foam materials vs. hard plastics).

Pretend Play Safety Tips:

  • Always follow the age recommendations on toys
  • Check toys regularly for safety and durability and discard any broken toys
  • Provide a safe, clean and hazard-free play space, and encourage cleanup to avoid falls
  • Teach older kids to keep toys with small parts, sharp points, cords or electricity out of reach of younger kids
  • Teach kids that they should never play with real-world objects that resemble their toys versions

Shop Accessories & Related Products:

Benefits of Pretend Play:

  • It helps develop perspective, empathy and understanding for others
  • Creating scenarios and dialogues strengthens language skills and vocabulary
  • Introduces kids to real-world situations and encourages development of problem-solving skills
  • Nurtures creativity and imagination and helps develop motor skills and hand-eye coordination
  • Provides opportunities for bonding with peers and parents
  • Can promote strong self-esteem

How to Promote Pretend Play:

  • Use books and stories to inspire play and dialogue
  • Create prop boxes with themed dramatic play materials (such as a doctor’s office or restaurant) and rotate them often
  • Provide uninterrupted time for imaginative play by limiting TV time and avoiding overscheduling
  • Get involved in imaginative play with your child, but play a supporting role and let him or her be the star
This article is intended as general information. Always be sure to read and follow the label(s)/instruction(s) that accompany your product(s). Walmart will not be responsible for any injury or damage caused by this activity.



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