How To Pretend Play in 17 Fun Ways!

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Wouldn’t you love a glimpse into the magical world of pretend? Come along then, here we go! How to Pretend Play in 17 Fun Ways!

Playing is a child’s equivalent to a full-time job. Wouldn’t you agree?


Pretend Play Recap

Read Why Play is Important for Children for a quick definition of pretend play and to see three excellent benefits of teaching children to pretend play.

Now that we are on the same page about the benefits, let’s get some ideas on…

How to Pretend Play in 17 Fun Ways!

Adult Life


As adults we find a job or career path and we seek out opportunities to work in related fields. Often by that point in our lives we have determined what we want to be when we “grow up.”

How did we get to that decision point?

Ideally it was through trial and error. Learning new things and trying out different paths were likely what ultimately led us to our current job.

I doubt there are many firefighters out there that chose to become a firefighter based on a fleeting thought. “I think I’d like to become a firefighter today!”

More than likely they learned all they could previous to deciding to take that particular career path.


Play Time

Children have (obviously) not reached that point in their life’s timeline. There is so much to be explored!

How do they gain experiences during their growing up years that can help them learn about a whole variety of things?


(What we wouldn’t give now for others to have the expectation that we should be playing all day. Haha)

Dive Into Play!

Here’s a list of things to get you started:

#1 Introduce Unfamiliar/Uncommon Words

There are typically specific words we tend to use on a regular basis. Our children learn these words first and use them often. Seeing as there are oodles (that’s a fun one!) of other words out there, you can use playtime to teach new words! Words such as squirm, pirate, nibbled, etc.

#2 Use the Five Senses

Where possible, engage 1 or 2 of the five senses (see, hear, smell, taste, and touch) into the learning process.

For example: if your word is fragile, you could incorporate an activity carrying a ‘fragile’ egg across the yard as you return from the pretend grocery store. This will give them a chance to see, touch and potentially hear and smell the egg. If it falls and breaks, the sound part could come into play as well as the smell. The lesson may be even more memorable! (Though this is one of those things I wouldn’t encourage tasting;))

child playing with a car

#3 Follow Their Lead

If your child has a few toys to choose from, allow them to choose something and then play along. If they choose blocks, play with blocks.  If they choose cars, play cars!

Get creative and set up a whole ‘neighborhood’ to navigate through, using both the blocks and cars.

#4 Limit Choices

Sometimes having too many toy options to play with can be overwhelming for a child. Limit the number of toys that are out and available at a time.

(Another bonus is to keep some stored elsewhere and occasionally trade things out– kids love to have fresh “new” toys!)

#5 Talk It Out

Talk while they play. Tell the story of what is happening. “You are filling the truck up with balls, you’re doing a great job! Ahh, now you are going to dump them out over there.”

When you join in on the fun, describe what you are doing with the toy you are playing with. “The baby is hungry so I’m going to give him a bottle.” “The teddy bear is going off to school.”

child playing doctor

#6 Doctor’s Office

Let your child dress up and play doctor! You could have a blast helping them work on “patients” (stuffed animals?!) using items such as bandaids, a thermometer, stethoscope, and scrubs (or their version of pajamas).

#7 Dentist’s Office

Similar to the doctor’s office, let your child dress up and play dentist! They will have those teeth cleaned up in no time. Some fun materials to use could include a thermometer, toothbrush, flashlight, and play tools.

#8 Grocery Store Clerk

Provide a notebook or post-it notes and invite your child to write a grocery list. Arrange toy food in separate bins and go “shopping” right out of your own house. Your child will love ringing you up as you’ purchase’ the items you’ve gathered. Swap roles and let them do the shopping while you ring them up!

Dig a little deeper into using a cash register to build skills during pretend play.

toy cash register

#9 Go Camping… in your front room!

Remember those days of building forts and hide-outs with blankets and furniture? Time to bring those days back! I’m sure your child would LOVE to build a fort/tent in your living room.

All kinds of adventures can come from having such a structure. Get the other toys involved as you crawl in and out. Stuffed animals making a home, a garage for cars, bedroom, house, you name it.

child dressed as a chef

#10 Chef in the Kitchen

A toy kitchen with matching accessories is a whole new playground. Children love to mimic your actions in the kitchen. It ranges from stirring a bowl to serving slices of bread and fruit.

There are all kinds of adorable chef’s hats/outfits that would fit right in with this type of play.

# 11 Bus Driver

Gather your kitchen chairs and place them in a row, possibly two in each row. Have one single chair up front where the ‘driver’ can sit. You and/or other children can be passengers as your child takes you on a ride through town.

This could be a fun way to practice visualizing and story telling as they describe the things you are passing. Add a little extra excitement by singing songs as you ‘drive’ around!

  #12 Airline Pilot

Strap in for a flight around the city! Let your child wear headphones as they navigate their plane (a cleverly crafted box?!) around the house, flying around objects and making turns just in time.

#13 Mail Carrier

Write letters or draw pictures then put them into envelopes and let your child ‘deliver’ them around the house. Bonus points would be to take them around to neighbors and friends! You could really make it ‘sweet’ and let them deliver a ‘package’ of plate of cookies or other treats along with the envelope.

#14 Firefighter and Police Officer

It seems that at some point in their young lives, many children talk about wanting to be a firefighter or police officer. These are both noble professions!

Both are extra enticing for children to imitate as they are authority figures in the community. Children really enjoy dressing up and acting like them.

This can be a great opportunity to teach your child about the roles of firefighters and police officers and the importance of following instructions from them if/when you come into contact with them.

#15 Good Old Dress Up

Gather old shirts, pants, dresses, and shoes and let your child have at it! You’ll be amazed at the things their minds put together as they outfit themselves in a mixed array of the items you provided.

I remember walking around in my mom’s old heels holding up a dress several sizes too large! My siblings and I had a blast using things from the dress up box.

child dressed as superman

#16 Superheroes

Did I just see Superman flying down the stairs? Is that Spiderman climbing the wall? Wait, there’s Captain America!

Kids love to dress up like the favorite heroes and go around saving the day. Tie a cape around their neck and let the good times roll!

#17 Work is Play

child climbing on a chair

Give your children a chance to mimic your behaviors. Spice up any chore by making a game out if it.

While you’re sweeping the kitchen, hand them a mini broom and ‘use the force’ to show those crumbs where to go.

Working in the garage? Let them build their own project with a child’s hammer and cardboard box.

How about mowing the lawn? Let your child cut the grass behind you pushing their own mini lawn mower!


Open the Imagination Door

Imagination is a central part of pretend play.

Unlock the power of imagination within your children and help them realize the endless possibilities.

You can BE or DO whatever your mind conjures up!

– Heidi

Keep your camera ready, there will definitely be some great shots to capture as your child explores the magic and power of pretend play!

What are your child’s favorite things to do while they pretend play? Please share your comments or questions below!

Discover 4 Fun Ways to Pretend Play with Toys

Learn other ways that Educational Toys Make Learning Fun!

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6 thoughts on “How To Pretend Play in 17 Fun Ways!”

  1. Hi,
    What a fun, enlightening and informative offering. We take it for granted that every parent is as aware and interested regarding the right methods in the development of their ‘precious ones’ preschool only to find the vast majority are so blinded by modern responsibilities that sadly sticking them in front of a T.V. or phone game (not that doesn’t help development in other areas) to pacify appears to be the extent of the involvement. It is not that there is not content but how you have so expertly and pleasantly presented it is the difference. Perhaps the willingness to engage with people like you and find out what is important to be focused in learning and concentrating on within the smorgasbord of information out there. Your very useful breaking down of the essentials and authoritative delivery in a format that is both fun and instructive in an easy to learn way, is a must for toddlers and pre-school children to essentially grasp and maintain the fun in, to progressing their learning and development.

    I wonder if you have further material that points parents in the right direction, in that they are able to grasp the concepts concisely at first given the constraints on their time to trigger their interest and allow for delving further into an excellent environment such as this you kindly present?

    If so may I please be placed on that list to distribute such material to, thank you kindly in advance.


    • Hi Rami! Thank you so much for your kind words! I do hope to help more parents learn fun ways to teach and interact with their children, using those outside toys and things as tools and not as the solo teacher. I certainly plan to continue providing beneficial information and would love to share it with you! I have not yet started an email list, but I invite you to check back on the website weekly as I post new things regularly. Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  2. Heidi, thank you for sharing so many ways to pretend play.

    “How about mowing the lawn? Let your child cut the grass behind you pushing their own mini lawn mower!”

    That reminds me of when I was pushing a mini lawn mower behind my grandpa when he mowed the lawn. I’m remembering a picture from one of those times. It’s a happy memory from my childhood.

    Yes, adults, especially me, are overly serious. It’s a great idea to include play in as many areas of life as possible.

    • That is awesome you have fun memories “mowing” the lawn with your grandpa!It is so true, even as adults we need to take time to play and enjoy the simple things in life. Kids would love for us to join them in their play!

  3. Hi Heidi,

    What a great list of ideas you have here! My grandsons are 2 and 4, so perfect ages to use your ideas with.

    One of their favorite things is “camping” in the living room. With our long winter months up here in Alberta, this is a fun way to pretend it’s summer camping season. Building forts with blankets and pillows is both fun and exhausting lol. It’s not quite as easy to crawl around under blankets as it used to be!

    The now have a small pop-up play tent in one bedroom, so this is the new place to hide and read.

    Helping in the kitchen is another fun time for them. We just give them their own bowls with things like rice, and they have fun spooning it out from dish to dish. Then it’s easy to vacuum up!

    Thanks again for the great ideas,

    • Hi Suzanne!
      I’m glad you found some good ideas! It sounds like your grandsons have a great time when they go to grandma’s house! Building forts is definitely more exhausting nowadays, crawling around just doesn’t come quite as easily haha. Rice is a good idea to practice things with, not too bad on the clean up and zero stains left behind.
      Thank you for stopping by!


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