50 Ideas for Pretend Play
Do your children love to play pretend? I know mine do! The list is endless of what they have played throughout the years and still play today. Pretend play activities can provide children with excellent opportunities to develop their cognitive, emotional, social, motor and creativity skills.
Children NEED time to play in the real world. It is so important for childhood development to learn the skills needed in their futures. In our fast-paced world, it can be very difficult to set aside time for children to experience free play. But as parents, we must make an effort to allow our children time to play, especially pretend play. Pretend play provides many experiences for children across different developmental areas.
Here are 5 reasons why children NEED pretend play:
- Opportunities to practice new life skills in a safe environment. Children can practice caring for baby dolls, going to the doctor, feeding pets and more all within one play scene.
- Provide social interactions between other children. During pretend play children need to cooperate and take turns.
- Expand expressive and receptive language skills and early literacy skills. Children expand their vocabulary as they discuss all the different words during imaginative play. Read here about how to focus on pretend play to help with early literacy skills.
- Provides motor skills practice. Children have to use fine motor skills, gross motor skills and visual perceptual skills when managing props during pretend play.
- Develops IMAGINATION! Research indicates that participating in fantasy-oriented play may be one way to directly enhance executive function development.
Here we go with a list of 50 ideas for pretend play –
- Doctor – grab a chair and a blanket. One person is the patient and the other is the doctor. No doctor’s tools? Grab some kitchen utensils.
- School – provide children with paper and pencils. Add in a snack tray and a chair and your school is ready for students.
- Animal Hospital – toss some stuffed animals into a cardboard box and start treating them for their ailments.
- Animal Pet Show – determine what skills you will be judging: best dressed, most talented, etc. and use the stuffed animals in a talent show.
- Baby Adoption Center – my kids LOVE to play this. Put the baby dolls in the room. One person is the Director of the Orphanage and others come to adopt the babies.
- Animal Shelter – same concept as above just use dolls
- Restaurant – take orders and make snacks
- Pretend Play Library – grab some books and bags. Check out what you will read for the week.
- Pretend Play Travel Agent – set up a small chair and table. Write Travel Agent on a piece of paper and hang it from the desk. Toss some brochures and maps on the table and start booking a trip.
- Radio or Television Station – set up a table with two chairs. Divide up the roles – show host, person to interview, makeup, hair, camera person, etc depending on how many children are playing. The children can pick a topic to discuss or just ask random questions.
- Pretend Play Ballet or Exercise Studio – check out this homemade ballet bar which would be even better if you put it in a room with a large wall mirror. Add some seating and move right into the pretend recital. Ballet not your thing? Throw some mats on the ground, jump ropes, cardboard tubes for weightlifting bars and open up an exercise gym.
- Firefighter – transform a cardboard box into a firetruck, use a pool noodle as a fire hose and start the fun.
- Coffee Shop – cut out circles from recycled cardboard and use paper cups. Color the circles to create donuts and cookies. Pretend to pour coffee into the paper cups and open up your donut shop.
- Spa – offer massages, foot rubs, and quiet music. This is a parent favorite here.
- Architect – design house on graph paper and share your layouts.
- Detective– put on a hat, use a small notebook and pencil. Start spying on people and taking notes.
- Scientist – make slime or experiments with baking soda and vinegar.
- Bank – use play money from board games like Monopoly and create blank checks. One person can be the banker and other people come into request loans.
- Hospital – patients can lay on different couches and people who come to visit need visitor passes. The kids love to eat snacks in their hospital beds.
- Hotel – one person is the hotel manager who hands out room keys (old credit cards and create some on index cards) and room assignments.
- Farm – grab outdoor rakes and shovels and start farming. Open up a farm stand.
- Zoo – finally a use for stuffed animals! Make some cages out of pillows and open up for business.
- Train Station – line up chairs, collect tickets and make different stops along the way. Print train tickets from the Transportation pretend play packet.
- Grocery Store – use canned goods from your own pantry and recycled plastic bags to set up a pretend play grocery store.
- Circus – kids can put on a show with their unusual acts ie. dog tricks, juggling, etc.
- Talent Show – children can perform a show. Don’t forget to make signs and sell tickets.
- Construction Site – get shovels, toy tractors, etc and start building.
- Town – Each kid sets up a shop. Maybe massage, maybe snacks, maybe fortune telling, anything they can think of. The kids then wander around visiting each other’s shops. Sometimes, I give them small change so they can pay for the different services or items at the shops. My kids have played this game for hours when they have the time.
- Fortune Teller – use a round table, a chair and playing cards. Kids can make it up as they go along.
- Real Estate Agent – Use the real estate section of the newspaper. Kids can fill out forms indicating what features they are looking for in a new house. The pretend play real estate agent can show them options from the want ads.
- Pirates – This is super fun indoors or outside. Make a pretend boat and live like pirates!
- Candy Shop – our printables include everything you need to create candy store items, business cards, order forms, menus, create your own candy forms, candy bucks, chocolate bar wrappers, sale signs and more.
- Superhero – what kid doesn’t love to play superhero? Toss on a cape and save the world!
- Bakery – sell pretend donuts, cupcakes or even better bake some treats and sell them!
- Beach vacation – spread out your towels, toss a beach ball around and turn up Beach Boy music.
- Plumber – if you have extra PVC pipes and connectors this is a great dramatic play area. Head outdoors and see how long of a pipe can be created that water will flow through.
- Fishing – make the couch your boat and start casting.
- Camping – make a tent out of sheets and pretend to go camping. Read about how to create an indoor camping party.
- Post Office – one of our all-time favorites! Read more here.
- Painter – head outdoors with a bucket of water and a paintbrush. Pretend to paint the house or the fence.
- Astronaut – use a paper grocery bag to head to outer space.
- Shoe Store – gather all the shoes in your house, play money and small chairs. Start selling.
- Car Wash – another outdoor favorite. Wash the cars and wash all the ride on toys.
- Apothecary – pretend to be back in the olden days and conjure up some spicy cures. Read more here.
- Baby Doll Playground – create a play space for your dolls.
- Royal Family – pretend to be royalty: take turns being the king or queen versus servants.
- Birthday Party Planner – one of my daughter’s LOVED to plan birthday parties. Grab an oriental trading magazine and start cutting out pictures to storyboard your next birthday party.
- Music Shop – make instruments out of recycled materials. Customers can come and try out different instruments to decide what they might be best at playing.
- Cruise Ship Director – issue tickets and assign rooms for a boat ride of a lifetime. Put on a show for your guests.
- Laundry Shop – print these forms to organize your pretend play dry cleaning and laundry shop. Double win for Mom if they do laundry while they play!
What would you add to this list of 50 ideas for pretend play activities?
If you want to encourage your children to play pretend, here are several resources to help jump-start play time. Just print and your child will be filled with ideas to enhance their pretend play!