These Are The 22 Best Toys For Imaginative Play

Imaginary friends not included.

Originally Published: 

I was the kid who was more interested in playing outside with my imaginary friends than I was in having playdates with non-imaginary friends. So, I understand the kids who’d rather pretend to be a mom, a teacher, a doctor or a dog than do a puzzle or an art project. On this list, you’ll find 22 of the best imaginative toys for kids, from veterinarian kits to sculpting clay, dolls, and even a tent when they (or you) need a place to hide out for a minute.

Pretend play is your child’s way of making sense of the world. Unlike active play (running, jumping, swinging,) imaginative play involves your child existing in a pretend scenario. "This is the classic type of play in the toddler to preschool years when children might act as their favorite pretend or fantastical characters," Dr. Jack Maypole, pediatrician, told Romper in a previous article. "Their play may be a solitary endeavor, with the young hunter walking the woods alone, or they may play with family members or friends to create plots and characters that can last for minutes or years." Props like costumes, forts, and accessories like a doctor’s kit or cat ears can make it easier for your kids to get really into the world they’ve created.

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A Doctor's Kit

Whether your child loves or loathes the doctor's office, this bag of pretend medical tools will get them familiar with what to expect during their next appointment. There are nine wooden accessories (like a thermometer and a stethoscope) and a prescription pad. Plus if your child wants to pretend that they're the doctor or the nurse and you're the patient, you may get a few minutes to lie down on the couch with your eyes closed for the sake of make believe.


Puppet Theatre

Melissa & Doug are known for their toys that help cultivate a world of make believe, and this puppet theatre is no exception. You can buy a few puppets to go along with the theatre, or if you and your child are feeling crafty, you could try making the stars of the show. They'll love making up all sorts of silly scenarios.


DIY Puppet

You need puppets for your theatre, and this print out from Etsy makes it super easy to make on your own at home (as long as you have a printer). The body moves if you use brass fasteners, and your kid will have fun coloring in the puppet before dreaming up their own show. You can also glue this to cardboard or cardstock so it's a little sturdier.


A Sparkly Superhero

I love that this superhero costume is pink and glittery, not your typical black or red. It comes with the tulle cape embroidered with sparkly decals, plus silver leatherette wrist cuffs and a matching eye mask. They'll be saving the world in no time.


For The Little Chefs

This play kitchen won't break the bank but it still has fun bells and whistles like pot hooks and light-up burners (though the four Double A batteries that make this possible are not included). They can make soups, bake cookies, and wash-up, all in a safe, not-too-messy way. Just be ready to "taste" all their creations.


Groceries For The Kitchen

You can't have a play kitchen without play food. Your child can pretend they're shopping at the grocery store (and I guarantee they'll love the wooden scanner.) After they do their shopping, they can whip up a meal for the whole family. Wouldn't it be nice if this game was real?


A Firehouse

If your child can't go more than a few hours without running through your home screeching siren noises, then they'll love this fire station tent. Firefighters need a place to rest, and this one has all sorts of fun details like a hydrant, hose, alarm, and pretend garage door. It's made of 100% cotton canvas with study metal support poles.


Play Diaper Bag

Every doll lover needs a diaper bag so they can take their baby on a make-believe outing. This bag comes stocked up with essentials every (real and pretend) parent or caregiver would need, like wipes, two diapers, a changing pad, and a bib. If you' prefer to pack the bag yourself (maybe with real diapers and hand-me-downs) for $32.99 you can buy just the sweet bag.


For The Vehicle Lovers

Now your kid can get in on that sweet RV life right from home. This fits right in with any toy car collection, and it inspires just the right amount of wanderlust to get your little one dreaming up all the places they'll go.


Blast Off

They can blast off into another realm (well, in their imaginations at least) with this rocket ship building toy. It comes with 31 universal pieces so they all fit together in different creative ways that won’t get boring.


A Major Dollhouse

This dollhouse is so cool I kind of want it for myself. It has three floors, a gliding elevator, plus all the furniture is included and has lights and sounds (the toilet flushes, for example, and the piano plays music). This one is made of wood and fits 12 inch dolls best, plus it will get them imagining what it would be like to be all sorts of different people all under the same roof.


For The Budding Scientist

This set comes with a washable lab coat, googles, test tubes, a name badge, and all the things a kid needs to feel like a real scientist. The kit contains a manual, but none of the supplies you'll need for actual experiments (though if you have some old cabbage and food coloring at home, you're already on your way to discovery).


All The Makings For A Fort

Now your kids can build a fort that doesn't require ripping all the pillows off the couch. The cardboard pieces look like wood, and there are even extras so they can build a storage container for the pieces when they're not in use. This will help hone problem-solving and spatial awareness skills, and when it's assembled, the fort sets the stage for so many imaginative games and scenarios.


A Work Bench

The child who always wants to "help" with home projects will love having their very own workbench. They can imagine what they'd like to build, and how'd they do it. This one’s made from solid pine wood and has a measuring tape built-in.


S'mores Set

This sweet set has everything they'll need for a fun afternoon of pretend s'mores. The marshmallows are double-sided, so as they rotate the stick to reveal the bottom, it will really look like it's toasted. You could even set up and sleeping bag or a small tent and have them pretend they're on a camping trip.


A Realistic Doll

Every child who likes to pretend they're a parent or a babysitter needs a good doll. This one has a cloth body, vinyl limbs that can easily be wiped clean, and stylable hair. It's a popular 18- inch size, too, so you should have no problem finding more outfits for her.


A Vet Kit

Any animal lovers or aspiring veterinarians will love this set that comes with an animal carrier, stethoscope, and even a plush puppy. Kids will love to take on a caretaker role and practice empathy for their furry friend, plus it may make their own fears of the doctor a little less pronounced.


A Grill For Dolls

Their dolls can get in on the summer fun with this grill set that comes with a portable, fold-up grill, plus food that actually changes color and gets grill marks. Let the beach picnic commence, even if the beach is your living room and the sand is a paper bag.


A Play Tent

The beauty of this playhouse is that you can unfold it as you would a tent, so it’s great for small places. Kids will have fun making the inside super cozy, and they’ll love getting mail through their very own mail slot (so prepare yourself to pretend to be the mail carrier).


Sculpting Clay

This set comes with 18 cans of bright, non-sticky, nontoxic clay so they can bring the characters in their heads to life. The clay will dry and harden when left out for 24 hours (no firing in the oven necessary), then they can make up worlds using their creations.


A New Duplo Set

In addition to getting kids to build and problem solve, DUPLOs get those creative brains turning. With a set like this, kids can dream up big worlds and all the characters who visit the fair.


A Costume Box

From vet to astronaut, scientist to camper, there are so many things your kid can pretend to be, especially when they have toys and accessories to bring their world alive.