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My kids have no problem using their imagination, which is especially wonderful for our rainy day activities (or snowy days, in our case). We can always come up with pretend play ideas around here, mostly because my kids initiate so much creative play. If they aren’t running around as a dinosaur or a princess, something’s up.

a cute stuffed animal puppy against a white background, with text reading Pretend Play Ideas Your Kids Will Love

The Importance of Pretend Play

As adults, pretend play ideas may not come easily, but we use our imaginations every day to solve problems and empathize with others. That’s why it’s so important for children to pretend as they grow!

Our little ones use their imaginations just like we do, but a little more vividly. When a child pretends, he’s learning:

  • social skills
  • problem solving
  • vocabulary

These three areas are so important, and so easy to develop through play! When a child pretends to be someone else, he learns to empathize and understand others. He learns to come up with creative solutions to his problems (The bear is coming for us! Give him honey!), and he increases his vocabulary when he’s in a world that’s different from his own.

When a child pretends, he learns social skills, problem solving, vocabulary, and more. Pretending is so important! Click To Tweet

God wired our kids to mature and grow through play. He gave us each an imagination to use, and it serves a powerful function for children in particular.

I can’t tell you how many surprising things my son knows because of his active imagination! He’s taught me a lot about so many different worlds–farming, paleontology, and construction, to name a few.

Role Play for Preschoolers

It’s amazingly beneficial when we encourage imaginative play for preschoolers. They love becoming adults, animals, and other powerful figures when they play. It helps them be confident, learn new skills, and have fun doing it. A few common ideas for little ones who love to dress up are:

  • fireman
  • policeman
  • princess/royalty
  • knight
  • cowboys and cowgirls
  • doctor
  • super hero

Costumes aren’t necessary, but most preschoolers love to look like their heroes! You can make costumes without actually “making” them by using things around the house, but sometimes it is a bit easier to grab a few affordable costumes to add to the toy chest.


More Reading on Parenting Preschoolers and Toddlers

Raising a Grateful Child: Tips and Activities

Potty Training Your Toddler on the Go (12 Hacks!)

5 Reasons to Let Your Kids Make Messes

Preparing for Your Child’s First Eye Exam

10 Tips for Peaceful Road Trips with Preschoolers


 

a pale pink mug of coffee sits next to a stuffed animal

Our Favorite Pretend Play Examples

If you’re short on pretend play ideas, you came to the right place. I’m sharing ten of our favorite games that are simple to do and make playtime so much fun! Believe me, we’ve tested and tried lots of different scenarios, and these are our favorite.

One last tip: When your little ones are playing, join in on the action. Kids love seeing grown ups be a little silly, and preschool pretend play is so wonderful for family bonding and making memories. I think you’ll find you love it almost as much as they do!

1. Camping

My kids love to set out pillows and blankets, and look up at the “stars” that they imagine on the ceiling. When we wake up, we go for a hike or go fishing. We roast marshmallows over the imaginary campfire. We pick blueberries and go wading in the stream that runs near our campsite.

Our pretend campsite is pretty awesome. I’m a little afraid if we ever go camping, they might just prefer the game to reality.

2. Doctor

This is my daughter’s go-to choice for pretend play. When she’s the doctor, she listens to my heart, takes my temperature, puts a band-aid on me, and mixes up my medicine. She does a really great job of listening to my fake symptoms and treating them.

She also loves it when I’m the doctor. I know that she wants to play this when she has a very dramatic series of sneezes.

3. Preschool

I used to play this with my son when he was three just to get him used to the idea of going to preschool. We’d have circle time, coloring, play time, and more. He’d participate in show and tell, sharing something with the whole class…of stuffed animals.

Now that my daughter is turning three, Kai loves showing her the ropes and acting as teacher. He’s wonderful at it, even though his student often rings the bell for recess right in the middle of a lesson.

4. Exploring

We go exploring in the house a LOT. Sometimes I set out yellow Duplos around the room and we go looking for gold. Other times, we’re exploring the forest and run into a bear. Just pretend your home is a wilderness to explore, and your kids will make their own adventures!

5. Cooking and Baking

Both of my kids LOVE to play-cook and bake. In fact, my sweet hubby made them a kitchen out of cardboard boxes last year! They still use it for their creations.

For Kai’s third birthday, we got him this Melissa and Doug diner set which is an absolute blast. In our family, grown-ups are usually the diner customers. Kids come and take our orders, and then go back in the kitchen to make it. They flip the food from raw to cooked and put it on our plate, and carry it out on the tray. The set also comes with things like an apron, dry-erase check for the orders, and money. This is a hit for sure!

6. Mail Person and Post Office

For this one, it helps to have:

  • shoe boxes for the mail
  • construction paper and crayons
  • envelopes
  • stickers for “stamps”

Cut a slit in the top of your shoe boxes, making it big enough for a letter to fit in. Then, tell your kids to write letters to each other. Fold them and seal them in the envelope. Remember the stamp!

One person delivers the letters (it could be a parent), and the kiddos get to discover that they have something in their mailbox. It’s a really fun way to pretend!

7. Cops and Robbers or Chasing Games

Preschoolers love to be chased. So many of my kids’ play ends up with them running around the house like tiny track stars. Usually, this starts out with my son Kai acting as a thief, while my daughter Sylvie and I act as the police or Paw Patrol.

Other pretend play ideas for chasing are a farmer and his loose sheep (one of our favorite stories!), or chipmunks fighting over an acorn. Before you think I’m a little out there, we watched a nature video showing that chipmunks will actually steal acorns from each other’s burrows. My kids never get sick of it!

8. Zookeeper

My son invented this game. He makes little “exhibits” with stuffed animals as the star. The kids play zookeepers who take care of the animals and feed them. We talk about the animals a lot as we play. Your kiddo could even give a little presentation to the zoo visitors about their animals!

9. Toy Store

Your child’s bedroom becomes a toy store in this pretend game. One thing that’s nice about this one is that you can include cleaning up the room and grouping similar toys together as prep for it! Once the store is ready, a customer comes and talks about toys with the shop owner. The customer chooses their favorite, the store owner names their price, and the happy customer plays with their toy. This one is so cute!

10. Rescue the Princess (or townsperson)

My kids can’t get enough of situations where they need to come to the rescue! Sylvie, my almost three-year-old, loves to play a princess who is trapped behind a “wall” of play cardboard blocks. Her brother happens to wonder by and hears a cry for help. Sometimes the princess rescues herself by busting through the wall, and other times Kai is her knight in shining armor. Either way, building a tower and knocking it down is a big part of the fun!

We also love to create lots of other rescue situations. My daughter loves to be the one who went hiking and accidentally wondered too high up the mountain–or the couch, actually. We have to launch a helicopter to pull this rescue off! I love scooping up my kiddos and taking them to safety, but kids can lead each other by hand down the mountain in this case too.

 

a cute stuffed animal puppy sits against a white background.

Role Play for Preschoolers

If you’d like to create your own pretend play ideas, here are a few tips to get your preschooler pretending with the best of ’em.

  • Act out the story of her favorite book. The child can choose who plays what role. Imagine the scene together and encourage the kids to play the part!
  • Play pretend with toys. This one is an obvious choice, since most toys are made for playing pretend! Help your kiddo get creative by making the toy come alive, have conversations, and do the things the character would do.
  • Play house or different occupations. My son actually loves to play his daddy’s job–therapist! I usually come in his office as a client and tell him I’m having trouble sharing with my sister. I love hearing his helpful advice on this topic! Kiddos also love the classic game of playing house. You don’t need a special play set for this, but it does help fuel the imagination.
  • Bring imaginary creatures to life. There’s something about unicorns, dragons, fairies, and giants that bring out a child’s most powerful play. They become a brave warrior or a fierce friend with magical powers. These elements can help a child express themselves and work though any difficulties they’re facing, because it’s easier to do that in a fantasy world than it is in the real world.

Kids love engaging their imaginations, and whether they’re acting as a dentist or a dragon tamer, they will learn a lot about who God created them to be and have a blast doing it.

I adore watching my kids pretend together, and I’ve learned that it’s fun to take part with them. I hope you enjoy years of pretend play and watching your child grow in empathy, vocabulary, problem solving and more. You’re doing great, moms!


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