Ever since Noelle turned 3, she has really ramped up her pretend play, and as she turns the corner to 4 she is getting even more elaborate with her imagination. It is so fun to see how she emulates adulthood in the ways that she projects onto her pretend play toys.

Pretend play is more than just fun and games for a child – there are a host of benefits that come along with it. It promotes abstract thinking, creativity, and builds empathy because it forces a child to step into another’s shoes. It helps your child advance their language skills, and builds up their confidence and sense of self. Pretend play also encourages imagination, and allows them to take on any role – real or make-believe. Knights, dragons, superheroes, princesses, firemen, doctors, librarians, chefs… the possibilities for play are endless!

Here are some fun ideas for pretend play, separated out by category:

1. Princesses – Noelle, along with 95% of little girls out there, is currently obsessed with Queen Elsa. She loves wearing any kind of dress, twirling around in it, and pretending to be a princess. If she could, she would wear her Queen Elsa costume every day of the year.

2. Pirates – Another fun costume for kids to play pretend with.

3. Superheroes – All you really need is a cape and mask to recreate a mock superhero costume. It’s so fun for little kids to imagine themselves with superpowers and feel invincible!

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4. TV and movie characters – I don’t know any kid that isn’t a fan of Daniel Tiger! And Noelle already told me that she wants to be a Bubble Guppy for Halloween next year! Who wouldn’t want to emulate their favorite TV character come to life?

5. Villains – It’s so much fun to pretend to be an evil queen or wicked witch. As a child, I used to love dressing up as a witch, and pretend to brew up something deliciously evil in my cauldron.

6.  Theatrics – Promote their love of theater at a young age with this puppet theater set, and some hand or finger puppets. There are some pricey puppet theater setups out there, but it would be easy to recreate with just a cardboard box and some fabric for makeshift curtains. With finger puppets your child could role play from multiple perspectives all by herself, but of course, it’s always more fun with friends!

1.  Fireman – We recently attended a local city event where the firemen were passing out free plastic firemen hats for the kids. They loved it! A hat by itself is already enough for our young kids to take on this role, but how adorable would it be to see them dressed up in a full on fireman’s attire?

2. Chefs – We own this Kidkraft play kitchen, and it gets so much daily use! The options for pretending to be a chef are endless, especially since there’s such a huge variety of play food out there, kitchen accessories (such as oven mitts and pots/pans), and chef’s outfit complete with hat!

3. Explorers – There’s so much you can do to promote your child’s love for the great outdoors! There are tons of play tent options out there (Mrs. Tic Tac Toe recently did a great roundup), but also check out this camp setexplorer outfit, and explorer kit.

4.  Banker – We have a lot of fun with our cash register at home, and it starts children thinking about money early. This cash register also comes with play money, coins, and a credit card!

5. Ballerinas – Tutus are all the rage in every day fashion these days. Pair it with some ballet shoes and maybe a wand… and you’ve got a little ballerina on your hands! There’s also this Melissa & Doug Ballerina costume to really drive the point home.

6. Teachers – I dreamed of being a teacher growing up. I loved marking papers and placing checkmarks next to things just for fun  You can use everyday supplies you have lying around the house to pretend to be a teacher – an easel, chalkboard, paper, pencils, books, and a great imagination is all it really takes! Of course, you can also buy this nifty teacher’s kit to make it all really come to life too.

7. Doctors – Pair a doctor costume with a doctor’s kit. Growing up, I remember how much I loved pretending to be a doctor by using mechanical pencils as makeshift needles, where I would pretend to push them into skin. Noelle has this learning resource one that’s pretty elaborate and well made. It comes with things such as a fake thermometor, syringe, blood pressure monitor, tweezers, band aid, and more.

8.  Mailman – Just check out this cute Melissa & Doug mailbox complete with letters and number stickers. Pair it with a cute little postman costume.

9. Train conductor – I know so many Thomas the Train fans, that I bet most of us have some form of train, car, or railroad already lying around in our house. Why not pull the idea together with this adorable train conductor outfit?

1.  Mop and Broom Set – Along the same lines as the vacuum, my “super helper” loves to help me sweep even though she’s just pushing dirt from one area to the other.

2.  Shopping cart – My kids never want to sit in the shopping cart anymore! Instead they want to help pick out items (sometimes items I don’t want or need), and put them on the conveyor belt for checkout. They feel so proud that they are making themselves useful in this area.

3.  Picnic set – It is so fun watching them pretend to picnic with their little plush toys and dolls. This would pair perfectly with a little blanket.

4.  Vacuum – Check out this toy Dyson! It even has a suction feature, and looks exactly like our real Dyson, which Noelle insists on helping me push whenever she gets the chance. If we had this, she probably wouldn’t be able to keep her hands off of it. I never protest when she tries to help with chores because I think it promotes good life-long cleanliness habits starting from a young age.

5.  Tea set – Once you experience a little tea party with your kids, your heart will melt. It is the cutest and sweetest thing watching them serve you tea and pretend to sip from the little cups.

6.  Gardening supplies – You could get this cute IKEA 14-pc vegetable set to go with this Little Tikes 2-in-1 Garden Cart and Wheelbarrow.  Start them young with that green thumb, so they don’t end up with a black thumb like me!

1. A stroller – Mrs. Bee did a great roundup of doll strollers awhile back. There are so many options out there! My daughter loves to pretend she’s mommy, and she asks that I pretend to be Noelle… so there is some role reversal going on in our home at times.

2. A baby or doll – When I got pregnant for a second time, we introduced a fake baby for Noelle to play with, and she loved feeding it milk, and carrying it around like her very own baby!

3.  A Dollhouse – Mrs. Chocolate recently compiled a great roundup of dollhouses! We have this basic Melissa & Doug dollhouse that Noelle started playing with every day since she turned 3. It comes with two wooden doll figures, but you can also get more to make it a complete doll family. She also uses her playdoh to mold fake people and pets, so that’s another option.

4.  Doll accessories – It is much more fun to play with a baby, when you have the right baby accessory set.

Is your child into pretend play right now?