The pretend play toybox: 7 ideas for promoting pretend play

Promote pretend play in your house with these easy ideas.

Learning Stages

By Melissa Catalano


Melissa Catalano is a schoolteacher and runs My Play Place, a play-based parent-participation toddler program where kids learn, create and socialize in a fun and safe setting. She holds a B.A. in Human Biology and an M.A. in Education from Stanford University. In a day filled with teaching and running a business, parenting is the job that still provides the most challenges and rewards.

Imaginative play comes naturally for children, but different children will embrace it at different levels. You can promote more pretend play in your house by doing some very simple things.

  1. Make plenty of open-ended items easily accessible to your children. My favorite pretend play prop of all time is an empty cardboard box. Other simple household items that children can be allowed to play with are blankets, pillows, chairs and laundry baskets.
  2. Have plenty of dress up items around. Be creative with what constitutes a costume; scarves, play jewelry and your old clothes sometimes make the best dress-up items.
  3. One of the activities that your child will surely want to emulate is cooking. You may want to set aside some kitchen items just for your child to “cook” with.
  4. Dolls and stuffed animals let children practice care-giving play.
  5. Puppets promote pretend play but often need adult assistance to get this type of play started.
  6. Model pretend play. You can show your child how to pretend by simply pretending yourself. Pretend that you are asleep on the couch. Pretend that you are talking on the phone. Pretend that your child’s doll is asking you for a piggyback ride. You get the idea!
  7. Children who are exposed to older children will often develop pretend play earlier. If your toddler is the first or only child, see if you can find ways for him to observe or interact with older children who are engaged in pretend play.


Pretend play is such an enjoyable and important stage for toddlers to develop. What other ideas have worked in your house for promoting imaginative play?